Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Finding the silver lining and getting through a rut

A few months after getting Tillie - Not really relaxed over her
or stepping under herself. At this point we were promoting
her moving into contact rather then sucking behind my leg
Fair warning, this is sort of a debbie downer post but I am hoping someone else out there has experienced something similar and can offer some words of wisdom. Plus I wear my heart on my sleeve and blogging is a dangerous forum for me to spill it all!

So as I have mentioned in some recent posts, I am feeling a bit stuck and frustrated (and many more negative emotions) when it comes to Tillie and I's progress. Today is a hard day. Maybe the fact I have emotion at all towards riding in general is a bigger issue...but that is a whole different ball game.

Some days are better then others, especially when I can channel that emotion to use as motivation to work harder. But lately its been hard to find the motivation. I am having a hard time seeing what is right versus wrong and even harder time feeling it.

I can honestly take a critique and suggestions in stride and give them a try to help us, but for some reason lately they seem to make me feel like it is pointing out things I missed when I shouldnt have. Critiques are the essence of lessons...so if I am having such a hard time taking them, that explains why I leave my lessons feeling hopeless and lost. 

Tillie last June just starting back after time off from cellulitis.
Working in a mullen at this point and better with contact,
but still rushing and on wanting to get on the forehand.
What is even more irritating is I listen back to videos or replay a day in my head and hear some positives or someone say something looks great but *I* don't hear it. All I can hear is what we are doing wrong.

I have tried taking a step back and let everything get some air and breath (partially unintentionally with her eye)...I cant tell if its working or not. Tillie certainly hasnt regressed because of that. She hasn't missed a beat.
September 2014 after a few months off again from residual
lamenesfrom the cellulitis. Really on the forehand here, but
more relaxed over her back and now graduated to a french link
(this was the first ride trying it)

My main struggle today is the recent videos from my dressage lesson I have asked for critique and any suggestions. I got some really helpful ones that I have since buckled down on and began working on (AKA my core strength to help with my tense shoulders). But one really got to me that pointed out my horse was hollow and not actually connected or correctly working over her back.

From a lesson this past winter here working on square turns.
Shes taking bigger steps, but still not lifting her back.
WAIT...what??!? It was sort of like finding out Santa doesn't exist when all along I have been writing letters and making cookies totally blissfully unaware in my little world. So imagine the feeling of the wind getting knocked out of you...that is the feeling I have had since hearing this.

I know its melodramatic. It is quite ridiculous. BUT I have also been riding and working and training every. single. ride. thinking we have been at least established a consistent connected contact. I feel embarrassed to think we simply are going around looking pretty without achieving any real working dressage.

I have a few things that really get to me...my hands and false headset. I do not want to be known as a rider that has bad hands or has a horse with a false headset. So imagine my horror when I was told we are really great at looking pretty, but not really, in actuality, working correctly.

I know it takes time to work towards these things and achieve these things. But I have really poured serious blood, sweat and tears into riding my horse so she is correct. Correct means less chance for lameness and we have had our fair share of that. Ever since that whole saga I have devoted my time to researching, riding, lessons..etc to making sure I am giving her the best chance at staying sound.
Dressage lesson with my Canadian friend end of this past winter.

Now I know I am feeling sorry for myself and borderline whiny...but I just lost Santa Claus. I am mourning a little bit here. Its a huge let down and it feels a bit like I have been fooled. I have been walking around thinking something and really believing it when it turns out it isnt actually true. Now, I am an adult and Christmas is still fun despite there not being a Santa. The magic has just needs to be found elsewhere.

So I am on a mission to find my magic elsewhere.

Recent lesson in early July 2015

For a long time I had the below graphic pinned on my tack box when I first brought Tillie home. It was a reminder to work on what I had first and not look too far ahead.

I know each level can overlap slightly...so there are gray areas for what level of the pyramid we are current sitting at. Lately in my lessons we have been working more on thrust and that bigger step and sitting more....so this is why I am tearing myself to pieces when I hear we are not actually masters of the level of connection. 

I can look back at the photos throughout this post and see improvement and see what stage we were in (or are in) based on the scale above. In some ways it is nice, others it makes me sad to see its taken 2 years to achieve the bottom two consistently. 

