The main physical difference I can see between middle age and when I was in my teens and 20s is that I have to keep up athletic endeavors every day or I feel really sore. Even stuff I do all the time, like riding and jumping, or riding my bike, if I miss a couple of days, I’m sore when I do it again. This is kind of disheartening. I used to be able to go long stretches and then do the activities I do all the time without getting sore. No more. I took for granted that soreness was only reserved for the unusual. I was naive. I guess this means I will have to just not skip days, although my horse needs a break now and then too. I will just have to put up with it.
I wave around a heavy kettle bell to keep my midsection strong. I look like a fool when I do it, but it does help keep my core strength, which I need for racing across fields jumping obstacles on an equine. Actually it also helps with the dressage and stadium as well, but it’s really cross country where I notice if my core is feeling weak. Galloping miles in a half seat while occasionally throwing in a fence or 18 is a lot of work.
Last weekend my horse and I did a schooling cross country show in preparation for the rated one we have coming up in June. I was a little disheartened after dressage. Johann started really fixed and tense. Some days he comes out like butter, soft, and forward, and stretchy. Yesterday was one of those days, the type of day that if we were in competition he would get a score in the low 20s. The show day? The opposite. He was stuck and it took a good hour warmup to get him soft enough for a 37. Not so great. There’s a train! There’s a kid cutting me off! There’s a breeze! Press him into the outside rein. Spiral spiral spiral. Supple, supple, supple.
This was a two day event, so after dressage and a four hour break, we headed over to cross country. I was a bit worried he was going to be fixed again, holding on and wanting to run. Last year we rode a course where on parts it felt like I was riding a steeplechaser and it was all I could do to keep him in control. I just held on for the ride for many of the fences. This weekend, it was bright and sunny. I jumped him over a few warmup fences, which were great, then let him just walk because it was warm and running him around doesn’t make him run any less on course.
As I was waiting my turn, I got the little nervous feeling in my stomach I do sometimes before jumping. A couple of the obstacles weren’t anything we had schooled since last season. The fourth was a bank up and then down to a 3′ roll top one stride off to the right. In the past, before a winter of solid work on rideability and adjustability, this would have been one of those fences that might work out and might not. I still wasn’t sure how it would go because we hadn’t schooled anything like it recently. The other was a narrow triangle fence near then end of the course. Same as the other, in the past it was one of those fences Johann might have just said, “Nope,” and run out the side or barreled at it like a bullet out of a gun. Neither option is fun. We had spent a LOT of time schooling to keep him between my aids, rideable, and light in front, but hadn’t actually schooled anything like these since last year.
I sat there in the sun with my stomach doing its flip flops and thought, why am I doing this again? Then the clipboard holder said time for me to head to the start box, the start box person asked if I was ready for the ten second countdown, I said yes, hit the stopwatch, and Go! We cantered off easily toward the first obstacle. I remembered to keep my hands light and low, crouch in my half seat, let him move forward without getting too fast, settled in 10 strides out, and jumped the first fence, a big, ol’ pile of logs, like it was nothing. The adrenaline kicked in and we were off! The flip flops were gone, we were connected, Johann was locked on every fence, light and forward. It was SO MUCH FUN!!
We popped over the second and third fences easily. One was a coop, the other another log. Then we headed for the bank to the roll top. Johann was completely adjustable. He didn’t hesitate at all. No barreling, but in control and comfortable. It was perfect. I had figured out by the minute beeps on my stopwatch that we needed to slow down on some of the long galloping sections so we didn’t come in too fast. I sat back, pressed him into my outside rein, said, “Easy,” and “Slow,” and he did! All the work this winter was paying off. By the time we got to the narrow, any thoughts he might not jump it were completely gone. It was pretty near the end. I aimed for the left side of what was a pretty narrow jump so that he would be jumping the narrow side of the triangle. He stayed right on track in a perfect line. “Whoo hoo!” I hollered in joy as we carried on.
The final fence was challenging because it turned sharply to the right away from the crowd and other horses. Near the end, the horse had to be still listening and willing to ride away from the herd. Several kids had issues with horses bulging too far left on their approaches, which gave them crooked tracks for the finish and a few run outs. I held my left rein and leg and made the turn, pressing him into that outside rein. Johann didn’t even bulge against me, but rode straight and true to the final fence. We galloped over and done! Only 13 seconds over the optimum time, which was such a major improvement over last year, and the speed at the rated event is going to be 400 mpm, while this was 350, so we were doing well.
I felt high and excited after the run. THIS was why I did this! I answered myself. Why? Because it is the most fun in the world. I LOVE it! Johann loves it! He was prancing and arching his neck, soft and delicious in the bridle. I hugged him and got off. He rubbed his head on my shoulder, his way of saying, all good, Mama!
The next day for stadium, he was absolutely perfect. Funny, he’s often the most rideable after a day where he starts out with a ton of tension in his jaw and shoulder. We loosen that up, then he’s a dream to ride. It helps that I have been figuring out that I hold tension in my arms and shoulders, which I’m sure translates to how he goes. I’ve been riding with my arms like wet noodles, and he has been going much more relaxed from the beginning. It doesn’t take a half an hour of lateral work to get him soft, he starts out soft. It’s teamwork, and I definitely fit into the equation.
We have another schooling event coming up in two weeks, then Aspen the week after. It’s getting close! In the meantime, I’ll keep riding my exercise bike and waving around the kettle bell and taking maybe only one day off so I don’t end up sore and sorry–like I am today, which prompted this little post. The muscles above my knees are screeching at me. What did you do that for?!? Ride two horses, ride the exercise bike, wave around a hunk of metal 40 times? You trying to kill us? Um, no? Trying to keep from being a blob with no muscle tone. I’m not taking any of it for granted any more.