Written by Louise Curran
The whirlwind journey with the beautiful Gandalf continues and last weekend we stepped up into Big Tour dressage and rode the Intermediate 2 test for the first time. It was another huge step for us and although I wasn't entirely convinced we were ready, I've come to accept that this is a normal state of mind for me. I'm not sure if I'll ever really feel were ready for the next step but if Id waited until I felt I was ready to move up a level, I probably wouldn't have made it past Novice!
Sure enough, we put in a very credible performance and posted some respectable scores.
Our passage was passagey, our piaffe was piaffey and even though they're our least established movements, given that we haven't been working on them for very long, they were at least recognisable. Plenty of room for improvement (that's a good thing, right?) and so much to work on, but were well and truly on our way.
Id chosen this competition because they'd scheduled the Inter 2 test on Saturday and again on Sunday. My reasoning was that Id have a red hot go at it on day one and then, even if that turned out to be a complete dogs breakfast, I could go back and have another crack at it on day two.
Good strategy! The first test was a bit messy and I learned so much just by riding it for real. For day two I was able to make some important improvements and at the end of the competition we came home with decent scores, a rosette for each test and more experience under our belt a successful competition!
OK, so that's the good news spin on it all. As a good friend often tells me, Im very much a glass half full person. If I was posting about it on Facebook I would have had lovely pics of Gandalf looking shining white we really pulled out all stops in the cleanliness stakes for this comp and me showing off the rosettes, looking rather pleased with myself and as though everything was right with the world. Because you can do that on Facebook and everyone believes it right?
In the real world though, without the spin,just before this competition it felt like the wheels had fallen right off the wagon. I had one of those times when I was convinced that I couldn't ride, I was a complete failure, Id only got to this level because of pure, dumb luck and I just knew that all the training Id done in preparation for this competition was entirely on the wrong track and Id irrevocably ruined my horse for anything good in the future. It was perfectly clear to me that any judge who had given me nice scores in the past was completely delusional and that my best course of action was to take up knitting.
Not surprisingly, the friend who tells me I'm a glass half full sort of person also tells me I'm a drama queen who exaggerates horribly. She might just have something there.
Gandalf and I are pushing the limits together. Each time we progress up a level its the first time either of us have done it. Even though the enthusiasm and determination factors are high, the experience and knowledge factors at that level are almost non-existent. We muddle through together and generally make a pretty good fist of it but the reality is were sort of bumping around in the dark together trying to find the light switch.
It's the same for training. Were lucky to have a fabulous coach who keeps us on track but even so there are times when we go a little bit off the rails. I cant train as often as I'd like to work and other responsibilities keep getting in the way so there can be times when I haven't had the benefit of expert eyes on the ground for a while or the safety net of someone who will tell me how things are without mincing words.
Then, when we do have the chance to train intensively with our coach again, all sorts of things need to be corrected, changed, tweaked and improved. The sense of placing myself in a learning bubble is very strong and life becomes all about changing things, even if just in small ways, and rethinking my approach to how Gandalf and I can perform at our best.
At this point, its fine to come face to face with how much I still have to learn and how much work we need to do to improve. I can take this realisation and head home with renewed determination to work hard.
However lightbulb moment here it's not so good to have this realisation immediately before a competition where you're riding a new level that you're not entirely comfortable with in the first place!
I realise now that I generally keep training and competing in their own separate compartments and that they very rarely cross over. If I'm training I'm learning, experimenting, improving and challenging myself. Im often going way out of my comfort zone and increasing the demands on both Gandalf and I. Good isn't good enough and better is only a beginning. The pursuit of excellence is incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally, and at the end of two days of training Im generally knackered!!
The day after an intensive clinic, Gandalf and I will often take a day off completely, or simply go for a relaxed hack out to dial back the intensity. After taking this metaphorical deep breath, well be ready to start putting everything into practice on our home arena and moving ahead with renewed purpose and enthusiasm.
This time though, a very intensive clinic was immediately followed by a two day competition and instead of taking a deep breath the day after, I fronted up for my first Big Tour test. Recovery time = 0! Time to consolidate and get comfortable with all I learned = Zilch! Mindset going into the competition = there's so much I need to work on there's no way I'm ready for this level!
It looked supremely logical when I scheduled it all in the diary and it still sounds like a great idea in principle train for two days to get everything happening as it should then go straight out and put it all into practice and ride two fabulous tests.
It probably would work beautifully for someone with more experience and less to change but I generally have so much to work on that I need time to work it all out and consolidate it before I can really use it effectively riding at this level is all still so new!
So, I find myself, once again, voicing one of the most used phrases in my life Yup, I won't do that again! A very valuable mistake!
I love mistakes. Actually, that's not strictly true in fact, its really not true at all! I hate making mistakes with a passion and I give myself a really hard time when I do. No-one likes to get things wrong and I'm absolutely no exception.
What I do love about mistakes is the effect they have. I love learning fast and making mistakes is the best way of doing that I've found so far.
Someone said to me a little while ago, At this level, you really can't afford to make mistakes and I think I surprised them a bit by replying At my age, at whatever level, I can't afford NOT to make mistakes!
I learn from every mistake, no matter what it is every time I make a mistake, I get better at what I do.
If I make the same mistake a second time, that's a different story. If that happens, I'm just being a dill and I need to pull my socks up!
A mistake could be something as simple as having too much to drink just before a lesson or a test. Yes, hydration is important but the feeling of all that liquid sloshing around is very disconcerting, not to mention horribly uncomfortable. Yup, won't do that again!
It could be not diluting the purple shampoo concentrate enough so that Gandalf has an overall violet tinge that is very unattractive. Yup, won't do that again!
It could be the error of course in the Inter B test because Id been sloppy and ridden the test in my mind without confirming at which marker a particular movement started. Accuracy is everything and I threw away marks. Yep, won't do that again.
Or, it could be scheduling a very intensive clinic immediately before a competition where I was riding a new level. Yup, won't do that again!
Apart from fast tracking the learning experience, embracing mistakes rather than being fearful of them brings a lovely sort of freedom to learning and development. I find that when I give myself permission to make mistakes I also subconsciously give myself permission to have a go at something that might not be successful at first try. Whether or not it works just doesn't matter the fact that I had a go and learned something is the thing that will get me where I want to go.
So at this stage my plan is to keep working and competing at Inter 2 until I'm happy that we've made as many mistakes as we need to make so that we can be as good as we can be. Only then will it be time to move up to Grand Prix and start experiencing a whole new level of mistakes and achievements.
Until next time..