Friday, October 27, 2017

the audacity of a plan

There will always be a commonly held belief that sometimes it's better not to have rigid plans or expectations. That sometimes it's better to fly by the seat of your pants, taking life and each day as it comes. That sometimes a plan can be too limiting. Or can lead us to act or make choices bc that's what the plan says to do, even if maybe the circumstances aren't quite right. 

loch moy ct in march
I understand this completely. It's certainly easier and safer than risking feeling disappointed or let down when the plan doesn't pay off. Or when it has to be re-imagined or abandoned altogether. The anticlimactic end of this year's season has been yet another lesson on the subject. And it's horses, after all. Horses live by their own rules.

loch moy ht in april
What can I say, tho, but that I'm a planner? 

I have two main fundamental reasons for this. 

1) You don't get where I want to go by accident. Luck alone won't get me there either. 

While my long long term riding goals may be murky and vague, I've got a pretty clear sense of where I want to be in the shorter term: Where I was when Isabel and I were at our peak. When I felt my strongest and most capable as a rider, and we had just moved up to novice.

I want that feeling back, and I want to jump bigger fences and jump them well. And there is absolutely no substitute for hard work and practice in getting there. This includes making time for lessons. Making time for schooling. And creating benchmarks along the way to gauge progress. 

loch moy ht in april
Am I a stronger rider today than I was a month ago? Am I making better choices? And is it consistent? If I run through the same exercise 5 times, how reliably can we execute it correctly? 

All of this requires planning, especially when considering the reality that my mental game is a huge factor. For me to be successful over 'bigger' fences, I have to feel strong and secure in the saddle. But I also have to have enough practice and mileage at the height to make it feel more routine, mundane even. This takes time. And..... time takes planning. 

fair hill in may
2) There's something to be said for positive anticipation. We often dwell on the negatives of angst and anxiety, but forget how powerful positive anticipation and expectation can be. 

Years ago I read some study finding that people were often as happy (or happier!) in the days leading up to a vacation as they were during the vacation itself. That the brain, in anticipating a positive, happy thing, can actually experience an increase in happiness just by expecting future happiness. 

jenny camp in may
In other words, all that mumbo jumbo about visualizing success and happiness can be very real. The more I can create tangible, well defined progressive steps that take me ever closer to where I want to be (even if each step seems small or insignificant when taken by itself), the easier it is for me to imagine reaching that ultimate goal. 

And naturally, if I've done my homework in developing my goals -- the goal should be something specifically formulated to bring me happiness upon reaching it (otherwise uh.... what's the point, right?). 

loch moy in may
Thus we get back to my initial point: even the act of planning itself is often just as important to me as slowly ticking off those boxes, carrying out those plans, reaching those intermediary milestones, and ultimately reaching a goal. 

The downside, tho, is that an unwelcome change of plans therefore has equal power to make me feel somewhat robbed of that joy. To make that distant goal feel even more out of reach. 

tranquility in june
And.... yea. This is a struggle for me. It's hard to experience disappointment like that. And I feel like I've had my fair share of broken plans in the past couple years. Breaking my leg the day before our third novice (with a fourth already on the calendar). Then facing the dissolution of my competitive partnership with Isabel. And more recently, all those nagging minuscule lamenesses with Charlie ultimately preceding his surgery and the forfeiture of our fall plans. 

But that's mostly an attitude thing, I think. And my answer to broken plans must be to just... ya know, make a new plan in light of new circumstances lol. And so the cycle repeats!

tranquility in june
I had pretty grand plans for this year, too. Hard to say whether they were called for or not. Realistic or delusional. Idk. They were ambitious tho, for sure. 

The general scaffolding of my plan for Charlie's first year as an event horse was basically in two parts. Only Part 1 was mostly fleshed out going into the year, with the expectation to build out Part 2 after a "summer recess."

Part 1:

March: We introduced Charlie to the sport through an 18" CT at Loch Moy. This went off without a hitch, and we probably could have gotten through the xc phase had I been inclined to push it. 

April: We returned to Loch Moy for the full three phases at 2'3. The height was easy and while Charlie was green, he was a very very good boy.

