I believe that when we imagine how we would like to manage and ride our horses, we all have very similar pictures in mind. Immaculate looking stables; big, green fields which are never muddy and allow the horse a lot of turnout (no poos on there either of course, I mean they are poo-picked at least once a day); and an array of all-weather arenas, indoors and alternative ways of entertaining and exercising the horse.
We would ride immaculately clean horses, which are well-behaved at all times, never spooky and eager to learn new things. We also have a plan in mind: maybe you would like to do young horse classes when they are 4 and ride elementary when 5? They will qualify for regionals every time and are never sick or sorry. Field injuries, lameness? That wouldn't happen.
I think at least now you will have noticed that I was painting a picture not many of us will see, ever, at least not all at the same time.
I am very lucky to be at a yard where my horses are happy and which suits us well, but when it comes to luck with horses I haven't had much in the last few years.
I bought Chili as a four-and-a-half-year-old project, and unfortunately, he turned out to be more of a vet and saddler project than dressage project. It took me a long time to understand what he was trying to tell me and to understand him. He always threw new issues at me, be it headshaking, very subtle lameness or just being unhappy in his saddle for no obvious reason.
My initial plan was to give him some time, slowly re-train him and start competing when he turned 5. Now, 6 years old, a few vet hospital visits later and looking for my fourth saddle, we are still not able to do a decent prelim test, but on the plus side, he is sound and working nicely in-hand (most of the time!).
Remember the perfect image I described earlier? It was as much my friend as it was my enemy. I knew where I wanted to get to, but I felt like as soon as I fixed one issue, another one would crop up.
In that time, I have been through the entire process of feeling I had failed, thought I wasn't good enough, judged myself harshly, thought I should sell Chili to somebody with more experience, and was also worried what others might think of me.
I believe being self-critical goes hand-in-hand with being competitive. If we wouldn't know what went wrong, how could we improve next time?
But I also think this can be dangerous. It is helpful to look closely at what you are doing, how your seat influences your horses and where you might give the horse some confusing aids, but it then can also be damaging to your confidence. You can only educate a horse if you are confident in what you are doing, and doubting yourself too much then becomes a hindrance, and I felt this was where I was going.
So I would just like to tell you all today that you should cut yourself some slack, because you are doing great!
There is not just one way to do things and unfortunately not every path is an easy and straightforward one. We often see riders and horses in the spotlight that seem to have an easy path and things seem to always go to plan. But it is easy to forget that for every successful rider there are hundreds of riders and horses that haven't achieved the same; we just don't often hear about them.
As long as we try to learn and improve ourselves we are doing everything we can. But this doesn't only apply to the riding aspect.
Especially with work commitments and winter drawing in, we might not always be able to keep the field as immaculate as we would like, our horse might have some mud left on the coat when we ride, and we might spend our nights looking for the shoe our horse pulled off in the field instead of practising for the next competition.
But this is also part of the equestrian sport and being honest, it makes an achievement even more exciting!