Sometimes a small change is exactly what you need. A fresh set of eyes, a different perspective, That's why it's so important to learn from as many people as you can. In addition to bringing in "big name" clinicians several times a year, my coach Debbie also offers students the opportunity to lesson regularly with her coach. It's a great way for Debbie to confirm that her training programs are on track, and the chance for us to learn something new or - more often than not - learn something old in a new or different way.
I had a lesson with Debbie's coach Jill Stedman last weekend, and it provided exactly the butt kick I needed to shake off the winter blahs. In just 45 minutes Jill helped me unlock a problem I have been struggling to fix, no matter how many times Debbie shows me how. I feel like I'm back on track and excited to get ready for show season.
Debbie and Jill are among those riders, coaches and trainers whom I like to call the "unsung heroes of dressage." There are hundreds of them across Canada from coast to coast. They play a valuable role in our sport, yet unless you live in their local area, you've likely never even heard their names. They are talented teachers and riders, and many show successfully in the FEI levels. Others may not show at all, choosing to focus instead on the coaching and training side of their business.
They suffer through Canadian winters with the rest of us, spending hours in freezing arenas trying to teach the magic of the half halt and the power of the outside rein. They share their knowledge with students of all ages, experience and ability, on horses of every breed and type. And they get the job done.
Don't get me wrong - I am always impressed by the accomplishments of our national team and top international riders. I am in awe of their talent, the work that goes into their success and above all, the jaw-dropping abilities of their horses. But what impresses me even more? A coach who can help a busy adult amateur rider reach his or her goals on an average horse.
The phrase "average horse" is not intended in any way to be a put down. In fact I think 98% of riders should be riding and purchasing average horses. You know the ones I'm talking about - the horses of any breed or any size who have three quality gaits and a superb brain, solid citizens that amateurs can ride and enjoy themselves, without the need for daily pro rides or extensive prep before a show.
The unsung hero coaches have proven their ability to work with amateur clients who juggle work, family and life obligations and don't always have time to ride 4-5 times a week. They take them and their "average" horses - Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, draft crosses and even a Connemara in one case I know of - up through the levels as far as they want to go, even up to Grand Prix.
While our Olympians and CDI competitors will always be my idols, the dedicated Canadian coaches who keep riders like me motivated and progressing are my heroes.
Anyone who knows me knows that I hate winter. Correction. I LOATHE winter. I despise it with every fibre of my cold, aching body. And yes, I know this is Canada and winter is what we do. I don't. I don't ski, or skate, or enjoy the sight of freshly-fallen snow. I like sunshine and sweating and stifling humidity.
Every winter my motivation disappears with the warm temperatures. A lot of it is mental. The idea of putting on 8 layers of clothes, driving 45 minutes to the barn, grooming a furry yak, tacking up with frozen fingers, dealing with winter spooks and sillies...it all just seems too much.
Since Christmas I have struggled to ride even three times a week. And of course since I'm not riding as much, Gus and I aren't progressing as much. And when I have crappy rides I lose motivation. When I lose motivation I ride less, and have crappier rides. It doesn't help that my schedule has also only allowed one weekly lesson lately. Within that hour I get back on track and feel like maybe, just maybe, I'm getting somewhere. But when I ride on my own, more often than not it seems to fall apart.
Part of the issue is physical as well. Though the knee fracture I sustained in a fall last summer has healed, the soft tissue damage is still causing me problems. So is the arthritis I have in my knees thanks to several years of running in my younger days and a substantial amount of cartilage loss, which was somehow aggravated by the fall too.
My body hurts. My knees, my hips, my back, my neck. By the time I finish the stalls which I muck in order to be able to afford to ride, I am too sore and tired to ride. In the summer I can take a 10 minute break and feel ready to go. In winter I just want to hobble home, soak in a hot bath with Epsom salts and crawl into my bed.
On the days when I do have a plan, feel energized and can't wait to go ride, the universe laughs at me. A client has a crisis. One of my kids throws up. Gus gets an abscess. There's a freezing rain storm.
Are you tired of my whining yet? Me too.
I'm trying to remember that it's not the end of the world if riding takes a back seat to life for a couple of months. Gus and I are not going to the Olympics, ever. My biggest plan for this year is simply to show First at a few Bronze shows and not fall off in front of the judge (again).
So today, as I try not to succumb to the stomach flu that took out one of my kids and my riding plans earlier this week, I will enjoy quality time with my computer, catching up on work with a dog on my lap in front of the fire. Gus doesn't care if he has another day off - he doesn't care if he has 10! I'll ride in my lesson tomorrow and once again, will have that glimmer of hope that someday I'll figure this whole dressage thing out. The weather will get warmer; the days will get longer and I will start riding and progressing again.
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