So I will do my best to stop feeling sorry for myself and find the magic. Anyone out there that has similar stories and how they overcame such a rut or just any thing to offer...I would love to hear! 


  1. I've been through this exactly! The biggest thing to remember here, and I think you get this but maybe have trouble embracing it, is that there is no clear cut path from breaking a horse to competing Grand Prix where every single moment is correct. There are going to be moments, days, months, even years where the horse may be going incorrectly. And you can't let that cripple the effectiveness of your riding.

    I'm going through it now with my baby. He is not correct. He is too short in the neck, drops his withers, and carries a lot of tension over his back. He also is not supple, not correct in the connection, and we're certainly not looking further up than that, but he is quite crooked and we will likely struggle with collection for years. I was stressing about the shortness in his neck when I rode with my trainer (S dressage judge) recently. She told me to suck it up, that he was not going to be perfectly correct all the time and that I was doing him a disservice by not giving him a place to connect to (since I would throw the reins at him, hoping he'd lengthen his neck), however incorrect the connection was. We had a long discussion about correctness and she assured me that he would eventually be correct because I was working toward it. And the same can be said about your mare.

    The thing about dressage that is so frustrating is that success always feels just out of reach. Right now I'm working on connection and suppleness and it just seems like he'll finally be correct when he finally connects and relaxes his topline. But then he'll seem incorrect in his straightness, his impulsion. Then it's whether he's simply slowing down or actually flexing his hocks in the collection. Then it's movements! Are the pirouettes hollow and swapping out behind? Is the piaffe losing rhythm? Is the passage uneven and flat? Those were all questions I asked of my Grand Prix horse and those were all questions I said "yes" to for AT LEAST six months last year. You have to wade through the shittiness to reach greatness. And then you simply start back over with a new movement, a new rung on the training scale... it kind of sucks.

    This is getting long but I want to say one more thing: be careful who you accept critique from. Not everyone is out to be encouraging or positive or helpful. Some people are just out to make themselves feel better by putting others down or pointing out faults. Even some trainers are out to make you feel like you NEED them by putting you down (fire those trainers!). I only accept advice from my trainers. I know they want to help me, want to encourage me.

    For the record and based on your short blogging history, I think you're doing an excellent job! You're working hard on your position (which isn't bad in the least, you sit beautifully in the tack) and your mare is active, responsive to the aids, willing to stretch into contact, and (most importantly) looks incredibly happy to work for you. Don't let fear of being incorrect or riding poorly or making mistakes cripple your confidence. It's easier said than done, but you guys are great, you just need to get out of your head a little bit :)

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Really. It means so much and I think your sentence "Don't let fear of being incorrect or riding poorly or making mistakes cripple your confidence." sums up all of it. The trick is being able to turn my brain off or at least redirect it!

  2. I see huge improvement and progression in those photos! I think you are being too hard yourself :)

    I think everytime you look at photos/videos of yourself riding you have to think of two positive things for every negative thing you see. When I made myself do that it was really challenging. For a long time the only nice thing I could think about myself was that I was a nice size for my horse and that his tail looked nice.

    Do you think a change of coach would help? I've had a few coaches who are really negative/pick-apart types and I'm too sensitive for that kind of coaching right now. I would just cry on my drive home from the barn and feel like the biggest loser ever.

    1. I have been trying new coaches...some I am on the fence about others have moved on from. There is one right now that really does work well and makes me feel good even when I feel bad even though I cant have her out as much as I want.

      My main coach, while not positive, is brilliant. It is nice to have others around to regurgitate what he says because they dont come out as compliments, but sometimes speak to his view of our progress. I do lack confidence at times with his style, but in the bigger picture knows he has faith in us. He never is demeaning but is tough and really just is pushing to be better. It is sorta nice sometimes to know that with his style, the sheer fact he pushes means he thinks we are doing well and capable of being pushed.

    2. Thank you! and I did chuckle at the only nice things you could think of haha they sound familiar.

  3. you are not alone in not hearing the compliments doled out to you among all the corrections - esp with a trainer as dead pan and monotone as Dan, it's easy to miss those little nuggets of joy!

    i'm struggling right now with the false connection woes too, especially given the outcome of our chiro appt. but really it's hard work and an exercise in patience. for now i'm trying to focus on the 'moments' we get it right and build from there.