April 2016 - NAJYRC Journal

Quest for consistency brings the sense that “today’s the day” and a great finish in first Zone 10 outing.

by Sydney Callaway

It’s a funny sport, this showjumping thing we do. We jump high performing athletes over very large obstacles against the clock while battling all the stressors and complications that occur during this short period of time.

Photo by Sara Jorgenson

Performance anxiety, pulled shoes, poor riding, a bad day; all of these factors go into what our performance is that day. I have spent years trying to figure out how to best prepare myself and my horse for consistent results in the show ring. Because truly that is what we all strive for, consistency.

A consistent rider gets results, deals with far less anxiety, and has an air of confidence, all of which result in a better performing horse. Consistency is key, we have all heard it before. But I’ll be damned if it is not the most elusive concept -- in show jumping, in sport and in life. My journey towards consistency is never-ending, but I can share a few secrets I am learning along the way.

This year I am once again trying out for the Zone 10 North American Junior Young Rider Championships team, a team I was a proud member of in previous years. Last year was my first year getting the chance to go to Kentucky for the finals in July, and I believe it has added greatly to my riding and confidence. As he was last year, my teammate will be Wolf S, a horse I have had the privilege of owning for over a year and a half now.

Getting to know Wolf has been a large component to my increased consistency in the jumper ring. Formulating a partnership with a horse takes time, patience and commitment. It will not happen over night and certainly did not happen over night for me and Wolf. However, this winter circuit I have begun to see this hard work pay off as I feel a level of understanding and communication between Wolf and I that had not previously been there.

Despite this being my first year away from my horse, because I am a freshman at the University of South Carolina, I have been able to stay on track for the Young Rider trials. This is in part due to my great team at Newmarket, with my trainer Jill Reh making sure Wolf stays working at home.

Left to right: Lindsay Ransom, Lori de Rosa and Sydney, during the course walk of the big class.

Wolf’s routine is mostly flat work and maybe a gymnastic, but we rarely jump him until it is show time as this method seems to work best for him. However, this makes preparing him for a big show a bit more difficult because he gets restless and very feisty. It has required a lot of patience and confidence in myself this circuit, because we decided to take things very slowly with Wolf, beginning the HITS Thermal circuit in the 1.20s on Week 6. We were aiming to peak for the 1.45 Classic and first Young Rider trial March 19, during Week 8, but due to this being my first year in college, I had not jumped above a 3-foot fence since October. All I could do was stay patient and trust in my team and myself that in the coming two weeks I would be able to advance in my riding enough to compete in the trial.

I am very fortunate that my parents also allowed me to skip an entire week of school in order to stay focused on the trial. It is the first trial of the year and my schedule only allows for me to attend two of the trials, so a good result was necessary in order for me to make the team.

Attending a school as far away as University of South Carolina makes things such as time change and a long flight large issues, further limiting how much I can practice and compete. Luckily, weeks six and seven fell in between my spring break, so I was allowed two full weeks of riding to prepare. But I felt green as grass that first week, my muscles were sore, my time was slow and both Wolf and I were grappling to remember what it meant to show in any capacity. But we were ready to do it together, which made the journey all the more enjoyable. Every round we delivered was confident and consistent, and each day added to the next as I felt my self assurance grow.

Routine Is Key

A few key factors, beyond the continued formulation of my partnership with Wolf, can be attributed to my new-found confidence and consistency in the ring.

One is my development of a routine; that is, the few things I do every day, no matter my location, that allow me to feel at ease. Some of these things include daily walks, meditation and a healthy diet, all of which allow me to maintain a clear mind and stay focused on what truly matters.

Sydney with Newmarket’s Lori DeRosa. Photo by Sara Jorgenson

Especially now that I am juggling schoolwork on top of missed class dates, maintaining a healthy diet and body has allowed me to keep my energy up both at the horse shows and in the classroom. I have even started getting into the habit of eating the same things every day, especially inching toward exam times or horse shows so that I know how my body will react and also to decrease any stress or questions as to what I am putting in my body.

