The USEA Foundation’s 2018 recipient of the Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant, Frankie Thieriot Stutes, shares the highs and the lows of her preparation for the Kentucky CCI5* in Part III of her journey to the highest levels of the sport.
This is what you say when it does not go the way you dreamed it up. But sometimes it is even more than that. Sometimes the universe does you a favor, makes you take a step back, and forces you to decide if that happening is for better or for worse.
The last few months have been unlike any other I have experienced in riding to date. I have undoubtedly worked harder than I have ever worked every single day both on and off of my horse. I have gone all in as some would call it, adding new intense workouts to supplement my riding and showing up each day to ride with a new level of focus. Some have said the pressure has made things hard this season, and while that may in part be true, the pressure has not come from anywhere but within myself.
I have been fortunate to have incredible help which has only gotten better this year, and I do believe all of this hard work is for a reason and that the results will come if I continue to put my head down and give it my all. However, there is a careful balance between hard work and being too intense. In the process of working as hard as I can, my love of the game has been shaken.
For me to be successful, I have to enjoy the process and be in a mental state of taking in the small moments. But, at the same time, I still need to be dedicated to the other areas of my life, just as much as I am my riding, bringing passion to all aspects of life, to have the proper balance it takes for me to actually produce results in anything I am doing. When I do this, I properly compartmentalize things mentally, and it also helps me to enjoy the process of riding, embracing the opportunity to do it.
My extreme focus this season on riding has almost tuned out the other things I need to focus on as well, and as a result, I feel I (No one else) have put pressure on myself to win which takes the fun out of it and makes it impossible to achieve success. I’m best when multi-tasking, and that’s the bottom line. Do I need to compartmentalize things to do each well, yes, but I am not as good when I get intense about only one thing.
I ride for fun, and that has to come first. I think when you are expected to do well, by yourself and others, sometimes the fun factor is hard to find.
If you look at my record for 2019, it will mortify you on paper. It seems as though one thing after another has been slightly off. I started the season winning an event and then took a W in the interest of my horse because of the show jumping footing. At the next event, I finished second after what was our best dressage test to date, and then on the course my pinny somehow attached itself to my air vest, basically attaching my belly button to the pommel of the saddle. I halted for about 45 seconds and broke myself free before carrying on and in the process obtained an obscene amount of time faults- no big deal but certainly not the norm. In March, I headed to my first FEI of the year where I tried some new things in the warm-up, and my test ended up not being to the standard I hold myself to. The next day, I missed horribly in the show jumping, which resulted in 2 rails, and then slipped out in a turn to fall cross-country. Each of these times, I had to face an entirely different level of pulling it back together from a mental standpoint than ever before. You see riding only one horse has positives and negatives, the negatives are that there are no other chances if it goes wrong, no other rides to clear the slate, and there is COUNTLESS time to reflect on what went right or wrong and why.
Despite our less than stellar season, I felt that I had pulled it back together just in time for my first Kentucky. We continued to train hard and took each thing that happened as an essential thing we learned toward our goal. I typically back down a level before big FEI’s to run slow and easy, and that is precisely what I did at Twin Rivers. I was fortunate to do the 5* combined test and also the Intermediate dressage and Cross country (not doing the show jumping so that it was not too much in one day for him with the way the format was). I thought ignoring all the signs the universe had given me were fine, and the weekend seemed to go well. We got a 26 in our combined test, and I felt I could make a few changes to shave a bit more off for our Kentucky debut, jumped clean, and did a nice, easy cross-country round as planned. I packed after icing Chat and got ready to head home, with him going south to hop on the flight to the Blue Grass State. I went to casually trot Chat quickly before we parted ways for a few days so I could be with my boys, and to my extreme shock, he was somehow lame. It quickly became apparent that plans were changing fast and he was not headed to Kentucky but instead home with me so we could further assess what was going on.
My heart was broken, something I had worked so hard for was gone, and we were so close. To give you a bit of back-story I felt extra shattered having almost gone to Kentucky once before with my old partner Fric Frac before something very similar happened two weeks before the event. That was in 2011, and it has taken me two other horses, and nearly a decade to be close to the opportunity again, so here I was, no Kentucky and even worse I thought my horse had been significantly injured. I played out how this could happen cantering around the course as I had. He hadn’t taken a wrong step, looked perfect as I trotted around to cool him down after we crossed the finish and I found myself searching for answers in my head the long drive home.
I cried- A LOT. The universe had tried to nicely tell me that it wasn’t our time and that the lead up had not been right among other things several times, and I refused to listen. This time it made sure I had no choice. I believe in angels, and I am pretty sure that mine know more than I ever will. Somehow Chatwin was better after just a couple days, and after scanning, evaluating and doing every test known to man by some of the best vets in the country, the whole situation turned out to be unexplainable, but he appears to be his usual healthy, happy self. Had Kentucky been one week later, we would have been good to go.
The last couple weeks have given me a lot of time to reflect, I’ve focused back on work and my boys and had some serious heart to hearts with myself about how I want riding to fit into my life, and what I want the experience to be like. I love Chatwin an incredible amount, and riding is my peace in the world. I care more about the process with him, the daily rides, the little things and love of the sport itself than whether we win or lose. Don’t get me wrong I am one of the most competitive people you will ever meet, but I also believe that if we enjoy the moments and focus on being our best in every event, the rest will fall into place.
I forgot some of this to start things off in 2019 and thank god the universe literally put me on my butt among other things to make me remember why I do this in the first place. I have gone back to riding in my ring alone with the speakers all the way up. I’ve gone on some long walks with my friend Chatwin, I have enjoyed being home with my boys, and it will sound crazy but I am feeling incredibly thankful to have not had the opportunity to go to Kentucky this year, because I needed a mandatory reset and although it hurt, I am certain it was right.
If you are not enjoying this than why bother? As thankful as I was for my incredible Broussard Grant before, I am even more thankful now! I planned to use the grant to pursue something in the fall, but now it seems a reroute makes sense to head across the pond as early as June. We are in the process of figuring out exactly what that looks like, but I am more excited than ever to see what is next. Some times things not going how you plan can teach you a whole lot more than when they go how you hope, and let’s just say “sometimes the universe has other plans” because deep down you need to be reminded to slow down and enjoy the process.