May: This month saw us kick into high gear. Charlie ran another full HT at Fair Hill, this time at 18" since the 2'3 course included elements we hadn't schooled yet. But then we got our money's worth with what amounted to a modified BN course at Jenny Camp, and finished the month with a way-too-easy cruise around Loch Moy's 2'3 again.

June: Charlie faced his first BN at Tranquility. The jumps (which were not as soft as I anticipated) posed no problems, but water was still unreliable and needed schooling.

July: We concluded Part 1 of the season with another 2'3 run at Fair Hill. This would be Charlie's final sub-BN event. He had by this point fully demonstrated an understanding of all three phases, including questions like ditches and water on xc. 

fair hill in september
A brief summer "recess" provided us the opportunity to review and evaluate how Charlie was doing in his training. Verdict? Homeboy was doing well

If anything, Part 1 of my Grand Plan was probably more conservative than it needed to be. But I was adamant: we were all about building confidence and laying the foundation so that the horse had, in some form or another, seen much of what low level eventing has to offer. And that it felt easy and unimpressive to him. That he could get the answers right even when I messed up.

Because. Where Part 1 was conservative and maybe unnecessarily slow paced in moving the horse up, Part 2 was gonna be straight up balls to the wall. Obvi we only got through our first event of this plan tho so.... Ya know. It didn't go down the way I wanted. But here's the plan anyway, in all it's glory:

fair hill in september
Part 2:

September: Back to Fair Hill for their BN course. I expected and hoped for a meaty beefy chunky monkey course and.... it ended up being a lot softer than anything I'd ever seen at this venue before. Le sigh. The course also rode a little greener than I expected due to time off leading up to the event. 

Right away, the wheels on my PLAN had gotten a little wonky. They then immediately came all the way off and Charlie had surgery. Womp womp womp. 

Had that not happened tho, we would have proceeded as such:

Also September: Another BN run at our home barn, where I hoped to school some of the N while I was at it, considering I didn't care much about competing against my barn mates and would have been fine with the TE if it meant getting competition mileage over N elements.

October: BN at Loch Moy, whose BN courses I had been eyeing longingly all season. I went to this show anyway to groom for Brita and Rachael and was admittedly pretty blue when I saw just how awesome the BN course looked too. It would have been perfect -- actually, much of the N looked pretty freakin great too. 

November: Novice at Loch Moy. Yep. 

That had been the plan since.... well, June, actually. And as of September, we felt so close. So close. Alas. 'Twasn't to be!

In hindsight, knowing how the season ended, I honestly feel a twinge of regret at taking things so slowly with the horse when he was so clearly capable of more. I console myself tho by saying this slow, careful and systematic approach was instrumental in developing Charlie into the uncomplicated partner he is today. 

He is green, yes. But he also honestly knows his job at a fundamental level. And the fact that N felt attainable and within reach just one year after restarting him from the track... Well. Obviously we didn't actually get there. 

But it's still heartening when looking forward to next year and beyond.

And so. I keep planning.

***

Are you likewise a planner? Do you like to have a clear sense of how an event or series of events might unfold? Do you like to sketch out the bones of a season or time frame in advance, or create a road map of sorts about where you're going and how, exactly, you'll get there?

Or are you the opposite -- choosing instead to take each day as a new day, come what may? Perhaps your longer (or shorter!) term goals are less reliant on tangible outcomes such as competitive results? Like maybe your goals are more about enjoying the time spent with your horse? And any sort of rigid structure creates more stress or pressure than you feel is warranted?

Maybe you fall somewhere in between? Depending on time of year or where you are in your relationship with your horse? Or maybe you think I'm way overthinking this whole thing and should probably just chill the F out and enjoy the moment?? lol...

51 comments:

  1. I am a planner. I find that goals give me direction and help me figure out the day to day. Sometimes the plans don't work out or I have to come at it from a different route but that's pretty much been my life so I try to take it in stride. I couldn't function without having goals and a plan to get there. I think I would just flail around.

    I also think that you should be proud of all that you have accomplished with Charlie this year. His dressage is really coming along and it's clear that he loves the CC. Part of that is his natural positive personality but the other is how you have been sure to give him questions he can answer. So your year has been amazing (from my perspective).

