GUEST BLOGGER: CANDACE. “Honestly, I’m still in disbelief that we did it… but wow.[…].”

Dear Aspire Readers,

It is with great excitement that I write to you today to announce that Flirt and I – at our first show back since being injured last summer – have won our very first Classic! For the first time in my life, I earned the cooler, the ribbon, and had my very own win photo taken! And let me tell you – the feeling is even better than advertised 🙂

Candace & Flirt

Candace & Flirt

The entire show was a novel experience for me in many ways. Every time I went into the ring, I thought to myself – there is nothing here that I can’t do. Jumps looked tiny – meaning I wasn’t afraid of any distance I might find.

And while it did take me several courses to become confident in my abilities to turn and gallop again, I also learned something vital: I never have to think about going fast, I just need to stay on my track. As one of the show moms put it, “Flirt has built-in speed. Just be efficient.” I love that idea – “Efficient” is the perfect word. Choose your track wisely, stay on it, don’t fight or pull more than necessary – just do. When I did half my turns, I was within a second of the winner (who did all the turns). When I actually did all my turns – I won. And better yet, I think Flirt was having fun! She certainly seemed proud of herself and I love that.

I’ve been attempting to write this blog post over the last couple of weeks and although “real life” has been keeping me busy, it has also provided me an opportunity to re-live every moment of the Classic round and its jump off.

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Several things made the accomplishment special for me. To begin with, this was our first horse show in 10 months due to all the injuries last year. To add to that, the course was full of bending lines. And I hate bending lines. (Imagine my excitement while walking in the morning…) Also, in contrast to the rest of the weekend, Adult and Children’s divisions were combined for the Classic – meaning a larger number of entries, many without a well-developed sense of fear. And then, while riding the course – not every jump was perfect. I think I chipped at least 2 and Flirt and I weren’t quite in sync to a vertical that felt scary… but Flirt was amazing and helped me out. Moreover, I did NOT freeze up because I made a mistake but I kept riding! A huge victory.

The jump-off itself was probably the most perfect track I’ve ever ridden. Start with an oxer directly toward the in-gate – inside left turn and across the ring to slice a wide oxer with big box standards – very tight right turn on the back side to avoid the fake palm trees and save some ground – gallop to the far side of the ring, coming in almost parallel, you have one straight stride to jump the one-stride combination – tight right turn back to slice a vertical – immediate turn back left while feeling Flirt accelerate and power through the turn – slice another vertical toward home at a full gallop – slip inside some more fake palm trees, slice the final oxer – gallop through the timers – clean! I did that! I can’t believe I did that!

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After I completed my jump off round in the Classic, I stayed at the ring to watch the rest of the class unfold. To my surprise, I saw several horses run-out in the jump-off.. especially at the last oxer. To me, that seemed like the easiest part of the course! Your horse is taking you – just steer and stay with them. I’ve been asking myself a lot – why did everyone else have so much trouble? The best answer I can come up with is actually rather simple: steering. Flirt always knew exactly where she was going and we were both confident in that fact. Surrounding that final jump were two or three other fences. It would be so easy for a horse to lose focus or not believe in the slice. The best example I have to explain this is one I gained from riding in a clinic in April. An X had been set up at an odd angle just off the rail. We had been passing it while warming up for about 30 minutes. Cantering it was the first jump of the day – this tiny warm-up X, less than a foot high. And yet, more than one horse ran out and stopped because they didn’t realize a jump was there. I noticed this and made the effort to really bend my horse and have her focused on the X. That first jump was perfect. Likewise, that oxer in the jump-off may have been the last jump of the day – but once Flirt was focused on it, the jump was perfect.

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Long story short, it’s been a long road since last July but so many good things have finally come to fruition. Slowly but surely, Flirt and I are gaining confidence in our abilities again. I can’t remember Flirt ever being so happy – and that always puts a smile on my face! Moreover, I’m going to make every trainer in the world happy by acknowledging that what I did to win that class could not have happened without spending a significant amount of time on the flat. The ability to have options when choosing a distance – the focus and steering – the balance that now comes naturally: I spent months working with my horse on the flat and then over tiny jumps. All that difficulty was worth it though – I’ve never had more fun or been in a better place.

Honestly, I’m still in disbelief that we did it… but wow. I want to do it again! So back to work with new motivation and confidence. Here’s to the start of the next great chapter in the adventure I call “Life with Flirt.”

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From Aspire Equestrian: If youonly joined us on NewsBook recently you might not know what it took for  Candace to have this wonderful victory! Feel free to catch up with her older posts on our previous blog: http://www.aspire-equestrian.com/blog/category/guest-blogger-candace-potempa/

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