Learning To Sing Through The Stage Fright: A Lesson Recap
|Special ponies get special breakfast delivered to them when it snows.|
Fresh out of his bodywork session, Dino was feeling super duper loose as we warmed up; his stifles were SO loose that his hind legs felt like they were not quite attached at first. I was feeling more tired than usual, and both of us hadn't done any real work since our lesson with Cristina's H/J trainer the week prior.
But we trotted around, hunting for that self-propelled, forward gear, and eventually all of Dino's body parts returned to their rightful places, and I tried to relax my arms and shoulders and let him do his job. After trotting through our pole exercise for the day, which was three poles each set two strides apart, we moved up into canter to work through the poles some more.
I think I may have ridden the exercise correctly like, once. I either let Dino blow through the corner so we hit the first pole weird, didn't have enough impulsion coming in, or had too much stride length that I then allowed to get even LONGER through the exercise, which Dino creatively dealt with by drifting left to fit in two steps instead of an awkward one-and-change. Eventually, I got my act together enough to make some semi-acceptable passes through the poles on each lead, but I never really felt that I was on my game. Straightness and appropriate balance in the canter were eluding me!
After riding through the poles and then across the diagonal to a crossrail, which we actually did super well with despite our combined inability to get our six legs over obstacles in the appropriate manner, it was time to start chipping away at the mini course of the day.
Left lead over the pole 'combination', short left turn off the wall to a small vertical, which had begun the lesson as our warm-up crossrail, then across the diagonal, around the short side, and up the opposite diagonal over a 2-stride vertical-to-oxer line.
Everything was set small (we're talking a whopping 2'3" here, if that), but as you probably already guessed, that two-stride was making me a little anxious. A combination. With an oxer. Yikes.
The thing with combinations, is that there is no room to make things perfect if the 'in' fence isn't perfect, and with the 'out' fence being an oxer, it was making me a little nervous. So, after kicking into gear with a good jumping canter, we came around and rode through the poles to the vertical and nailed it. I needed a simple change in the corner before the combination, and panicked a little bit about having enough gas in the tank to make it through. Despite my anxiety and the fact that I'm pretty sure I just took my leg off instead of actually riding, we jumped through the combination just fine, even though the second element felt a little dramatic as I stuck my spur in and Dino lurched over the oxer when I realized that, yes, we had done two strides and we needed to JUMP! NOW!
But, despite my anxiety and the fact that the combination seriously weirded me out, it didn't weird me out to the point of pulling, causing a stop, or having a complete panic attack, so that was a win! Dino jumped around like a champ, as is the norm for him nowadays.
Our second turn through the small course was much better - Dino knew what was up and clicked almost immediately into Super Grand Prix Jumping Pony Gear, eating up the poles, turning handily to the first vertical, and giving me a lovely flying change on the way to the combination! This time, however, I somehow managed 3 strides instead of 2, so I got to go back and jump the combination a few more times. I managed to jump it in the prescribed 2 strides from then on, but it was a challenge for me to not silently scream in my head in panic on the way to the first fence. Eventually I managed to mostly relax, close my leg, and just jump the darn thing without taking my leg off or making dramatic moves, but it wasn't easy for me to just chill out about it.
My trainer and I chatted briefly after the lesson about where I'm at mentally right now. We agree that I've got all the skills, Dino and I work well as a team, and we are more than capable of success at the level we're at. The thing I need to work on at this point is keeping it together and being able to ride well and perform and stay present under pressure.
And pressure can look like a lot of different things for me, as it can for anyone.
It can look like a two-stride line with an oxer out. It can look like a big oxer on a long approach. It can look like a horse show. It can look like a small cross country fence set on a downhill slope. It can look like cantering up to a jump and having absolutely no earthly clue about where, or if, my pony will leave the ground to take off.
But the thing about pressure is that if I want to keep riding and keep learning and keep jumping and competing (which I do!), it's not going to go away. While I can't eliminate pressure, I CAN learn how to ride well in its presence, just like I learned to focus on the music when I got a little nervous singing on stage when I was younger.
So, my trainer has been upping the ante for me a little bit at a time, using these Brain Lessons to help me learn to adapt to situations where I feel psychological pressure, and guiding me towards a mental strength that will allow me to keep riding when I feel the fear of failure or loss of control start sneaking in. Slowly but surely, I'm getting there, and will get to test my new skills in the show ring soon.
I think we'll do okay. After all, I must be riding better since we haven't had a single refusal in months!