The Long Road: Blood, sweat, more sweat, and tears

AQHA competitor Maegan Gossett and her mare Elle are nearly a month into “boot camp” at the trainer’s. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but they’re getting results.

From Maegan:

I sleep on an air mattress. I cook my meals in a microwave, poking at the middle to judge its “doneness.” I shower with spiders hanging above my head that I refuse to acknowledge. My friends text me to ask when I can hang out again and I tell them I am away for the next few weeks. I haven’t slept in for almost a month. I’ve saddled, unsaddled, wrapped, bridled, unbridled, lunged, rode, limped, tripped, and nearly cried more times than I count.

To sum it up, I’ve lived at my trainer’s farm for the past three weeks.

And you know what? That air mattress is pretty dang comfortable. I’m a crappy cook anyway, so the microwave just eliminates a few fire hazards. Spiders are no biggie. As long as I don’t see a snake, I’m rock solid. My friends understand my priorities: feeding Elle, riding Elle, wrapping Elle, eat, sleep, hanging out. As for sleeping in? When has Elle not dictated my schedule? That horse whinnies and I come running. I can tack up lickety split. I limp ’cause I’m making progress in my no-stirrup work. I trip because Elle doesn’t understand the concept of personal space during an AQHA feat called “showmanship.” And I almost cry because I watch a horse who no one believed in truly come into her talent.

It’s been a great ride so far. But I won’t lie, every day is a struggle.

I struggle not with the work, or the early mornings, or the heat, or the work, or… did I mention the work? No, what gets me is not focusing too much on the end goal. As competitors, we set goals and we make plans (both realistic and fantastical). Soon every ride becomes a stepping stone towards reaching those goals. But at the end of the day, plans are just plans and all we have to show as progress is the ride we had that day.

It’s the journey not the destination. Blah, blah, blah. We get it, right? We can all acknowledge that if we don’t enjoy the daily rides for what they are, we will burnout faster than Lindsay Lohan on her last sobriety kick. But, holy cow, why is it so hard?

I am a perfectionist. If I could, I would spend hours doing trot to canter transitions until I could sink down, wrap around with my legs, drive through my seat, keep Elle’s head down, get her to lift into the transition from behind, and all within a stride or two. And not bobbing my head. That’s a bad habit of mine. I want that world championship so badly I can taste it. It could also be vomit I’m tasting in this hot, humid Tennessee summer, but it still certainly tastes like hard work.  But I want it a little too much sometimes. I want things so perfect now that I forget Elle and I are still learning. We have come so far in just a month and Elle can already do so many advanced things that sometimes I can’t understand why we still struggle with simple transitions like trot to canter. And then I get frustrated. And when I get frustrated I start drilling and drilling and drilling. I can’t stop until it’s right. Elle gets intimidated, which gets me upset with myself because obviously I’m doing it incorrectly. Soon, it becomes a train wreck just because I lost the simple focus of making that one ride the best that it could be on that day.

It’s an ongoing battle I face every day when I sit down in the saddle. In my youth, I would jerk first and ask questions later. I didn’t even comprehend the notion of educating a horse rather than intimidating them into doing the maneuver like my trainer is teaching me now. As I’ve not only matured as a person but also in my riding, I realize that we only get the best out of our horses when we work as partners. I envy every single rider who can maintain patience throughout the ride. For my riding, this remains an obstacle that I have to face down every time something doesn’t go great.

On another note, we leave for Georgia this week. This show is a major step up in competition for Elle and I. The people I will be competing against will be my competition at the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the World Championships.  To just get in the placings will be a huge accomplishment for us. So fingers crossed that we can convert this last week and a half of work into some really good go’s.

So until next time, I’ll be sweating even more in the even hotter Georgia weather. Obviously I am very excited about this. Elle will be working on her flying lead changes, which she is picking up very quickly with minimal kickouts. I’ve even heard from the trainer that I have been given the green light to start trotting some fences. I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer filled with great rides on some wonderful horses. I’m blessed to say that I certainly am.

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