When you cannot back yourself

When you cannot back yourself

The last few days have been a whirlwind and gave me one very important lesson. Pick a person who backs you even when you don’t feel able to back yourself. It’s probably not entirely clear how a dressage competition and realising just how lucky I was to find my boyfriend are related. But bear with me and I will explain.

Back in May I decided to nominate to ride in the medium classes at the Brisbane CDI. With this major competition now on my door step I figured I should take the opportunity to compete. And Nonie had been feeling good. And we’d received some really great feedback during our lessons. Shortly after nominating though Nonie and I encountered some pretty major issues in the contact which was making it hard to do the higher level work. All of this had me questioning my decision and fluctuating between figuring we might as well go, and thinking that we should scratch.

Andrea and Nonie at the Brisbane CDI

Fast forward to the week of the competition. An awesome lesson on Sunday and an encouraging discussion with my coach had me figuring that we’d had to ride through these challenges in a test situation sooner or later and that when it comes to horses things rarely go perfectly or to plan. A good ride on Monday further buoyed my confidence.

The nerves had subsided after our first two outing, but the challenges we were facing in our training left something more challenging in its place. Anxiety.

Anxiety that had me questioning my abilities as a rider. I felt not good enough for my horse. And after the Caboolture Championships I knew that the quality was going to be high. I didn’t feel like I was good enough to be riding amongst these other much more accomplished and better riders.

My logical brain knew that no one was going to laugh at me, the great thing about competitions is that other people are generally to focused on what they are doing to be concerned about other riders. The thing about anxiety though is that it doesn’t listen to logic.

Anxiety hit me hard overnight and consequently I rode terribly on Tuesday morning. I felt like there was no possible way I would be able to ride her around a medium test, and you can’t just ‘wing it’ at that level. In my mind this bad ride proved the fears that I’d had in the lead up to this competition. Of course I wasn’t good enough, we’d just barely qualified by the skin of our teeth. 

It was decided. I wouldn’t be competing. There was a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach. I didn’t like it, but the decision was made. There would be no CDI for Nonie and I.

When I sent Steve a text later that afternoon letting him know that I wouldn’t be competing my phone started ringing almost instantly. Through a flood of tears, I told him that I had ridden ‘like a muppet’ that morning and that I knew that the best thing for Nonie and I was to take the pressure off and not compete the next day.

But Steve knew better, he knew that this decision had been made by my anxiety. He also knew that one missed competition could quickly turn into many. But more than that he believed that I was good enough to be there and he didn’t want my negative emotions to get in the way of that.

He sent me out to the paddock to plait up and get ready. He got in touch with my mum knowing both how helpful she would be and that my mind being where it was at that time, that I would not have called her myself. My mum is always great at helping me to rationalise my thoughts and put things back into perspective. Steve also arranged a last minute session with the amazing Danielle Pooles from Dressage Plus.

After having done next to nothing all day, I was suddenly on the move. I had a big list of jobs to get done.

This particular session was incredibly productive and Danielle helped me to figure out why I compete. Something I had never really thought about beyond the surface level. Figuring this out was essential in enabling me to view this competition in a more positive light.

Steve and Nonie starting the day with some caffiene

Wednesday – Competition Day

After a restless night I woke up at 4.45am on Wednesday feeling surprisingly good. I was looking forward to competing and felt a little more confident than the day before. We arrived at Caboolture in time for Nonie to have her breakfast while I completed the finishing touches on her turnout.

As I saddled up and moved through our warm up, there was no flutter in my stomach and there were no negative thoughts buzzing around my head. Other than trying to dodge the other riders (something I seem to struggle with) I was in the zone, completely focused. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t perfect, but we felt in sync and I was able to adjust Nonie to improve the quality of work.

Our first test was in the main arena in the indoor. Nonie become a bit spooky as we entered. Something that would have been significantly easier to manage had she been entirely on my aids and through the body. Nevertheless, we got through the test without any major mistakes. By the time we got back to the float there was a text on my phone advising that our provisional score 61%. To some people this would be embarrassing, but this is not their story. And this was an important step in helping me to move forward on our journey.

After this first test I also noticed a text sitting on my phone from Danielle Pooles. At times like this I sometimes don’t feel deserving of the support from the incredible people around me. But I try to remember that is just the anxiety talking.

Nonie and Andrea after completing both of their tests at the Brisbane CDI 2019

After a short stroll around the trade village and catching a couple of tests, I was ready to get back on for our second test. Nonie felt even better in this warm up, but upon entering the ring we lost some of the suppleness and thoroughness. I felt a bit bummed walking away from the ring. But after a bit of reflection I actually realised that although there was room for improvement, we had managed to put some really good work forward. And when our score came through I literally jumped with joy. We’d managed a PB of 63.9% under international judges!! What a buzz.

Steve was an absolute trooper – he stood by the arena all morning and then sat with me to watch some of the higher level tests. All of this despite the fact that he had come off night shift the day prior and was no where near caught up on sleep.

It’s hard to put into words just how much it means to have someone who isn’t related to you, who believes in you and backs you even when you can’t do it for yourself. But that is exactly what I have found in Steve.