About 20 years ago, I decided that I wanted to show myself in the dressage and jumping arena, next to riding outside. I joined an equestrian association and took group lessons. After a while, I was convinced I was good enough to compete. I went to the competition secretary on my bike, where I spent the rest of the night filling in a bunch of papers. I put the contribution and the costs for the starting pass in an envelope and after a few weeks my starting pass and a stack of starting coupons came in the mail. After I signed up for the competition, I started preparing. That consisted of buying a fitting jacket and new boots. Because the old boots really couldn’t do it anymore. In the club lessons, we practiced the tests some more and I practiced the extended trot and canter on the side of the road enthusiastically.
And then it was time… On the competition day I took my horse out of the pasture. Washing consisted of throwing a bucket of water over the horse, rubbing it in with the shampoo I had stolen from my mom and throwing another couple of buckets over the horse to rinse everything out. She could dry out nicely in the sun, while I braided her mane. Then, tacking up, putting on the bridle and there I went, riding to the competition in my competition tenue. I felt so tough, riding like that! While on competition, I focused on everything
and everyone, except riding my tests, which resulted in dramatically low scores. But, I did enjoy myself. Even though I was pretty frustrated deep inside that it didn’t work
After competing a few times at my own association, I decided to look further and joined a circuit competition. My dad loaned a car that could pull a trailer, and I loaned the trailer of the farmer. The preparation consisted of buying a haynet and transportboots. I could take the water bucket from the barn. The journey to the competition was a little shocking. The mare decided to make us headbang until we were completely done with it. Every 50 meters, she bucked. The test went dramatically. The horse came out of the trailer stressed, I was stressed, my dad was done and after driving with the car and trailer, he was finished. I believe I flew through the arena ten times, and that I even got a score still surprises me. The
journey back home was even worse. Namely, it took us a couple of hours before the horse loaded. When the terrain was almost empty, she loaded like it wasn’t a big deal
and we went home shocking and shaking. I still wonder how I got my dad so far as to take the adventure again. That experience was even worse! And that really was the last time!
Now, 20 years later, riding a test is so much more. The preparation is even more important than the test itself. Learning to ride horses is a process that starts somewhere, but never ends. You are literally never done learning. And as you learn to ride better, your urge to know more also grows. At least, that’s how it worked with me. With me, something like that goes in phases. Mostly, something deep inside me starts to bubble. After that, my brain starts working and then I go on a search for the answers.
I start to understand what I’m doing bit by bit, but I think it’s very important to keep improving. That’s the reason why I take lessons regularly, I take part in clinics or I visit them and I let myself be filmed often to be able to look at my training critically. Next to that, I have started realizing that ‘everything surrounding it’ also must be right. So not only the right horse and the right motivation and riding of the equestrian, but also stabling, management, care, training structure, planning of the competitions and having the right people around you to help you with that.
For the lessons, I think it’s very important the trainer and me click. Next, the rider has to have enough knowledge to estimate if it’s the right fit. I really look further than the length of my nose and my instructor does the same. That way, it sometimes looks more like ‘training together’. I feel on the horse, she sees and adds from the ground. That way, I learn a lot more and, not entirely unimportant, my horse gets trained in a way that’s the most pleasant. Due to the training, my horse gets more and more strong. Logical, because that’s the goal of the training. And as he gets stronger, the exercises get easier and we can start trying new exercises. I am resolved about my lessons and training, that goes well!
To be able to train effectively, I’ve started to make higher demands. Not only the material I use, for my horse or myself, has to be great, I also have some demands of the surroundings I stable my horses in and where I train. The surroundings in which I train are less important to me than the soil of the arena I’m allowed to ride in. A good, flat arena, not too hard and not too soft, is pretty nice. At home, I can grumble from time to time, but when I was riding at another location a few weeks ago, I realized I was very happy with the arena we have at home. But a little less hill and valley would be nice. The horses are stabled between residential houses and soccer fields. By now, they’ve gotten used to the horns, cheers when a goal is made, flying balls, barking dogs and running children. And that’s convenient on competition. But I’ve had to get used to those sounds and movements myself a lot.
I’m luckily blessed with a lot of fun and trustworthy people around me. People who support me, but also people who have another opinion sometimes and who are not afraid to let me know. People who wake at dawn and dusk to join me on concours and people who are always prepared to walk with the horses, groom them or put them in the paddock. That last point is very nice, because I have a full-time job and am only able to train when it’s late. Vice versa, I try to be there for them as well. With a question, advice, riding somewhere or loaning the trailer. And on rare occasions, I let another ride my horse, to let them know what I mean that way. Making a competition schedule is something I enjoy to do. There are a lot of fun concourses in the vicinity which I don’t want to miss and where, next to the sport, you can find a lot of sociability. I own a car and trailer myself, so I can go wherever I want
So, what am I making a problem about? A few weeks back, I went to a lecture by Joep Bartels and Anky van Grunsven. “The road to success” was the title of that lecture. For me, the lecture was a confirmation I was doing the right thing on the one hand, but an eye-opener concerning my own way of reacting and thinking towards the competition on the other.
Because even though I’ve been competing for years, have gotten better horses to ride and have reached good results, I’m secretly just as nervous as a young kid who goes on a school trip. Next to that, I put some sort of performance anxiety on myself. And all of that because I’m not convinced of my own abilities. Which was very scary to observe at myself!
The weird thing is that I only do this with myself. Because when I’m giving lessons, I know to recognize the sore spot very quickly and I am able to motivate both horse and rider to train enjoyably.
Luckily, Joep and Anky had some great tips during the lecture, which I’ve tried to engrave in my internal memory. I’m a pretty extrovert person. Concerning the competitions, I’m the same as I used to be with my first horse, focusing on everything. I’ll arrange this! I’ll ride along there quickly! I’ve forgotten this! I’m totally not focused on what I want to do. I seem to avoid it. The tip was to prepare yourself in an introvert way. So on being yourself, making sure beforehand everything is arranged, so I can focus on the thing I like to do. And that is enjoying riding (competitions).
During the warm-up, I try to keep the focus or concentration on me and my horse. I try to close myself off for other sounds, advertisement boards, starting tractors and other equestrians who want to have a chat. That works much better for me. The last competition went a bit wrong. One of the girls who went with me was called a few times by some people who stayed at home. “If they have to take a rug with them for you?” was the cautious question eventually. Grmbl, mumbling, bubbling, came out of me. “So no!” was the answer that was given! Afterwards, we had a lot of fun about it, but I also was a little disappointed. I had let myself be taken out of my concentration.
But by talking about it, I could lessen a big issue and make my own learning moment out of it. In November, I started 4th level for the first time, and in the following months I’ve
encountered numerous things. Total overwhelm that I scored a point in my first test, that I got first place two times to not scoring a point once. For myself, I’ve also endured a lot. Warming up too shortly, warming up too long, too much stress, too casual, file on the road, which led to being able to start at another time, but arriving too early, even though I really can’t take being extrovert for too long. With my horse I’m becoming more and more of a team, even though I’ve trained him myself from the start. The alignment gets better and better every day and that’s amazing. And it doesn’t matter if I’m nervous, too calm, riding too long or to short, he does the work. Always with his ears pinned forward! And he lets me know nicely if I’m doing something wrong.
If I’m too nervous, he is too. If I’m too relaxed, he is too. And a better indication isn’t there for me. Still, I’m looking for the right way in warming up, I’m still working on myself to melt together with my horse so we can dance through the arena together.
The coming weeks I’ll continue with this. All to prepare for my debut in the PSG level. Something I look forward to, but also something I look up against. Luckily, something like a training competition exists. And I’ll certainly use it!