The idea of riding in a clinic in front of professionals with a really professional PROFESSIONAL absolutely terrified me. Between the, usually, hugely expensive cost and the pressure of presenting yourself in an environment surrounded by other like minded riders my anxiety levels used to sky rocket.
As a very amateur adult amateur, I started riding at 22, I have a bit of an inferiority complex. I am frequently asked how long I’ve been riding.
I hate having to admit that I’ve only been riding for four years.
Watching eight year olds bomb around a cross country course with their opinionated ponies and with far more confidence and even less chronological experience than you, a seemingly well rounded adult individual, can be demoralizing.
Audit a clinic and watch those little young un’s calmly executing upper level dressage movements and its enough to make you cry.
Yes, they are probably riding a school master. Yes, they have probably been in serious lessons with an USDF instructor since they cooed at a fuzzy mini when they were two.
Doesn’t matter. When you don’t believe in your riding skills and are faced with the same situation you will always feel inferior.
For a long time I allowed myself to use the excuse that I wasn’t ready to ride in a clinic but the truth was that I had all the skills and at least a basic understanding of the skills I’d need to perform well in a clinic.
No, you do not have to ride well. No, you do not have to look pretty. No, you don’t have to have a Grand Prix school master.
I was allowing the idea that I wasn’t as good of a rider limit my potential to experience the knowledge and ideas of people who had been involved with the sport longer than I had been alive.
And that was ridiculous.
Last year I took the plunge and signed up for a unique clinic opportunity that was being developed at a facility where we had already shown before. We’d have combined mounted and unmounted sessions, riding twice a day for two days in a group setting.
Hello less pressure!
It was the first time the clinic was being held, it wasn’t specifically for dressage, we knew the facility, the price was better than other clinics, and group lessons.
I took the plunge and signed up.
And immediately started freaking out.
I remain eternally grateful for the patience and understanding of the clinic organizer as I peppered her with multiple emails in the two weeks before the clinic, all containing ridiculous questions that revealed my nervousness.
I had a few ways of dealing with my nervousness.
- Buy coordinating riding and workout outfits for each day
- Buy coordinating tack and equipment for Bubba so we’d look like a team
- Consuming and horde ridiculous quantities of Rescue Remedy (for me)
- Convince my long suffering coach to come along for both days, unpaid, to talk me off a ledge before each lesson
- Repeatedly tell myself I’m not freaking out until I have a panic attack the day before the clinic
Gosh darn it, even if we looked like clumsy idiots riding, we were going to look coordinated and ‘team like’ while we were walking in!
Did these strategies work? NO!
The first ride on the first day of that clinic was arguably the worst ride I’ve ever had in my life. Worse than when we entered at a collected canter for our championship test….at Green as Grass.
My nightmares were coming true.
I managed not to start bawling in the middle of the ride, instead waiting till we at least walked out of the arena.
Luckily the clinician was wonderful and pulled us aside from the group so I could calm down at least enough to convince myself that I shouldn’t just pack up my bags and go home.
Because that’s exactly what I’d been planning on doing.
I did not want to go back into that arena for the second riding lesson that day. I didn’t even want to do the rest of the unmounted lessons that were planned. I was convinced everyone was going to see that I really had no idea what I was doing and laugh at me.
Somehow my coach beat it into my head that the first ride didn’t matter, no one was going to care, and that I was acting like an idiot.
Back into the arena I went and… it wasn’t half as bad as the first ride which was a miraculous improvement.
The second day?
We looked like a completely different pair. And you know what? Our transformation from freaking out to literally the best canter I’d ever done (day two lesson two) made us look really REALLY good.
Moral of the story?
Even if you fall off your horse, land in the clinician’s lap, and don’t know the difference between a shoulders in and a leg yield… if you try to learn, if you show you care, and you forget about what you -should- be doing you’re coming out ahead.