Progress Isn’t Linear

We have all been there. We train and practice and show because we went to better our riding and better our horse’s level of training. We’ve also all felt the frustration of feeling like our training isn’t progressing forward, or that we are continually taking steps backwards. I am not going to write a long post droning on about how linear forward progress, without any regression, isn’t realistic in horses. We ALL already know that.

But what I want to know is- when will it get through my very thick skull?!?


Rio is doing amazing post-Houdini escape and fall, better then I was expecting actually. So why am I bitching to myself about not making progress? Going into our next show (1 week!) I don’t feel like we are super ready to improve on our last show experience. Our last show in Waco went really well. We had some missed distances here and there, and some trouble with lead changes, but we  got it all together for one class on Sunday and it was awesome, we even pulled 3rd in a competitive division which I am still proud of.

But, I don’t feel like this summer went 100% to plan (does it ever?), and going into the show I don’t feel anymore confident about our lead changes (haven’t really practiced them), and not as strong over fences as I would have hoped (due to the time off from his minor injuries). His canter is much better overall, and I think that we are going much more correctly now, but I am not sure that that will translate to the show ring at this point. Let’s be real- if you blow a lead change you aren’t ribboning, no matter how great the rest of the course was. If your course if 90% awesome and you chip the shit out of something, you are also likely not ribboning. That is part of what is so hard about hunters- you have to 100% have your shit together. With a green horse still in his first year of A shows, and an ammy rider who makes plenty of mistakes, it can be hard to see the incremental progress that is going on beneath the surface of “ribbons”.

From our relaxing hack on Sunday in perfect weather (bridle plate from Swanky Saddle)

Of course I do not show for the ribbons- but since we don’t get scores like in dressage (unless in a medal or classic round), ribbons can sometimes be a bench mark for progress. If we hit every distance, get every lead change, and get a 6th place I will be THRILLED, because I would be very proud of that round. But, so far in our showing, our ribbons have been a decent indicator of the round we laid down. Get everything right, or pretty close? Here’s your ribbon. Totally blow one of the elements? No ribbon for you! My point being- I am not hung up on the actual ribbon or the color of it, but I do show in order to compete, and it can be a way to mark progress in our training (which is the real goal!).

Rio is showing off his peppermint face


Large ears, tiny tongue


Our jump lesson Saturday and hack Sunday went really well. Even though I don’t expect our show performance to be a slam dunk next week, I DO feel our progress. Rio has bounced back with enthusiasm, and I am really feeling “the ride” starting to click. I have finally figured out how to take a feel when necessary, but also melt and allow him some time to relax and carry himself. It’s still a tricky balance, and my timing isn’t perfect, but it is getting much better! And although we haven’t been practicing changes much, my set-up for them is getting much more consistent, and he is occasionally just throwing them in without me asking before I bring him back for the simple. Our overall balance and straightness is of course what is setting us up for success for changes in the future, we just aren’t to the point where I am schooling the consistently. Better not to then to create bad habits after all!

Donkey ears for the win. Also needs his mane pulled before the show!

Our lesson on Saturday focused a lot on using direct rein aids through turns and transitions, and not depending on the indirect rein too much. Sounds simple, but it made me realize that I really am using too much  inside rein in my left hand turns and that Rio isn’t responding as well as he should be to my outside rein aid. Once I focused more on it, he got much straighter and the turns became more balanced. It’s the little things, ya know?

Post-ride snooze, but still camera ready


Excited for our last week of show prep! I will hack twice and have 2 lessons this week, then Rio will head to Texas Rose Horse Park next Tuesday. I’m already getting super excited, and sorting out my expectations for the show next week. Since progress may not easily be detectable in placings, I want to set realistic goals for myself focusing on small improvements. I left out a stride in a line one of my rides last show- I DEFINITELY do not want to do that again.  I do not want to have any jumps where I don’t see a spot and a jump up his neck (like how I fell off in July). I want to be patient and wait, even if it means the chip. I want to ride really straight after the jump, so even if I don’t get the change, I enforce the idea of straightness. I want to be able to relax in the ring, without throwing my arms forward stiffly and tipping with my upper body. LITTLE THINGS PEOPLE!


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  1. I think this is why showing hunters is so difficult for so many (myself included) it’s so subjective and without scores for each part, like you get in dressage, it’s really easy to get discouraged. Sometimes I think my competitive nature is a hindrance in the hunters — and I actually do better and am happier when I just focus on me and my journey.

  2. good luck with your show prep! i know how you feel too — this year didn’t go the way i planned or expected either, but i’m trying to remember that sometimes comparing expectations to reality can be the thief of joy haha (another lesson maybe i’ll fully learn when i grow up). it’s easy to become blinded to how well a horse is doing when we see it every day or when we don’t necessarily get the results (or opportunities) we wanted in the show ring. from my perspective tho Rio looks really fantastic!

  3. Ugh I hear you, my goal was to have lead changes (mostly) down by the end of the year, but I think we spent about half the year just trying to have any sort of left lead canter at all! Good luck this weekend!!!

  4. Strongly relating to this! Have fun at the show — I like your focus on realistic goals since ribbons don’t always add up to much. (I mean I know they are pretty and stuff but they don’t tell your whole story 🙂 )

  5. I think after having to take a break you shouldn’t put so much pressure to be better than last time. Put your focus on your horse that day and be the best you can be with what you have at that moment. I think your last paragraph has the right idea. Realistic things to focus on. You guys will be great, and I hope you have a ton of fun!

  6. It is so hard when you don’t feel “big changes” but it sounds like you guys are doing awesome! Best of luck and I can’t wait to hear about the show!

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