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    1. Yea agreed completely on needing those goals and plans to keep me thinking and moving forward. It's that whole "taking it in stride" thing when it doesn't work out that I still need work on lol. Ain't that always the way tho! And thanks I'm really really happy with the path our year has taken and with how well Charlie settled in to the job. It could always be better or whatever but as far as I'm concerned we did a fair job of optimizing our plans!

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    2. The taking in stride thing takes time. I didn't have it until I was into my 40's.

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    3. ha yea i mean, it's like we grow up and become independent and hopefully slowly become more and more able to do things exactly as we see fit, and have the means to follow through with our own plans.... only to discover that, oops, yup, we *still* can't actually control life. lol...

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  2. From race track to eyeing novice in a year off track? I think that is amazing and something to be really proud of. An injury waylaying your plans is annoying and disappointing but it isn’t like Charlie put a hard stop on it or showed he couldn’t do the height. I bet you two are going to take the 2018 season by storm.

    I’m not a good planner. It’s not the disappointment of not doing it that I mind, it’s juggling all the balls in the air. Wyatt is my #1 priority and horses have to fit around him so it gets hard to really fit in a definitive schedule for it. As soon as I do Wyatt asks to go to a pumpkin patch and so we do that instead. I don’t mind at all, he is my best little guy and soon enough he won’t be asking me to do stuff with him anymore. Horses can wait until that day comes. For now I squeeze it in where I can and make very loose plans based on that.

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    1. Ha yea I probably should have thought ahead to include "life and family circumstances" as a reasoning behind why it's easier for some folks to fall somewhere between serious planner and more go with the flow type approaches. Obvi that's kinda a biggie!! Fwiw I think you've done a pretty great job of balancing the pony habit such that Gem continues to do well and progress even as you have other priorities!

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  3. I get it. I am totally a planner as well, and I too take the slow, methodical course. I would rather go too slow and build a horse's confidence because it doesn't take much to destroy confidence by rushing. Of course, my grand plan this year was cut short because I had to put my mare down in August, so I totally understand the feeling of unrealized goals. :-( But, you guys got a great foundation this year, by spring Charlie should be healed, and there is ALWAYS next year. :-) My entire life hasn't gone as I planned as an idealistic 18 year old, but in the end, things have a way of working out (sometimes even better than we planned originally)!

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    1. Ugh yea I totally feel for your unrealized goals for the year too :( it's just hard sometimes. Totally relate tho to feeling like even when things don't go the way we want or plan, they do still have a way of working out. I'm just constantly trying to keep my mind open to that possibility haha!

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  4. Planning can definitely be a double edged sword! Like you, I do like to plan and know somewhat how things are going to go, and use that plan as a framework for the work I do. But I think learning to be flexible and change that plan as needed is an important skill, too! I think you brought Charlie along beautifully this year despite the setbacks, and he'll be ready to kick butt next year at Novice!

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    1. Yea learning to be flexible definitely has its benefits and I think becomes a real advantage. I often focus a little too strongly on very detailed steps but then get thrown off when something goes slightly awry. Or it makes me less open to help bc in my head I have all these incremental steps and I must do each of them rather than let friends or whatever pitch in, even if that would make life easier. It's a process I guess lol. But yea. I'm excited for next year and already impatient lol

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  5. I love the approach and planning you had for yourself and Charlie this year. It was well-calculated and well-executed for both of you and your success proves that. Shit luck just happens; I hate so much that it happened to y'all this year! But sometimes that shit luck makes us more motivated for the future and next steps. Charlie has an incredible mind and a likewise partner, so I'm certain y'all will power through this bobble and have an outstanding next season. <3

    I used to be the most rigid of rigid planners. But time and time again, the horses proved to me that my approach was faulty. You hit the nail on the head with the point about anticipation and expectation being as good or better than the actual event in question. I LOVE the anticipation and expectation building up to whatever I'm looking forward to. As I get older, that anticipation and expectation is often more enjoyable than the end goal itself! I end up being super calm and collected in the moment having gotten all of my raw excitement out prior to - it's weird, but it kind of helps me fully appreciate and enjoy the actual end goal even more. And thus, now I'm more fluid with my planning. I put all possible events on my calendar and take them as they come. The build up and prep toward each one affords me with happiness and the let down of the things that don't come to fruition is much easier than it once was to move through. Definitely a work in progress, but compared to how I used to react to so much of life when things didn't go to plan, I'm really, really, really happy with where I am now. It's healthier by leaps and bounds which makes me happy and being happy makes even the hardest of days easier to push through.

