Posted in Dressage, Featured Rider

Emily and Goose – Journey to the National Dressage Pony Cup

I recently wrote about the connections I have made with riders from across the world via Instagram, one such rider is Emily Grimstead. The first thing you will undoubtedly notice when you scroll through Emily’s feed is her spunky, spotty pony Goosebumps or Goose for short. 


Emily and Goose recently returned from a very successful trip to the National Dressage Pony Cup, where they competed in the USDF Training Level and musical freestyle classes.

Despite growing up with a horsey mother, it took Emily a few years to overcome her fear of horses and start riding at the age of 10, “I think I was just nervous about riding something so high off the ground. I was a timid rider for a long time. I’ve always been more comfortable on smaller horses and ponies”.  

During her years as a rider Emily has tried her hand at most equestrian sports from showing her first horse, Cory a purebred Arabian (who is now 30!) to Western pleasure to hunter/jumpers and found dressage accidentally. “There was a dressage clinic at the camp on Valentine’s Day in 2015 and I just fell in love with the sport! Now, I could never go back to a different discipline. Dressage is just so fun and challenging; there is just so much to learn!”

Although Goose, now 17, keeps Emily on her toes as he continues to come up with new ‘tricks’, he has come a long way from the dangerous pony that Cindy Bellis-Jones rescued from slaughter. Cindy said, “There are just ponies that through no fault of their own have travelled down the wrong path and find themselves in a bad situation. They come in all colors, but share a common denominator of needing a helping hand to get back to a better place. Goose was one of those ponies. I tried to look past the surface and instead see what the pony really was. Goose needed a purpose. That is what I saw. His color, although quite neat, really didn’t influence my decision [to save him]. He would have travelled back to my farm in any color.”

Goose when he was purchased by Emily’s mum
The first meeting between Emily and Goose happened by chance, as he was agisted at the barn where Emily was riding.  Although she didn’t ride him at the time, it was love at first sight, “He just had the sweetest personality!” When the owners put the barn and horses up for sale some years later, Emily’s mother, who teaches begginer riding lessons at a Girl Scout camp, purchased him with the intention of using him in the program. However, this wasn’t quite the right job for Goose who true to his pony nature would be naughty and quite difficult for the young riders to manage. So Emily took him on as her own project, and he flourished with the consistency of one rider. 

The journey from rescue pony to Breed Champion at Pony Cup was not without some bumps in the road. At their first competition together, Emily recalls, “Goose was so naughty that he had to be led into the arena by my husband! We also had some serious trailering issues that we had to work through to get him there.”

Emily and Goose at their first competition
Emily discovered the National Dressage Pony Cup when investigating what opportunities existed for adults who ride dressage ponies. With this goal in mind Emily went from being a weekend rider to working hard and riding about five days per week. She says that “The prospect of going [to the National Pony Cup] really motivated me to push harder as an equestrian and to try to be a better rider”.

For Emily the highlight of her time at the Pony Cup was receiving the high point Appaloosa pony breed award at the competitor’s dinner. “It was a complete surprise and I am so thankful. Having Goosebumps win a beautiful champion neck sash was just a dream come true!”

Emily and Goose competing at the National Dressage Pony Cup
I asked Emily what she has learned during her journey and her response could not have been more perfect, “Have patience. Correct training takes a lot of time and it is just as strange and difficult for our horses to learn new things as it is for us as riders. I feel like it has taken over two years just to get to a place where a lot of other riders start out. But accomplishing a goal on a pony that you trained yourself? There is no better feeling!”

Posted in Entertainment

Great Equestrian Reads

Ok, confession time, I am a total bookworm. Or at least I am now that I have wrestled my way out from under the mountain of text books and journal articles that were common place during the days of my undergraduate degree. Since I was a young child I have relished in the experience of being transported to another world just by simply picking up a book.
Confession number two is probably unsurprising, but I never quite grew out of the ‘pony mad’ stage, so of course I love nothing more than to bury myself in a good equine read. Sadly well written equestrian novels are few and far between, particularly if you have already read your way through the classics by the likes of Pullein-Thompson sisters.
Since I have done the leg work, I thought I would share a few of my favourite reads with you. Where many other equine novels fall short, these novels excel, they place the horses and the riding front and centre of the plots. They are also far from your average, 12 yo child with a big dream, stumbles across an outrageously talented and conveniently cheap horse, who just also happens to be wild and untrainable, for anyone except that 12yo child that is. And best of all these titles are available on Amazone for Kindle, which means no waiting!

1. The Dressage Chronicles by Karen McGoldrick
The Dressage Chronicles accounts the journey of young and optimistic Lizzy who quits a sensible desk job in order to pursue her passion whilst working for her idol Margot Fanning. This series is exceptional in the way that the writer describes the daily struggles of working with horses, the accidents and mistakes and the occasional triumphs.

dressage chron

2. The Eventing Trilogy by Caroline Akrill
In the Eventing Trilogy we meet Elaine, who stumbles into the world of eventing through a combination of luck and hard work. The novels follow her journey from working for the eccentric and broke Fane sisters to training in one of the countries elite eventing programs. Originally written in the early 1980’s, these books allow you to slip in the world of eventing and hunting in England, with just a suspicion of romance.

ticket to ride

3. Ride Every Stride by Amy Maltman
What is perhaps most unexpected about this novel is the way the story begins. Jed is a young man at the lowest point of his life when he secures a job as a groom at an elite barn in Canada. While his hard dedication and determination ultimately see him become head trainer, don’t be mistaken, this is no Cinderella story.

ride every stride

4. The Eventing Series by Natalie Keller Reinert
Jules Thornton loves her horses and the sport of eventing and has raw unharnessed talent, but her bad luck and financial woes might just be her undoing. She is a character who can’t help but get in her own way and you’ll be rooting for her to succeed every step of the way.

eventing series

Happy Reading!

