Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: I write from the heart — please be nice

  • Hi all and welcome back!

    I think it is safe to say that my last blog was controversial, to say the least…! While I knew that it would divide readers, I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared for the subsequent bullying that followed. Whether or not you agreed with me doesn’t matter, it was open-ended. For those saying my writing is awful — I write from the heart. I’m just a girl who rides horses, I don’t claim to be an English professor, but I’m doing my best. Be nice.

    All I was saying in that blog is that you don’t ‘have’ to go to the gym or be physically strong to train your horses. My sister and I are living proof of that, as are many many other riders. Of course, our way is not the only way — as one lovely person sent me a message of support with the quote “many roads lead to Rome.” We all do have different roads to Rome, but that’s not to say one is wrong and one is right. I’ve spent years feeling inadequate because I didn’t go to the gym, and I’m so glad I did speak up about it as many others have told me they feel the same way. I’m here to share my story and the bullying I received was the price I paid for it.

    Anyway, onto brighter topics!

    Some recent cuddles with Simba

    I’m now hoping (and praying!) that we have got over the worst of the winter storms, which have battered us all into defeat. They even battered our beloved village windmill to defeat as one stormy Sunday it lost two sails. But I feel like spring is within touching distance and we are now all fighting to find the last of our energy reserves to get to that summer sunshine. With this positive outlook, I came out of my competition hibernation and finally went to a show!

    Having not competed since my final grand prix with Apollo at the summer nationals last September (except for an unaffiliated gala evening), I have found that I’ve become bogged down in a ‘it’s not good enough’ mentality. I’m a perfectionist down to the core — so why would I go out when it’s not perfect? It was a slightly toxic mindset I got myself into and I was very complacent to wave goodbye to Samantha and Juliette as they went off recently to regionals and high profile shows, happy to stay at home — whereas I used to sulk and long to go too.

    Juliette and Apollo

    We recently went to a talk with Charlie Unwin, a performance performance psychologist and an excellent speaker on mindset around competing. Listening to him woke something up inside me and I began thinking of aims for my horses that were a little more within reach than grand prix. I’ve had to swallow my perfectionist attitude and appreciate that I need to enjoy the journey not just the end destination.

    Sirocco and I out competing

    So I bit the bullet and took rising seven-year-old Sirocco to our first show together. Being only his second show and upping him to elementary level, I went in with no expectations but to just see how it goes.

    So I was amazed when he won both classes on 70% and 71.72%! He felt like he had done it all his life and was totally unfazed by everything. We’re yet to learn medium/extended trot and while I could easily critique every movement I did — for where we currently are, we couldn’t have done much better. I also found that I really enjoyed it! But most of all Sirocco loved it, which made me love it too. Ears pricked, eyes shining, he showed off his balanced simple changes and square halts like the big 17hh, perfect white-socked super model that he is.

    Sirocco and I

    So once I was on a roll, I took him back out again the following week. We did the same two elementary tests, but this time I pushed the power button. We succeed in having more power, but it did then lead to a few mistakes — canter-trot-canter is totally optional according to Sirocco. But because of the added ‘ommph’ we came away with improved scores of 71% in elementary 45 and 72.5% in elementary 59! So that’s him all qualified for the summer regionals, so it’s back to training to get him up the levels.

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    Back home it’s all systems go as coming up soon we have Juliette and Apollo’s first international! After Juliette’s complete domination at regionals (where she won three classes in one day, two with her own pony Prince and one with Apollo), she has been going from strength to strength. Apollo is thriving in his role as schoolmaster and they are really forming a partnership. Sometimes I get asked if I miss riding and competing Apollo, and honestly I don’t, as I’m so happy and proud of watching him and Ju flourish together. So here’s wishing them the very best of luck for Keysoe CDI!

    Anyway, I’m back off outside now to enjoy the horses and the sunshine, which I think everyone should do!

    Until next time,

    Joanna x

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