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    1. Yessss that appreciation of expecting future happiness is exactly how I was thinking about it too. It really can make all the difference (when I step back enough to recognize it for what it is lol). Being fluid with planning is maybe just as important as the planning process itself. I'm so glad to hear that you've been able to balance out all the competing priorities to arrive at feeling like you can now be happy in expectation of a plan but also flexible if it doesn't pan out.

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  6. I've done the involved planning route, but right now I'm in a bit of a "day by day" season of my life. It's working for now 🙂

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    1. Yea I get the distinct sense that this is one of those cyclical type things where depending on all varying circumstances and environments we may find our urge to be uber planned or organized less desirable than being relaxed and flexible. Glad your situation is working well!

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  7. Timely post--I'm currently in hyperdrive planning mode in anticipation of Shiraz coming home from training! So. much. joy!

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    1. ahhhh yay!!!!! that's the best kind of excitement!!! hopefully all has gone well and she's ready to rock 'n roll!

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  8. Life has a way of taking our plans and throwing them back at us.
    I like to plan but have learned to be more fluid with the plans I set. I have goals - things I want to accomplish and do. But at the end of the day horses are fragile, life is a mess, and stuff happens. It sucks when things don't go as planned but you shake it off and plan for what comes next. :)

    I am finding that planning for next year is all sorts of up in arms since bringing another human into the family is bound to cause some bumps in the road!

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    1. omg omg omg hillary that is HUGE news!!! maybe i'm behind the times what with my cave troll social media status (lol) but congrats!!!! i can *definitely* see how that might disrupt some horsey plans haha!

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  9. I WANT to plan, but I'm far too superstitious lately. You're going to be back and better than ever in 2018!

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    1. ha yea, that's fair. there's definitely sometimes a feeling of "jinxing" things!

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  10. I pick a general trend of the direction I want to go and pencil in goals in that direction. I'm less of a concrete planned just because it blows up in my face way too often.

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    1. ugh yea i definitely feel you on that. so far i haven't let the blow ups deter me from continuing to push forward with 'next steps' and new plans... but i've definitely had moments where it felt like it'd be safe to just throw my hands up! it's all just such a balance tho, i guess, depending on so many different factors!

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  11. I have to have a plan, and goals and a list. It's the Type A in me, but it also helps me stay motivated. If I'm honest, it keeps me from just toodling around unproductively too. Obviously those plans can (and do!) change based on life, horses, money (ugh), etc. but at least knowing the direction I want to go in is necessary. I hate ambiguity at work, on projects, basically in every part of my life. I want to break things down into small, manageable pieces and then check those off on my way to a bigger goal. Gantt charts and SWOT analysis and GOST tables and OMG can you tell I went to business school?!

    I'm starting to formulate what this looks like for 2018 for us right now actually and it's exciting to think about what's ahead. There's definitely something to the anticipation! We progressed much faster than I could have ever guessed (hadn't jumped in 10 years as of July to BN in November) so 2017 was such a whirlwind, that 2018 should give my brain some good stuff to plan through and work with.

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    1. omg i am right there with ya about hating ambiguity haha!! like.... seriously tho lol. and that's so awesome about having these past few months with Doc blow your expectations out of the water -- that's like the best case scenario! it's been exciting starting to follow you guys and i'm looking forward to seeing how 2018 shapes up for you too! and glad i'm not the only one already setting my sights on a time that's still months away lol

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  12. I am a compulsive planner, I have plans, back up plans and back up, back up plans almost all of the time. It is just my personality. Now I am super flexible in my planning, I rarely freak when plans have to change suddenly, esp when I have backups :) I like knowing what my future layout should look like, even if I know it is going to change.

