Rising to the challenge of difficult rides

Several weeks ago on Instagram I mentioned that I wanted to improve the way that I dealt with challenging rides. You now those rides where you just can’t quite get it together, everything feels like hard work, or maybe they are even those rides where you just don’t quite get that moment of brilliance that we are all endlessly chasing?

Becoming mentally stronger to be able to keep cool when rides are challenging is something that I have been working on

While I had long moved past the worst of it there was still some lingering negative thinking that was following me out of the saddle and into the rest of my life. Picture this – I get home late-ish after work and riding Nonie, and find my partner Steve and the poodle relaxing on the couch. As I walked through to the kitchen to put my keys away, I spotted the sink full of dishes. “I’m off for a shower,” I called benignly as the anger started to rise inside me.

Looking at this scenario you could be forgiven for thinking that I was upset after coming home at the end of a long day to find my partner, who was off work that day, hadn’t done the one thing I had requested his help with. But I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t about the dishes at all. I was frustrated because my ride hadn’t gone to plan.

I had subconsciously clocked this, but I hadn’t really taken the time to acknowledge to myself that I was feeling disappointed that my ride, the thing that is meant to bring me joy and happiness hadn’t.

Here is the thing though, I didn’t want to be ‘that person’. I genuinely didn’t want to behave like a brat just because I hadn’t had the ride I was hoping for. Steve didn’t deserve that, and neither did I. A bad ride is frustrating but it shouldn’t impact on our happiness for the next 24hours or until we can have the next good ride. Aside from it not being a good way to live, it’s a lot of pressure to take into our next ride.

A quick snap of Nonie pre ride

Prior to the last few months I had already made significant improvements on my attitude towards a ‘good’ vs a ‘bad’ ride. But there was still room for improvement. Enter my wonderful Performance Coach and sponsor Danielle Pooles from Dressage Plus. I took this issue to her in a coaching call and we discussed some strategies to help me readjust my perspective after one of these so called bad rides.

And for the next month or so I largely had great rides. There were however a spattering of more challenging rides in there which gave me the opportunity to use those strategies. And they worked brilliantly.

This last week was a different story, it started off with three non-riding days. Something that I don’t love, but is unfortunately at times an unavoidable part of the Adult Ammy life. Nonie can often be a little stiffer and a little more reluctant to carry herself correctly after a few days off. Something I am all to aware of now and no that it is my job as a rider to work through those sticky spots and to help her find her correct balance.

This week in particular, backed onto a week of riding which had its own challenges. We’d started to reintroduce the changes over the last month and in doing so and trying to find Nonie’s more collected canter I had allowed her back to get a little tight and the canter to get slow and inactive. The exact opposite of what should happen. So once again I was having to fix a mistake that I had made within my training. I’ve made peace with the fact that I have made some mistakes in our training – I think it’s something that is going to happen when you are learning all of these things at the same time as you are attempting to teach your horse.

Nevertheless, when I was finally able to ride Nonie again, it was easily one of the most challenging rides I have had in a long time. But I stuck to riding the way that I have been taught and we were eventually able to find a better quality in each of the gaits. Our ride the next day was an improvement from this. And with the use of the strategies Danielle had taught me I was able to leave the paddock with a positive mindset.

When I mounted up on Saturday afternoon I thought for sure it would be a better ride again. Onwards and upwards as they say. And in some ways it was. But there were still some super sticky parts of the ride that I needed to work through. At about the halfway point I could feel that familiar frustration rising. And then the tears began to bubble up. In that moment I made a decision, I was not about to cry. I took several very deep breaths as I pulled myself together. I focused on controlling her outside shoulder and keeping her ribs mobile, rather than the red herring of creating inside bend through the neck. And we finished the ride on a positive note.

"It's not how we win that defines us... it's how we lose."
This quote from one of my favourite novels Hovercraft Racer by Matthew Reilly is one I often find myself thinking about when reflecting on challenging rides

In the past I had allowed myself to wallow in pity and frustration. After all, I wasn’t a very good rider, my horse was not the most talented and we haven’t had the access to coaching that other riders have had. And maybe there is a time and a place to acknowledge those things. But this was not it. I’ve come to realise that those things were not helping me in the moment and I wanted to be a mentally stronger rider than that.

I need to be able to maintain my composure in the trickiest of moments in the saddle, if I want us to be able to continue moving forward in our training and competing as the challenges will undoubtedly continue to arise. And I feel as though I have started to make important steps towards being a stronger and more resilient rider.