Finals, Cantering, and Falling

This is a post from my horseforum.com thread that I started when I got Max. I’m so lucky the forum is still around and I was able to go back and add it to Lipizzan Life.

It feels like the right time to start my journal up again. I’ve been making so much progress in my lessons. I want to keep a record so I can look back during times of miserable failure and see that progress has indeed been made, at some point. 

– – –

National Dressage Finals 2014 was amazing. I have been wanting to meet the United States Lipizzan Federation (USLF) crew in the most embarrassingly fan-girl sort of way. When I found out that not one, but two Lipizzans had qualified for the event, I was in fits of babbling happiness. 

The first horse and rider pair we saw were in the Adult Amateur First Level. This is their first place freestyle! I pulled my trainer across the entire horsepark, from the Alltech arena nearly a mile away to the outdoor rings, to see them do their test. Along the way, I saw some people scooting that direction with USLF paraphernalia. I lost it; I started shouting “THE LIPIZZAN PEOPLE! OVER THERE!” My trainer looked almost embarrassed to be seen with me. “They’re going to think you’re crazy!” she quieted me, in an amused tone of voice. Luckily for both of us, I have a soft voice, and they didn’t notice my outburst. 

After they had tested, I shyly headed over to where horse and rider were conferring with the entire lipizzan entourage. They were being presented with the Adult Amateur high score cooler. I felt like I was meeting a rock star. “Excuse me…”, I stammered, a few times until I was noticed; “I just wanted to say how beautiful you both looked out there, and how inspiring you are to me.” The words dumbly fell from my unthinking mouth to the cold ground. I felt like a weird stalker. Luckily, they were all so nice and welcomed me into the group with Lipizzan camaraderie. They welcomed me back to the barn, and we all did a lot of hugging and talking. Hugging perfect strangers, just because we all have the same kind of horse. It sounds a little bizarre; but, it felt natural in the moment. 

In between watching the musical freestyles in the Alltech arena, and hustling to the outdoors to catch up on my new friend’s events, I was wooed by a few vendors. 

I bought a breathtaking saddle pad to add to my “someday show” gear cache. It’s black with different sized rhinestones on it, they look like twinkling stars in a night sky. It goes so beautifully with my bridle headband that I bought at last year’s regionals. The headband is black leather with a tasteful line of rhinestones that go side to side across the middle. It’s just the right amount of bling. 

I also fell in love with Stackhouse Saddles. Their saddles are so beautiful that I couldn’t resist myself from begging to sit in one. Each saddle is handmade for the horse and rider. They don’t even have samples, because every saddle they make has been pre ordered. Every saddle in their display was headed off to the buyer directly after the show. There was even a saddle that someone rode with in the show that very day on display. When I have 6k and my horse is more developed, I will be getting one of them! 

The other Lipizzan ride was a stallion from Tempel Lipizzans. He was 12 and doing Grand Prix. My newfound friends told me that he had been at Grand Prix since 8! He was very lovely, but I think maybe too tired to do his very best. 

I brought my camera to the show, but everything seemed so perfectly experienced in the moment. No pictures or videos I took would have captured the breathtaking grandeur I felt. 

– – –

I arrived back home with exponentially doubled enthusiasm for dressage riding. I felt on top of the world, ready to work hard and be at Nationals next year. 

While having my husband make a video of me riding, Maximas mistook a twitch from me to say “CANTER NOW!” He was so proud of himself, and enthusiastically gave me his sweetest, slowest canter. I unfortunately stiffened right up, throw my hands to the wind, and ended up bailing the canter train. I was so lucky to slowly slide more and more until gently plopping to the ground like a ball of manure. I want to put the video up here, but I feel like my shame would be lessened if I could put a good video up at the same time. 

I remember not being scared the entire time I was cantering in a slow, out of control, look at that idiot on that horse, sort of way. I was just losing myself to anxiety; the adrenaline was blocking off my logic brain and shoving my emotional brain into the saddle. I remember thinking to myself “well, that was a bad decision, that was a worse decision, I’m about to fall off, whoosh, yep I fell off”. 

I remember the wind getting knocked out of me. I remember groggily rolling over on my belly and looking up at Maximas while he pranced on his feet in place. The look in his eyes. That “Uhhhhhhh. Why did you get off while I was running?” look. I squeezed out the words “slip the reins over his head and hold him for me” to my poor husband. Bless him, he doesn’t know how to handle horses. He was standing in front of Maximas, holding a rein, while Maximas pranced and half reared in confusion. 

I scooped myself off the ground and wobbled around the ring while we cooled out. I started to have my husband lead him, but Maximas kept trying to scoot around him to be next to me. Our bond feels very special. 

– – –

The best part about my fall, was the “click” in my brain that followed my graceless landing. Something knocked into place. I knew I would never ride without full control at any point in the future. 

Since that click, I’ve learned to half halt Maximas to maintain a slow, beautifully feeling trot. Where before, we just ran around the ring as though each trying to escape the other; now, we are continually recollecting and balancing and dancing. 

– – –

Today’s lesson was the first that didn’t revolve around trotting a marathon. I’m finally steadying, finally being centered, finally in control. Today’s lesson was about contact. It was about giving a little, and taking it back a little.

I can’t quite explain what I learned. It’s not exactly learned yet. It was the first day of collection class. It was about being supple as a rider, and moving fluidly with my horse. 

It feels so beautiful to dance with my Lipizzan partner. It feels like freedom to be in harmony with him. I know that whatever fluidity I felt today will seem like a locked up joke in a few years, after I have retrained my muscles and joints. For now it feels like I am finally starting to ride dressage. To trot and have my horse’s head down and on the bit; to feel him trusting me with his sensitive mouth, is a gift of accomplishment. 

– – –

I also started Maximas on Smartpacks. The sales girls at the National Dressage Finals convinced me. Between colicare ($7500 colic insurance) and the unbelievable riding breeches that came as a sign up gift, I was hopelessly sold. They do have a 60 day money back satisfaction guarantee. I’m hoping it will make him an even happier, glossier, healthier horse. He is all of those things now, but it will be fun to see if he can be even more so. 

– – –

That catches me up! I’ll work on those videos. I’m hoping to get an actual good one soon, one where I actually stay on the horse. Looking good at the same time is a plus!

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