Spring (Winter) in Aiken: Part II. I’m eating a lot and Patty Cake was right about becoming a ballerina

In the next few paragraphs I reflect on the gratefulness I have for my home-barn, semi-ammy lifestyle, and career decisions. But, I don’t want that to take away from the immense gratefulness I have for my current situation working at an incredible facility, riding incredible horses, AND having access to some of the best coaching in the world. (I believe that, it’s why I’m here.)

After my initial post, I realized I guess we are still in “Winter.” It feels like Winter, but my first presumption was that riders move to Aiken because it is warmer. This is false. It is not warmer.

Homesickness

It’s so different coming into this position on the other side of college, riding goals, and a few years of being an adult boarder. On the one hand, to have access to more lessons and a means to work off some board is so valuable. But, on the other hand, and I may be of unpopular opinion, at the end of the day I don’t want to clean someone else’s tack. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending an hour grooming and currying my horse, I love watching lessons, and I love taking my horse on the longest hacks before spending a long time cooling her off and studying her legs for knicks. But, in those times I have control over my time. and my own horses. And there’s a difference.

When I was a working student in college, I learned so much about horse care, fitness, and barn management. It was a priceless experience, and I really think that every rider who wants to pursue eventing either professionally or as an amateur should take advantage of a working-pupil position. After school, rather than take the route to become a full-time professional, I chose the route of accounting. Every large competition however, that curiosity to even insecurity creeps back as to whether this route was the right choice.

It was.

I sometimes like to sleep, and I like bringing coffee to my barn-girls back home and watching lessons. I actually don’t mind going to my office for a few hours, sitting indian style in my desk listening to True Crime Podcasts, and crunching numbers. Then, I don’t mind being able to decide my horse can have two days off while I go visit my Mom and her ponies once a month. These little things, while so subtle are parts of my life back in Newnan I really miss. I know Sallie will text me about what time my horse will go out, and I won’t respond because I want my horse to go outside early. I know if I get up early on Saturdays I can catch more jump-lessons and chat with some of the Moms while everyone hauls in for lessons. I’ll personally decide which ones I’d ride for myself but never tell. Ms Patty Cake will bring Huckle a cookie, and then ask me if I’d have rather been a ballerina. I’ll say, “Of course not.” In some of the ways before that I felt really far away from “upper-level” eventing, desiring to find a spot in this small, tight community, I think I’ve decided while the quality of riding and goals to compete at the very top level of the sport will always be at the forefront, the where, speed, and the who acknowledges that quality, is less important to me than I thought.

Maybe, I’m a little homesick.

Training

The good part.

So, over the first few weeks I definitely struggled. The thing is, I’ve had lots of lessons, I’ve even been in this program previously so I can verbally tell you, the positioning, troubleshooting, and even philosophy of how we want the horse’s body to go and how the rider’s position moves to get them there. But, the application of that knowledge in practice had, and is still crumbling, a wall. Imagine, me telling you to blink your right eye, because that is the correct eye with the branch impaled , but I blink my left. Yes, I know the right eye was the correct one, but the left eye muscles responded to the brain’s message. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Secondly, at home, obviously because some of my responses and cues weren’t quite correct, I lost confidence in all my cues. So if my horse offered a rebuttal for my request, I’d either half-heartedly re-request or re-request with different aids to see if that worked.

So, now after lots of patience and repetition, I feel like I’m able to translate messages to the right button or aid to perhaps straighten her on the right, or use the correct part of my leg on the wider part of her rib cage where before I may have had my leg to close to the pit behind her shoulder. Additionally, because I’ve gained a refresh on where and how the positioning should take place, when my horse is uncomfortable or moves in an incorrect way I’m more confident in what aids to use to counteract.

Those things now in place, the correct positioning, the correct reactions, it does still feel “rusty.” The buttons work, but the force with which I’m using them is just a bid rigid or late. That’s what I’m working on right now. But with Allison’s patience and my own confidence in the how to respond, the softness and “fluidity” (Is that a word) begins to warm-up and come through as the ride progresses. (I really think my horse and I are the same. We both need a long warm-up)

Favorite ToolKindness and Tone

Not the counter-canter exercise, or the yielding her whither, or even turn-on-the forehand, the most valuable nugget, ( Allison may say our “straightness,”) but to me the most valuable piece I’ve taken away is “manner.” The “manner” in which I ask for aids, or correct, or just sit on her back. LIghtbulb, my horse is actually fairly sensitive as a you-know a petite, thoroughbred mare on three and a half meals a day, endless alfalfa, with the fitness to run 3***. And, I don’t think of myself as an un-kind rider, but perhaps Ms. Patty Cake and Allision are on the same wavelengths on this ballerina thing, When you picture the ballerina she balances so eloquently strength and suppleness .Every movement is a thoughtful and a smooth transition from the previous. This is how I need to ride my horse. And whether it’s in warm-up when she’s still a bit contorted through her back, or in jumping when I need to bring her back, the manner and control I can use to communicate with my horse has made the LARGEST difference. And I think this can be taken on to any horse, but particularly with my sensitive mare, the simple releases of tension in my shoulder, patient yield of her shoulders to the right to stay in front of her hind-legs, or sitting gently back after the fence but keeping my elbows bent and elastic as I half halt, these things keep her in a solid communication with me. Previously, in the abrupt movements or strong aids, I’d cut off that telephone line as she buzzed in confusion and nervousness. But, just the slightly bit of awareness and staying mindful.. It’s sounds a bit bizarre. These are all psychological elements, but they do translate into the physical movements I make and requests I make of my horse.

Misc

I officially feel like an adult. Up until now, I felt like a recent-post grad young adult. No, I’m an adult, adult. I’m eating everything. It’s actually nice. I now order two servings. Like this morning, I got two chicken biscuits from Chic-Fila. I try to eat as much as I can whenever I’m not working, because in the morning my gut has shrunk to the back of my spine, and I start over. The girls I live with are amazing, but they are a different breed of person. I get off work, and my legs feel like concrete. They do work-outs and run or go on walks. I keep hoping my own fitness will improve enough to do a dancing aerobics class with them, but I’m on about week 7 here and it hasn’t happened yet.

I do like the town of Aiken. The footing, close proximity to so many schooling opportunities, and so many competitions make it a perfect place to train. Our location is really nice sitting between a highway that ‘s 4 miles from Dunkin’ Macchiato and a soft dirt road to hack our ponies on. I’m finally beginning to become familiar enough to get places without Maps. Ok, I can get to Dunkin’ and ChicFila which are on the same road I live on, and I can make two turns to get to Aiken Saddlery.

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