You know, it isn't specified in any rulebook of equestrianism that in order for one to have an awesome time with their horse they have to kick butt at shows and make it all the way to the top, or even show at all! You don't even have to jump or do a canter pirouette or wear fancy riding clothes or ride in "state of the art" saddles and bridles. (Even when the "old" ones did riders just fine since forever.) You don't even have to own a "nice" horse, bred to excel, with a pedigree that traces back to the war horse that King Henry XIII rode to his wives' executions, not like that's something to be particularly proud of!
That's not to say that you can't do any of that, but that's not to say that you can't ride a horse who might be a quarter horse, maybe a morgan, you can't really tell, nobody's got papers, but it doesn't really matter: he's sound, can walk, trot, and canter, can carry saddle, and has a good work ethic. Even more important: you like him and he likes you! You trail ride for hours at a time (your horse probably has more stamina than a Grand Prix jumper) and look for big fields you can run around in (after you walked them over looking for any holes, hopefully) and shallow, gentle creeks you can swim in. You've taught him how to eat a carrot from your mouth, smile, and hug. He comes when called in from the pasture. He doesn't care that you're not aspiring to be at the top of any riding discipline, or that you don't wear Pikeur or Tailored Sportsman or Ariat (because you don't really need to), or that you don't have a carefully-planned work schedule so you can be at your peak this show season (which is non-existent because you don't need one) or that you don't even ride in an arena (that pasture probably bigger than any arena in existence right now). What he does like is that you groom him, keep him healthy, love him to bits, and that you two have fun together. He likes being your stress-reliever, comforter, and best friend.
This is not to say that you can't be in a happy medium between serious competitor and just-for-fun horse owner. Time with your horse, whether it be riding, grooming, showing, whatever it is should be fun and relaxing! That's why you own/lease/ride the horse in the first place, right? Because you like horses and the horses like you! That special horse in your life is just that: special. And you're probably pretty special to them.
This weekend was a total mess-up as far as Greta and I's riding relationship and having fun. It was all my fault. I practiced for the show expecting perfection, I warmed-up expecting perfection, I rode my introductory level dressage test expecting perfection. What it really turned out to be was me riding tense, immensely frustrated, with my hands in my lap and horse only picking up and reflecting those negative vibes from me, head in the air and a nervous wreck just like me. I didn't relax, I put far too much pressure on me and Greta, I was snappy and rude. This wasn't just "first show jitters" as everyone put it: this was me being downright... well, I don't know what to call it! And the minute I got off my horse after the last test and Greta looked back at me as if to say "I'm sorry, I really tried my best" the guilt shook me like an earthquake, just to say the least. And I'm still having aftershocks, especially as I type this. Greta and I had been doing so well and what I do? I flip out at a show.
The rest of the day, and the days following, so many things I have been told have truly meant something: riding takes time, bonding takes time, and whatever you do having fun with your horse and your horse's well-being come first. It's not all about the ribbons or the show record, what it is about is having fun and being with your horse. And I forgot that because of a stupid schooling show.
Monday afternoon I went out to the stable and just hung out with Greta. I sat on her while she munched on grass and hay, and I napped for a few minutes. She followed me here and there and let me hug her and kiss her, and then she said "okay, I'm grazing now". So I let her graze, and then she came back up wanting more attention. We did this for probably a good hour-and-a-half. It was so much fun and so relaxing.
Yesterday I rode her, and even though we were far from perfect, I focused on the good moments, of which there were a good amount of. I remembered that A) we have really only been doing exceptionally well for about two months, B) she was in a new bit that I'm trying (french link eggbutt) and C) I am totally not used to riding in just paddock boots anymore, I need my tall boots! It was a pretty wonky ride, but the fact that I just blew it off knowing that we'll get better and that we weren't in our usual riding attire felt really good!
Between Monday and Tuesday, I have been reminded of just how much I love my goober girl. Lord knows I talk about her enough, show everyone at school enough pictures of her, put most of my personal spending money into her, drive to the stable far more than any mall, choose her over plenty of boys and other ways to spend my time doing "normal teenage activities," and when I daydream, I dream of Greta. It's pretty pathetic. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
So what it all gets down to is this: having fun with Greta is far more important than how far we go in the dressage world, "perfection" comes with time and patience and a good bond between horse and rider, and no ribbon or trophy is more important than your horse, even if it means scratching or riding a conservative test or not going to a show at all!
Greta and I still have a long ways to go, and this is not to say that we will never show again - in fact, I'll be ready for the next show or clinic or whatever because the only way you can progress is to go forward - but whether we're showing, or riding at home, or trail riding, or grooming, the goal is to bond and to have fun! Those are my new, undistorted expectations: not to be the next Steffen Peters, but to have so much fun and such a great bond with my horse that it will make him jealous. Okay, maybe not that far... but close!
I'm putting that stormy weekend behind me and looking forward to the sunnier skies of the future, no matter where it brings Greta and I.