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    1. oooh yea i love back up plans and contingencies and all that - definitely helps feel secure in the future! tho.... honestly things like breaking my leg or having my horse need surgery kinda defy those options lol

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  13. Never, ever, feel regret for taking things too slowly. Although,I completely understand where you are coming from. I wonder if I had moved up to Prelim sooner, would I still have a sound horse who could have taken me to my first prelim? Did I jump her at Training too long, causing unneeded stress on her joints? But really, I think because I took things slowly and really made sure she understood what was being asked of her, we had a far more successful run together than if I had just said "we qualified for prelim, lets go!" I'm obsessed with plans and schedules and understand how frustrating this setback must be for you. I feel like so many people complained about 2016, but I'm 100% thinking 2017 is the worst year ever!!!

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    1. ugh yea i keep reminding myself of the same things again and again and again. i think it's just part of having an important chapter in our lives close before we were ready for it -- it's so easy to fall into the trap of second guessing ourselves and wondering how things might have gone differently! but yea. it is what it is and we just keep on pluggin away! yea tho... 2017 has maybe been tough in some ways, hasn't it? my 2016 was definitely the pits comparatively speaking but this year has certainly had its challenges too!

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  14. So I feel like this is maybe not the right way to contact you, but I can't figure out a better way, so here goes. I'm a long-time lurker who rarely (never?) comments, but I've been following your journey forever, and I love seeing how far you and Charlie have come as a team!

    But I do have an ulterior motive for contacting you now - I'm a Canadian eventer who has just gotten a job offer in Maryland, and I am contemplating the big move out there. I'm really hoping I might be able to pick your brain about the good/bad/ugly of eventing/barns in the area. Any chance you could send me an email? You can get me at live to ride 1000 @ gmail.com (remove the spaces). I would be eternally grateful for any and all advice, because quite honestly I have no idea what I'm doing here... ;)

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    1. thanks for reaching out, Katie! email has been sent -- tho if you don't get it (in case i somehow goofed the email address) you can also reach me at fraidycat.eventing at gmail.

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  15. Thanks for making me think, Emma! We're definitely on a slow train to who knows where at my house, but I think I am finally ready to have some real goals back in my life again, after two years of not competing due to various things. Maybe, just maybe, I'm feeling brave enough to make plans!

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    1. yay for getting the brain juices flowing!!! in fairness tho i can be a crazy insane planner about nearly anything - it doesn't have to be competition focused. i happen to be zeroed in on horse shows tho bc i friggin love them and bought charlie with the specific intention of turning him into my show horse. so.... thus the heavy focus on that particular element here. really tho, the plan could be for anything - even just developing our horses into fun all-round partners!

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  16. Definitely another compulsive planner here. I think 2013 in life and then experienced through the blog really helped me learn to be more fluid. Letting go is so, so, fucking hard, but I get a little bit better at it all the time. Taking time to mourn the dead plan though is also important and part of the process.

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    1. ugh yea. i spend a lot of time telling ppl that it's ok for me to be sad when something i really wanted didn't happen, since a lot of well-intentioned folks are eager to try to whisk away disappointment when they see it. but. ya know. it's healthy to have a reasonably broad spectrum of emotions haha and i'm cool with taking a moment to be sad when a plan dies, so long as i can then take that next step of picking up and moving on. which. obvi like you say, that's the hard part haha

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  17. I'm a compulsive planner by nature but it keeps biting me in the ass, so I'm trying really hard to be more relaxed about things and just go with the flow. How good I am at actually DOING that depends on the day. ;) I too really thrive on having particular goals and a timeline in mind, but I also have the tendency to be inflexible about things because I'm too goal-oriented. That's not a good thing.

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    1. being relaxed and going with the flow is something that comes really easy to me..... when it's *NOT* something i care very deeply about. and then... yea. we get more into that regimented, inflexible territory. so... yea, i hear ya lol.

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  18. I find that if I plan, my equines will just conspire to ruin those plans. So I generally only look a few weeks ahead.

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    1. yea i mean, that's fair. as far as actually booking things on the schedule... yea most places won't even let you commit an entry more than a couple weeks in advance. there's more to planning than that, tho, ya know? and there's more to taking steps to achieve a goal than just booking stuff on the calendar.

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  19. I am also so sad you guys didn't get to complete your master plan. It was so ambitious and you were both working so hard on it, with great results. Looking forward to a happy and sounder Charlie for you to get started on the plan again!

