Monday, October 22, 2012

Riding with 'The End' in Mind

I'm back! What an amazing trip: Latvia was beautiful, the weather was unbelievable, and it was such a treat to spend some quality time with my mom. That being said, however, it's also very exciting to be back. These are probably some of the last few weeks (or days) of really nice weather that we'll have for the year, so I'm eager to take advantage of it by riding and being outside as much as I can.

(Boston looked pretty as a postcard as I landed)

Mostly, I'm very eager to get to work on the homework Kim set me in my last lesson. As I rode last night (because isn't it obvious that the best activity after a somewhat hellish multi-stop 17-hour trans-global journey would be to hop on some horses? I THOUGHT SO), it struck me that the work I need to do right now is really going back and assessing basics. Is the connection the best it could possibly be? Is my horse straight? Is he relaxed over his topline? Is he moving at the correct pace and impulsion to best strengthen and express his gaits? Am I blocking my horses with my position, or actively helping them?

Both my rides ended up being a lot of 20 meter circles, straight lines off the rail, maybe some gentle leg yielding, and easy changes of direction--no test movements, no complicated figures. I think some of my best skills as a dressage rider are my perfectionist-levels of attention to detail combined with my workhorse mentality (fun fact: when I went on a sea-kayaking trip in Alaska on my year off, we all gave each other nicknames--my nickname? Workhorse. Really.), meaning that these building block type skills should be something that I've got a pretty good handle on.

(Ringo and I hacking to the indoor last night to get some evening straightness practice in)

And yet, I am realizing quickly that they're not. I think that towards the end of the summer, as  I was really gunning towards getting the Bronze Medal, I shifted my emphasis away from the sort of humdrum day-to-day work that really cements the basics and towards something that, until recently, I've been fairly unfamiliar with... Showmanship. That is, practicing test movements and tours and focusing almost entirely on the frame and quality that was going to be actually judged in the tests I wanted to perform.

Growing up I always focused pretty much exclusively on basic riding, and almost never gave a thought to showmanship--I never practiced my tests, never even really practiced movements, so that my horses were usually pretty straight and supple, but we usually bombed hard in tests because I was generally unprepared for the pace and mental preparation that a difficult dressage test requires. So this summer, it had been a major coup to finally be able to ride tests that were polished, smooth, and well-prepared.

So was it wrong to focus on showmanship for a while? I don't think so. I think that basics and showmanship are two different aspects of what it takes to be a successful competitor, and two different parts of what it really means to "Ride with 'The End' in mind"--in this case, 'The End' being competitive success--a phrase I hear a lot getting thrown in riding discussions but am swiftly realizing that I'm only just beginning to understand.

In retrospect, it was probably good timing to focus on showmanship over the summer, when I was actually showing. But now in October, when I have a solid six months until my next competitive outing, it's time to return back to simple riding that's going to make me a better rider and my horses better athletes.

It may not be the most glamorous to spend 45 minutes spiraling in and out on a 20 meter circle (ok, no, I've never actually done that -- I think me and my horses would both die of boredom), but if I do my homework now, I'll have even more tools as my disposal when it comes time to start polishing and adding in showmanship again next spring.

(It's good to be home. Now let's get to work!)

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