Dressage horseOn June 22nd, with a last sip of water and a final girth check, Snickers (aka Quaterjack) and I cantered up centerline to begin our very first 4th Level dressage test. The heat and humidity were overwhelming, as they had been for the past weeks, making training more difficult due to breathing issues, both human and equine versions. I admit, it had been quite a while since we last competed and I was off my game, more interested in “getting through” the test, than truly riding it. Of course, that showed. I missed the diagonal changes and rushed the entire test to end up just shy of a qualifying score. Ugh. The next day, I pulled myself together and truly rode, not just going along for the ride, ending up as Reserve Champion. Not bad for our first try at 4th Level.

Moving up the levels in dressage is both a delight and a struggle, but it is also what brings me back, time and again, to the show arena. Deciding to set my sights on 4th Level, then Prix St George, by year’s end was quite a goal. Training began in earnest in March.

Then came lockdown. How could I prepare to move up the levels when I couldn’t ride at all?

I always believed that riding 6 days a week was the only way to improve my riding. Since my trainer correctly took a hard stance and closed the farm, that was now impossible. While Snickers remained in daily training, I had to figure out how I could stay “show ready”, too. My trainer would ensure that Snickers broke bad habits and learned good new ones, while remaining strong and healthy. I had to do the same.

Building core, muscle, and balance, while remaining safe and motivated took creativity. Not my strong suit when it comes to exercises, but completely changing my routine was the only option. I added biweekly 6-mile hikes with my man, occasional water aerobics, along with at-home workouts using an app called Daily Burn. This app has many different types of workouts (Barre, Pilates, Core, Balance, Abs, just to name a few.) I stole moves from one routine to replace moves I was unable to do as they came up. When they called for a plank, which I cannot do as I’m a disabled rider (para), I did crunches. When pushups were next, I lifted 1lb weights. The need for a stronger core and open hips pushed me daily. I remained skeptical, hopeful this exercise plan would be enough.

After two months off, Snickers was readied and brought to me at the arena. Keeping my mask on until I prepared to mount, I admit to being nervous. All the possible bad outcomes were swirling around in my head, but I wasn’t prepared for what actually happened.

Walking him around to warm up, I could feel us both relax. He even began to foam nicely. As we continued our lesson, my trainer repeatedly commented on how much better my position was and how much stronger I had become. Without riding! We were both amazed. Amazed, and thrilled! Not only did Snickers and I find our Joy again, my trainer is also joyful. It turns out that riding – and only riding – builds up muscles and muscle memory for doing exactly what you’ve always done, right or wrong! If you want to learn something new, you must DO something new. Practicing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. Doing it with your horse can be detrimental to you both.

Snickers remains foamy and we haven’t slid back into bad habits – yet. (If they return, maybe I’ll just take a few days off from the barn and hit the “gym” at home. 😉

Disclaimer: I certainly do not mean to downplay the horrible havoc this pandemic has wreaked on too, too many. I just cannot take any more bad news, bad stories, and/or bad outcomes, and I certainly can’t write about them. My heart is with us all as we struggle together – separately. 

Shortly after the show, one text put the whole barn on guard. “I tested positive for Covid 19”. Even though my trainer put strict safety protocols in place months ago, one of her other clients tested positive while at work in the medical field. I didn’t come in close contact with that person, so I wasn’t too concerned. Precautions and controls were upped again. Waiting for my trainer’s test results, I never believed this strong, “unbreakable” woman would have Covid. Her only symptoms were a sore throat and slight lethargy. And, let’s be honest, all of us are lethargic these days!

“I am COVID positive”.

Getting that text from someone you see daily shook me to my core. I had a sore throat and was tired, too. It was time to get tested.

Looking up testing facilities in my area, nothing was available for days, even when I decided to drive an hour away for an appointment at a drive-in testing pharmacy. I  wouldn’t get my results for 6-10 days. Yes, 6-10 days! That’s when I panicked. Like most para riders, I have underlying issues making me more prone to bad consequences. My boyfriend, a cancer survivor, is in the same boat. If I had Covid, he’d most likely have it. We’d taken every precaution, but I was scared – for us both. I told my grown children about my need for testing but kept that little tidbit from my 90-year old mother. I could only handle one of us panicking at a time.

The pharmacy lab has a phone app where you can check for your results (so you don’t make the clinic crazy, I guess). I became obsessed with that app, checking it three times a day, from the very first day after testing, even though it was going to be 6-10 days! I spent hours worried that every sneeze was another symptom. (I live in the Southern United States where everyone has allergies all Summer!) My sleep suffered, so I became even more lethargic. Another symptom?

Finally, my results were posted on the app: Negative. I gasped for air. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath.

My trainer has not had an easy time of it. Her depleted immune system has allowed Shingles to take hold, as well. Covid – the gift that keeps on giving! She is getting better – but very slowly. Otherwise, barn life has resumed, somewhat. We all long for the day when our trainer can get back into the dressage arena to yell at us to “get your heels down” or “go into your corners” or “half-halt, half-halt, HALF-HALT”!

As an aside, not one other barn associate, client, or staff tested positive. Turns out, masks and social distancing work, even in a small tack room or the port-a-potty.

Stay safe! Wear a mask! Practice social distancing! I know it works.

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