Some of my favorite foods include vegetables, eggs, avocados, squashes and Perfect Foods Bars (which are made locally in San Diego). I cannot emphasize enough how routine and consistency in my little habits has added to consistency in the show ring. Every little thing counts, and when you eliminate the minutia tasks and turn them into a habit, you will be amazed at the freedom, decrease in stress and increase in mental energy you experience.

With these daily habits in place, my confidence only built as the days went by.  Week 7 Wolf and I competed in the 1.30 A/O division, and finished on Sunday in the 1.35 Classic with one rail. By now I had even developed a list of riding points which I repeated to myself each round, always the same five or six things.

One of the most important points, which I began telling myself during Young Rider Finals last year, is “with a connection and a feel, you can jump any track.” I love this saying because it has a way of inspiring me, and resonates deeply with me. It reminds me to do all the little things, like shorten my reins, maintain contact, sink in and listen to my horse, all in a few short words. I believe that is one of the most important components in finding consistency in your riding: finding what works for you and what resonates with you the most.

With this little saying in my back pocket, I entered Week 8 filled with confidence.  I felt as if Wolf and I had finally reached a level of communication that felt like slipping on an old glove; he knew me and I knew him.

That week we had two solid rounds in the 1.40s, and by Saturday morning, the day of the trial, I felt so ready. After giving Wolf a light flat in the morning, I walked to the Grand Prix ring to walk the course. Recalling the result Wolf and I had in this class last year, I remember walking the course and feeling in slight panic and awe at the height of the fences. I knew my horse could do it, but I also knew that he relied on me as the pilot to guide him.

All According to Plan - Amazingly!

Last year I was not as confident, nor as patient, and I let my nerves get the better of me. But this year I felt calmer, cooler and collected. This year I knew what to expect from Wolf, how he would assess a jump, how he would land, how he would react. With all of this knowledge, I could build a more coherent plan of action for the course and allow my riding and relationship with Wolf to shine.

And shine it did! We were one of only four clears, out of 34 entries, both junior and amateur riders.  He jumped a beautiful clear first round, and the jump-off was no different. This was my first time feeling in control in a jump-off with Wolf. I can recall many times when I wanted to go fast with him, but never felt completely comfortable with the whole idea. For years I have read of top riders talking about a jump-off with a new horse, saying that the day that they made the jump-off they knew it was time, that both horse and rider were ready to add speed.

With some horses it takes months, some horses it may take years. But today I knew when I should add this speed and when I should hold off, and when I realized this fact is when I knew that this day was the day that I truly understood my horse.  Today was the day we were both ready, together, to add that final element of speed, which is also my most favorite element.

So, third in the jump off, we started slow and agile, focusing on our turns rather than speed in order to maintain enough control for the steady seven-stride line to the one-stride. Then we had a sharp turn back to a vertical and a long run to an oxer.

Nap time.

On course I felt Wolf react as I added my leg through the first turn, taking the vertical on an angle. And the final oxer was a long run that, in any other circumstance, would not be recommended to leave out a stride to. But I knew, truly knew, that Wolf could do this, no questions asked; in fact, it might be his favorite distance.  So I dug in and believed in my eye, cleared the oxer, galloped through the timers and…. Clear! I finished in second place and was the first placed Young Rider candidate, giving me a valuable edge for the coming trials with the highest amounts of points.  I was beyond elated.

Finishing the class and hanging out in Wolf’s stall afterwards, I marveled at what I have learned these past two weeks. My trainer Lori de Rosa and I had laid out this plan for Wolf and for this specific trial since the beginning of the year. And the crazy part is that everything actually went according to plan, a feat rarely accomplished in any aspect of life.

I feel so lucky to be given all the opportunities I have had, as well as the luck that has been sprinkled through it all. Because no matter the planning, care or the hard work you invest into riding and into life, there are so many factors beyond your control. You must value moments like these, when the stars seem to align just as you asked them to.

It’s also important to realize that after the ribbons are presented, and the horses are tucked away, tomorrow is just another day, and the consistency that you put forth in your routine is the consistency you get out of life. Just as success breeds success, consistency brings about consistency.

Remaining Zone 10 Trials:
• Del Mar National: May 3-8
• HMI Equestrian Challenge: May 18-22
• Central California Memorial Day Classic: May 25-29
• Final Trial Week – Three Rounds Blenheim June Classic: June 8-12