It’s fair to say I’ve started 2021 a bit less joyously than normal! 2020 was hard but once I was released from my own personal hell of the first lockdown here in France I plodded through 2020 just being grateful for the little things like being able to spend time with the horses and go to work. I felt pretty good for most of the year. I had Smartie, who was so easy and spent most of the summer hacking around the french countryside with her.
However fast forward 6 months, with more lockdowns and curfews we are still pretty limited with what we can do. The boredom and endlessness of it got harder and harder. I am a planner! I love having things to look forward to, I love having goals and organising things. I’ve never been one to ‘see what happens’ or ‘just chill out’ I’m always busy and striding ahead.
I realised after Christmas that I was very uncomfortable with the feeling of starting a new year without knowing what is realistic to hope to achieve. I naively thought that Covid would just get better as we have a vaccine now and that it would gradually go away, which hasn’t been the case at all! I started feeling very aimless and out of control, which of course made me feel quite miserable.
I started focussing completely on Gracie to get me through all of this. At first it was brilliant to have something to focus on and keep me busy. However I have now realised that I was putting way too much pressure on us to progress and improve. I became completely obsessed that I wasn’t riding enough and when any slight thing would go wrong I would start thinking that I wasn’t good enough. That I was a crap rider . That I shouldn’t have bought her as she needs someone better than me. In reality it’s the height winter and we are under strict curfew. Riding in the week is not happening very often and that really doesn’t matter.
Getting By with a Little Help From My Friends
I didn’t realise that I was struggling so much until I had a lesson with my coach last Wednesday. Everything she said upset me, she is quite frank normally but she basically told me all the things that I had been worried about, that I am not riding enough, that I am not firm enough and it crushed me. I had to hold back my tears the whole lesson, then I fretted about it for days after. I had planned to hack out for the very first time on Gracie with my friends on the following Saturday. I couldn’t even get Gracie tacked up. She was wired, pacing and pawing the ground & even kicked out at me twice. I managed to groom her but just couldn’t get the saddle on or the girth done up. I had obviously brought all of my worries with me that day and Gracie could feel it. She is also very keen which is very nice and just wanted to be ridden. I went to my friends for help. They calmly helped me get ready and lunge Gracie (who by this time was fine as she was busy doing something) and I ended up having a lovely ride on her albeit in the arena whilst my friend helped me stay calm. I just kept bursting into tears.
Crying Like a baby
I cried a lot that Saturday. I cried because I felt inadequate, that Gracie deserved someone better with more knowledge and time. I felt completely overwhelmed. My friends reassured me that I am doing great and reminded me of what progress Gracie and I had made already in our short time together. It wasn’t fair on Gracie that I was loading all this pressure on myself and her and had become pretty obsessed with our progression and lesson plans so we can move forward and start doing things we ‘should’ be doing now like jumping and hacking. The tears wouldn’t stop. I cried because I miss my family in the UK & they were poorly with Covid, I cried because the pandemic seems if anything to be getting worse and not better, I cried because we failed even to step out of the yard, let alone go hacking. I felt helpless. So I sat and watched Bridgerton all afternoon whilst eating chocolate hobnobs and phoned my mum.
Finding the things I could control
What surprised me about me about my tearful public outburst (cringe) on Saturday was that most of things I was upset about I could not control. I cannot quit my job to ride more in the week, I cannot tell the government to ease the lockdown so I can ride after work, I cannot control that my family caught Covid. I cannot control that the weather has been baltic & all of these other things that had been upsetting me. I needed to find the things I can control and sort them out in order to make myself feel better.
Here is what I did to feel better:
I realised that my lessons with Noelie were actually starting to stress me out. She is great but very strict and frank which I just find upsetting if I’m not in a good headspace myself. PLAN: Cancel this week’s lesson. Restart fortnight lessons on the weeks I can ride on Tuesday nights so I feel prepared and confident on Weds as I would have ridden at the weekend and on Tuesday and continue having lessons with Kate at the weekends who hasn’t yet made me cry & is in fact one of the friends that helped during the teary outburst (cringe again).
I listened to my friends who said that it’s ok not to ride all the time. I had become completely obsessed with riding as much as I possibly can. PLAN: Ride when I want and don’t when I don’t want to. Taking this pressure off has been like a weight lifted from my shoulders. I went to the stables on Weds, when I normally have my lesson and just poo picked and spent time with Gracie in the field. It was absolutely lovely. Normally I race down to get her ready in time for Noelie to arrive at 5pm but not rushing and just being there doing nothing was incredibly relaxing. I pushed the guilt of not riding when I had the opportunity down deep until I didn’t think that anymore & am really excited about riding this weekend.
Stop using the words ‘naughty’ and ‘should’. Gracie is not naughty she is just young and exuberant. There is nothing that we ‘should’ be doing. We will do what I want us to.
I entered an intro online dressage competition. I know this sounds like it will add pressure to a situation I want to lessen the pressure but for me being able to enter this competition felt like a victory in its self. It’s something to look forward to and something I loved doing with Mya and didn’t think I’d be doing it with Gracie for a while. I loved competing online with Mya and feel so proud that I am at point I can already enter with Gracie. We have also set up a team at our yard, where 4 of us will compete in the team league which I am SO SO excited about!
Gracie just wants me to be calm and clear
Horses really don’t care about goals. They don’t care about our riding ability, our worries, the pandemic, if their numnah matches their saddlecloth (damn you browner than I thought girth). Gracie just wants me to be someone that she can trust to show her what to do and have fun rides with and I can only be that person if I clear my head before I ride. Although the teary meltdown was totally cringe, it got it all out and made me focus on what was bothering me. I found things that I could do to make myself feel better. I spoke to the amazing Nicky Pennie from Be Your Best Yet and will finish this blog with a quote from her that helped me on this journey.
It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we perceive and react to what happens that dictates how we feel.Nicky Pennie Be Your Best Yet
I worry when I share non-positive parts of my horsey journey. I worry that I sound whiney, but it helped me so much talking to my friends about my struggles that if I can even help one person by sharing my story I will be pleased. Please talk to someone if you are struggling. This pandemic is seemingly never ending and is taking its toll on everyone.
Stay safe & hug your horses tight!