This blog post is a long one and very personal for me, and will discuss my journey of how i went from Dressage Queen, to Aerial Dressage Queen, and my big life lessons along the way.
I have had the pleasure of breeding and riding some absolutely beautiful horses over the years, but one caused me more frustration and heartache than all the others combined.
Tommy is a studbook hanoverian, born in 2005, bred by frozen semen by Fisherman’s Friend, from an outstanding thoroughbred mare who produced many wonderful dressage horses, Aladdin’s Gift. He has always been a real cuddlepot on the ground, and the favourite of everyone who meets him. He started under saddle like an absolute dream, and I was very hopeful that he would be my next FEI dressage horse.
Anyone who knows me, knows how hard i try to do everything right by my horses, in order to preserve their character and develop them into successful performance horses. After a few months of schooling under saddle, it became apparent that Tommy was going to be far more difficult than i would have ever imagined.
He is a little low set and rubbery in his neck, very sensitive in his mouth, has an absolute powerhouse back end, and is quite anxious to boot. This all added up to a horse who would pummel around on the forehand, with a tight, short neck, evading the contact, and whose mind was always going a million miles an hour. Not exactly what i had anticipated my beautifully bred dressage horse to be!
I didn’t enjoy riding him, and he was definitely a horse i had to ride, not that i wanted to ride. There were many days we would only train walk and halt, and he would struggle with that, and months would go by where i would not ride him, because i was so frustrated and lacking motivation with him.
Somewhere along the way, i realised that he was very sensitive to any feeds with even a sniff of corn or barley in it (do you know how many popular processed feeds have this in their ingredients??!!), and his behaviour improved considerably, once he was eating feeds where i knew exactly what he was getting.
About 7 years had passed by this stage (talk about taking the time it takes!) and his training improved somewhat. We battled our way to elementary level, but things started to come unravelled again. His busy little mind struggled with the quickness of the movements at this level, and we were eliminated from two tests, a couple of months apart, because he just froze, then ran backwards, reared and had a meltdown. All i could do was sit quietly and wait for him to snap out of it, ride a few circles to get him forward again and call it a day.
After that, i decided to call it a day with his dressage competition career and just ride him at home. I felt like an absolute failure as a dressage rider and trainer (dressage is meant to improve our horses!), and it still devastates me to this day that i failed my beautiful horse in letting it get to the point where my ambition and desire to compete caused him so such stress.
Not long after i made this call, I went to the Carl Hester Masterclass at the Brisbane CDI. He was a brilliant presenter, as to be expected, but one thing he said all day stuck to me like glue. He was talking about the number of horses that come thru their barn, and said “Not all of them are going to be dressage horses“.
This one little phrase hit me like a tonne of bricks. “Not all of them are going to be dressage horses.”
Maybe Tommy just wasn’t meant to be a dressage horse? I thought about this a lot on the way home, and when i rode him the next day, i let go of all the expectations i had of him as a dressage horse, and for the first time ever, just allowed myself to enjoy my beautiful horse for who he was.
I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders!
So, what was a girl to do? I had an unemployed ex-dressage horse who still needed a job of some sort, and a load of peer pressure from my wonderful eventing students to start jumping, so, we booked in for a jumping clinic, just to test the waters. I used to event years ago, and this one clinic was enough to remind me how much i loved it, and Tommy took to it like a duck to water.
I decided our new job would be showjumping!
Since i have started jumping with Tommy, he has become so much more rideable and trainable, and i now absolutely love riding him, and not to mention, he loves his job! We have been totally blessed to have some wonderful help and support along the way from coaches and close friends, and although Tommy is not likely to be jumping world cup anytime soon (nor is his rider!), i am loving this new journey with him, and only regret that i didn’t make the call to switch saddles and arenas years earlier.
As a bonus, he is now a much more relaxed and rideable dressage horse. I dropped him back to novice level, because the work in novice is no more than what he needs to know as a jumping horse, and he now will do a 1.10m course at jump club, then back it up with a 70% test the next day. I have very little ambition to reach great heights in dressage with him, but being able to take him out, and have him confident and happy in the arena again, has helped give me closure in what was one of the lowest points in my equestrian career.
As for being an Aerial Dressage Queen? That title was coined by my dear friend K1, because I am always getting pics from our jumping competitions of Tommy looking like a dressage horse before and during our rounds. I am very proud of our background, and if our years of dressage schooling helps us have beautiful, controlled rounds, then i am good with that. I just need to make sure i have my jumping canter, not my dressage canter, on course!
So, it just goes to show that things don’t always work out how we think they will or should, but this isn’t always a bad thing. When one door closes, another door opens, and new opportunity is always around the corner. It might just not be what you expected. 🙂