Recipe for an Amateur Prix St. George

Well, the first PSG is in the bag and behind us.  I’m so relieved, but also pretty deliriously
happy.  My goals for that first FEI test were pretty small – don’t throw up on my gorgeous new shadbelly and do most of the things.  There was no vomit, and pretty much all of the things happened in some form or another.  For those who would like to cook up their own amateur PSG, I offer the following recipe:

1 cup of Vision – I’m pretty sure wcardoon-psg-debuthen I started this trip, this was a great deal more delusion and far less vision.  I remember watching the 2012 Olympic freestyles on television, and thinking to myself, “I have to get there, to the FEI levels.  I need to do what it takes, whatever that is.”  I told Kevin about my delusion, and he, like the good husband he is, didn’t flinch and told me he was on board.  Never mind that I didn’t have a horse at the time, he was all in.
Fortunately, the actual vision came over time.  That fall, Lauren found Cardoon for me, on Eventing Nation of all places, and after trying him out on a whim, called me and said she thought she’d found the one.  Whether either of us thought he’d make PSG at the time will remain a mystery, but he had a good character and a pretty freaky extended trot.

Over the past few years, I’ve had glimpses into what the future might hold for us and it was those flashes of vision that kept me going.  The trot extensions, the first huge flying changes, the instant where I could feel his shoulders lift in the canter – all of these kept me going during the tough times.  I could feel the PSG in there, if only for fleeting moments.

10 gallons Hard Work (and ibuprofen to taste) –  Seriously, this is the hardest physical riding I’ve ever done, and its not like I was a pleasure rider before.  I rode the Big Eq as a teenager, retrained green horses, and showed the 4′ jumpers, but the sheer physical strength needed for the upper levels of dressage is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  As we’ve ventured along this journey, I’ve had to up my game to strengthen my core, keep my bad back in shape (thanks to my excellent chiro!), stay flexible and limber (hello yoga), and keep up the cardiovascular fitness needed to get through five minutes of sustained tough riding.  All of this hard work has to continue, day in and day out, to keep both me and Cardoon in the physical shape to be able to just do the movements, much less take them to a show and compete.  Plenty of those days one or the other of us was tired, cranky, or plain didn’t want to show up to work, but we went out and did it anyway.  This was a big part of getting from First Level to PSG in four years, although not really the fun part!

2 teaspoons of Sacrifice – All the hard work leads to at least some sacrifice.  I missed plenty of after-work happy hours, gave up dinner at a reasonable hour, and often got up at completely unreasonable times to make sure we got our rides in.  Plus, when I think of what we could have done with just the money I’ve spent on training – both my trailer-in lessons with Lauren and the times where I left Cardoon at Sprieser Sporthorse for a few days or weeks – well, lets just say I don’t dwell on that.  Sure, we could have had several luxurious trips to Europe, but what’s that when compared to a
centerline salute wearing a tailcoat?

A dash of Bravery – One important lesson I learned in the year is that you need to be brave and take a chance, knowing that you might fail.  It means taking the chance that he’ll just quit halfway around the pirouette, but still sitting him down and trying anyway. Without taking those chances that you’ll fail, you never find out that you can push the limit, and then exceed it.

1 cup of Humility – Never, ever, think “I got this,” because the thing that happens immediately after that thought is that it will all go to hell.  This applies to learning new things, as much as riding your actual test.  Let me give you two examples.  Two weeks before the show, I had an epiphany about the tempi changes.  I finally learned how to really move my legs and make the change obvious to Cardoon.  I felt awesome.  I was so excited.  I HAD THIS!  Well, yeah…not so much.  A week later, we were lucky if we could string together three clean changes.

Then, at the show itself, I was all jitters for the first half of my test. During my first pirouette, I remember having this total moment of peaceful calm come over me, and then proceeded to blow both my counter canters – usually something we do quite well.

Remember – never let your guard down and don’t think you “have this” until you’re out of the damn ring!

1 Large Cheering Section – After my final salute, my cheering squad erupted in applause and cheers.  I mostly remember just being relieved that it was over, but after I thanked the judge, she remarked that I had “quite the cheering section”.  I replied, “Yes, yes I do!” No one ever gets to this point without a lot of help.  Every Olympian has a coach and people who care about them.  Last weekend, my cheering section was comprised of not just Kevin and Lauren (to whom I owe everything) but also Meg and Judy with whom I’ve been showing for years.  All of these people, as well as several other dear friends, have been with me through thick and thin, up and down during this journey, and it was so amazing to have them ringside with me.  It takes a village, both to train a horse, but also to make this whole endeavor truly fun.

Mix all of these ingredients together, and you too could make your very own first amateur PSG!  If you don’t succeed at first, try adding another gallon or two of Hard Work, and make sure you added enough Vision!

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4 thoughts on “Recipe for an Amateur Prix St. George

  1. Love this. So proud of you, Cardoon and everyone that helped you get there! Special thanks to the greatest trainer and staff at Sprieser Sporthorse.

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  2. Thank you so much for writing this! I don’t have a cheering section, but I do have a teen-aged former driving horse rehabbing from an injury and a deep desire to ride a correct second level test “at home” and eventually progress. Depressed after 7 weeks of handwalking I managed to drag myself to the gym. After reading this I woke up the next day and as if in a trance drove straight to the gym, worked out again, and finally took the not-very-good yoga class there too. Not-very-good, except a few things were too hard for me! Thanks for the inspiration!
    – Handwalking on the West Coast

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