Posted in Dressage, Training

I’ll be a good rider when…

cropped-img_04121.jpg

‘I’ll be a good rider when…’ This is a game I used to play a few years ago and it’s about as useful as its companion game ‘If only…’ At that time the script in my head was ‘I’ll be a good rider when I am competing at elementary level’. For quite some time, on three horses, travers had been my Achilles heel and in my mind at least, being able to compete at this level represented overcoming this seemingly insurmountable challenge. But, when Nonie and I actually got to that level, something switched for me. It was as if someone had flicked a light on and I understood that it no longer meant as much to me as it had before. Not only did I realise that riding or competing at a particular level would never make me feel as though I had achieved the coveted status of being a ‘good rider’, I also learned something far more important about myself and my beloved sport.

copyright-jordan-wicks-photography-jwp_5222

I realised that what was more important to me as the love that I have developed for learning the intricacies of the sport of dressage and growing the bond with my treasured mare.  Having embraced the feeling of discomfort that comes with learning a new skill, opened the door to something more. It enabled me to appreciate the brilliance that arises when a new movement clicks, or the feeling you get when you find that new gear within a pace. Best of all I now know that things only feel better as Nonie and I both gain strength and learn to relax within the work. Its been exciting to learn that as we continue to challenge ourselves, with a little patience and persistence these improvements we will continue unlocking bigger and better feelings. As I have let go of the stress of needing to be at a certain level in order to be ‘good enough’ it has created room for Nonie and I to develop a stronger relationship, the value of which cannot be underestimated.

img_7259

Posted in Dressage, Training

Daring to Suck

IMG_6235.JPG

Daring to suck… It’s a seemingly bizarre concept that resonated deeply with me. I was listening to one of my favourite podcast’s (check it out here http://summerinnanen.com/frr-37) when I stumbled across this idea.

So what does ‘daring to suck’ actually mean? In a nutshell, it means giving something a go even if there is a possibility of not pulling it off, not getting the outcome you were after, or failing. For me, daring to suck is an action which is in direct opposition to fearing failure. Why is this important? As someone who identifies as having perfectionistic tendencies, I can see how my fear of failure has held me back at times. Whether it be something as simple as not riding that movement that is tricky and feels super uncomfortable or not entering that competition because you might make a mistake. Looking back, I can also see that my fear of failure kept me competing at prelim/novice level for way longer than was altogether necessary. I wanted everything to be perfect when I took the step up to prelim. This is a real problem because life is not perfect, particularly when you add a horse into the mix.

edison-quote

Over the last two years, I feel that I have become much better at embracing imperfection. Here are some things that I feel have helped me along in this journey:

Understand why things feel uncomfortable. For me one of the most useful things in understanding this was understanding the four stages of learning: unconscious incompetence (that is we don’t know anything about what we cannot yet do), conscious incompetence (we know what we can’t do), conscious incompetence (we know the skills needed and we can use them but a high degree of concentration is required) and finally unconscious incompetence (we are able to apply the skills effectively with little conscious effort being required). Sure, there are times when something that is normally effortless becomes incredibly hard, but for the most part discomfort comes about when we are learning a new skill. I’ve found it particularly useful to link discomfort in my riding with the understanding that I am learning something new, or strengthening a skill.

Push yourself to do things which are uncomfortable, but not unsafe. Many of you will be familiar with the concept of the ‘comfort zone’, the ‘growth’ or ‘stretch zone’ and the oft forgotten ‘danger’ or ‘panic zone’. While there is a need to push ourselves to doing things which are beyond our established skills, we need to be mindful that we do not push too far and create a dangerous situation. In doing this having a coach who knows your level of skill and can push you is invaluable. Get to know what it feels like when you are working within the growth zone, for me things feel uncomfortable, challenging and requires a lot more conscious effort, but it never feels unsafe.

comfort-zone1

Let go of the idea of perfection and give yourself permission to make mistakes. It doesn’t exist anywhere, let alone when you bring an animal with its own thoughts and feelings into the picture. Don’t be afraid to try new things, whether that is trying a different exercise, playing around with the timing of your aids or even seeking the input of a different coach. A few years ago, Nonie and I got to a stage where we could barely ride a 20m canter circle despite having compete successfully competed at novice and prelim. With limited access to dressage coaches in the area, we struggled along on our own for several months, rides would frequently end up with me in tears and questioning my ability as a rider. I eventually contacted one of the local western trainers who had a good reputation, and she helped Nonie and I make some changes that greatly improved our straightness, Nonie’s obedience and my confidence to lead Nonie. Her strategies were not classical dressage, but they worked.

The dressage coach that I train with now lives about 800km away, so we get her up to run clinics once every couple of months. In between clinics I am training on my own, which sometimes means that I have to use my knowledge and skills to figure things out on my own. Sometimes this means that I make mistakes or do things that don’t work, but I have learnt that this is much better than trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And generally we get things to a point where they start to improve.

So join me in embracing imperfection. I’d love to hear about a time when fear of failure has held you back and how you have dared to suck!