    I'm a planner, for sure. I think part of this year for me has been having to come to terms with plans that are completely and irrevocably wrecked. It's really freaking hard.

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    1. ugh yea. i know that feel. it was basically most of my 2016. when i'm feeling cynical or ironic (or am in a navel-gaving, pensive drunken state....) i call those time periods my "rebuilding phases." still sucks tho.

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  20. I've decided we are the same person, and obviously our horses share the same injury with the splint surgery. But ya- I'm a huge planner. Plans make me happy. I had plans with last lease horse, that we just started to actualize when her tore a ligament in his right front. Then I had all sorts of plans with Rio, which turned into one injury after another. BUT- like you said, plans change. I have a new plan now, and although it's frustrating, planning makes me happy so tough cookies!

    <3 Kelly @ HunkyHanoverian

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    1. ughhhhh it's so heartbreaking when things like that get in the way of our hopes and dreams! i don't think i was following in the days of your previous lease horse, but that sounds like a devastating injury :( i'm so glad to see tho that Rio gets better and healthier every day! we can only hope that charlie follows suit!! bc yep, the planning - i'm hooked to it!!

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  21. I kinda fall in between planning and letting the chips fall where they may.

    I like to make goals, but I am cautious of them because a lot of the times it just doesn't work out for whatever reason.

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    1. yea.... honestly when it comes to horses, that caution is well earned. bc they definitely like to make their own plans, whether we want them to or not. still tho -- i personally strenuously resist letting that deter me from pressing forward. i have a clear idea of where i want to be. and i simply cannot get there without being purposeful about it. so even tho i end up occasionally disappointed or delayed in my pursuits, i continue to endeavor in that direction.

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  22. I found your post very timely. I am a crazy planner!! And if I can't control a situation which is in my way of things I can control I live in a constant influx of positive happy days where I want to be and total anxiety. I have been told that this is strong type A. Sigh. Love the photos.

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  23. I'm a consummate planner, but years of being a military spouse and having kids has gotten me used to being flexible. I just enjoy planning though, so continue to do it. So cool to see the progression pictures! You guys will get right back out there.

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  24. I love this post and I think you really captured why planning is hard for me. I have a tough time planning without KNOWING how things are going to turn out. I plan things for myself since there's only me and my things to need to figure out but I have a really time planning for riding goals because then I need to try to plan for Katai and I know how many things could change or potentially go wrong.

    I've been slowly figuring it out (I think) this year but I'm still not that good at it. I'm good at setting big goals (Bronze Medal) and then working toward them with single minded determination but not as good at planning the steps that need to happen to get us there.

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  25. I’m so bad about planning out and registering for events in advance. We just kind of take it a month at a time but that’s been all we can do lately. Curious about your input since you have experience eventing an Arab...Every time I feel like my Arab and I are finally doing well, the next outing, he acts like he’s never seen an xc jump before. It feels like taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back all the time, and the refusals and falls have really taken a toll on my confidence of being able to get him around a simple course. Did you ever have issues like that with Izzy?

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    1. no, izzy was a cross country machine and we were very fortunate not to have issues like that on xc. she did begin to have issues with refusals in stadium, at which point i got the help of a trainer who schooled the horse for me to see what might be going on.

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  26. This post is a great recap and I can't help but think that being an equestrian is an exercise in perseverance and setbacks (in fact, I was just commenting on this exact theme on the blog OTTB and Oxers). You have much to be proud of with your still relatively new partnership with Charlie. And I admire your moxie. As far as my riding goes, I take it day by day and our progress is seriously snail's pace over the three years I've owned Knight. I don't even write about our riding stuff anymore because I fear it's far too boring and remedial. Although we did get a rad counter canter last week which was cool and he knew exactly what I was asking. Jumping--well, my trainer has proclaimed she doesn't think it's really his thing. And so it's a dilemma.

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  27. I love planning but I am often a bit too much of an optimist about the future. Usually about finances. "Oh sure I can afford to show three horses in the summer" etc. And sometimes am not super realistic about attainable goals for my horse. This is a super timely post for me as I'm starting to think about my plans for next year already!

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