I was ready to move up. I could feel the confidence in my horse lately, and so could my trainer. When it was time to send the entries off to our next hunter/jumper show, I jotted down my name in the next division up.
I felt nervous, but the good kind, in the week leading up to the horse show. I told myself it’s good to feel jittery, excited but cautious, about a new challenge. We got to the horse show and my gelding schooled around the property like a superstar. He never bat an eye about anything, even as we jumped bigger fences in the dark and the chilly rain.
The next morning came, and we got ready to make our debut. I entered the warm-up area and could feel the tension in my horse – he wasn’t the same happy-go-lucky, easy ride I had the day before. In retrospect, maybe it was me. Maybe I was the nervous one, and he was merely reacting to my tension.
Our warm-up was horrible. His head shot straight in the air, and we crashed through the first few practice fences. We went into the show arena to do our warm-up round over fences, and it was equally as tense. My horse ping-ponged over the jumps, and I just hung on for dear life.
We both came out of the ring gasping for air.
Our trainer gave us a minute to try to settle down. We walked around the warm-up area on a looser rein. Then after several minutes, I picked up an easy canter. I tried to focus on the things my horse and I knew how to do together with confidence. Long and low trot sets. Swapping leads simply in the corners. Then the ring steward called our number. We were up again. This time, it was for real.
Any hope I had of placing in this hunter division had been thrown out the window. Now all I was focused on was trying to get around the ring as relaxed as we could be.
We walked back in. The announcer garbled my name over the loud speaker, and I picked up the right-lead canter after a quiet courtesy circle.
We approached the first fence, and the distance was better. I balanced him through the turn as we approached the first line. He was quiet, but apprehensive. By the second line, we were feeling more like ourselves. My trainer whispered to me to “relax” as we passed by, and I breathed a deep exhale. The third line was even better.
The fourth and last, felt like magic.
We exited the arena and I gave my horse a big pat. I had the feel I needed to come back stronger for the second round.
I’m not the type to “wing it.” I over-prepare, and then prepare some more. So after that first warm-up trip, I was immediately deflated. I was mad at myself. But after the day had ended, and we learned we’d taken home a blue ribbon in our first over fences class, I was happy with how the day went.
I was actually pleased, in retrospect, that I totally bombed in the warm-up. We got out all the willy-nillys. Everything I feared doing, I did right away. And then I was able to come back and actually give my horse the ride he deserved. And luckily, he was willing to wait for me to get my sh*t together.