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March 6, 2012

Find Your Limits By Passing Them (Or Hitting A Tree)

Mark Phillips gave Sinead Halpin some pointers in a recent U.S. Equestrian Federation High Performance training session. Photo by Sarah Rupert.

“OK, I’m just running inside to take a shower. I’ll be out the door in 15 minutes!” I said to Rebecca Howard around 7:15 on Saturday evening. She and I were going to grab a quick dinner to vent/chat about life.

It had been a wild day for S.H.E. (Sinead Halpin Equestrian), with clients in town, five horses at Rocking Horse Horse Trials and eight others to be managed at home, Meg on crutches after a “conversation” with a jump standard, Baby Sarah trying to cope with stepping up to head girl, and me trying to keep it all running smoothly.

I pulled on a clean shirt, jeans and flip flops, hopped in the truck and was proceeding out the driveway while dialing my neglected boyfriend when the whole truck started rocking like I was driving the Land Rover suspension test course at Rolex Kentucky…

I froze, looked left and right, and saw nothing. But it was pitch black. I then looked in the rear view mirror and saw a reflection of initials I recognized… S%^&!

It seems that in my hurry, I had unhooked the electrical cables, chains and video cameras from my rig but never actually unhooked the trailer itself! Goes to show how well my new F350 tows—I never even felt the trailer behind me until I took out the side of a very large tree with my ramp and wheel well.

“More hurry, less speed” seems to be a magnet I need to put on my fridge. Things have been wild this winter (if you can call it that… My farmer’s tan from the 70 degree-plus weather could rival that of actual farmers who spend their days on tractors).

I recently called my mom in a fit of “too much to do and not enough time!” venting, and she promptly responded, “Well, that’s the way you like it.” She continued: “I need a plan and a schedule, but you are your father’s daughter, and you function much better when there’s just a bit more on your plate than you can handle.”

And she was right. But running at that speed is only highly efficient until you cross the line and run into a tree! The best time to pour your tea is right before the kettle boils, and I feel I have passed the boiling point a few times this season already. 

I was teaching the other day, and I said to a student, “Come on, try a bit harder. You only know your limits when you pass them!”

In the past year, I’ve made a point to be incredibly honest and realistic about where my horses, my students and I are in our training. I’ve been tentative in order not to push too hard. I’ve filtered lessons, run a very few competitions and kept very much to myself with my training. Somewhere in my head, I felt that I and some of my horses—especially Tate—were still too fragile to handle “boiling” if pushed past our limits.

But this season is different. I’m pushing myself past my boiling point in order to grow. I feel strong enough, and Tate is feeling strong enough, to handle finding our limits by passing them. In the process, I’ve had some incredibly uncomfortable lessons, one being two days ago with Lauren Hough and Mark Phillips.

Up until now, I’ve protected myself and Tate from rollback turns in the show jumping because we simply aren’t good at them. Tate loses power out of short turns, but I can’t hustle him either, or he panics. I’ve avoided this issue by galloping quickly around courses and taking wider turns, but it’s caught up with me once or twice, and now it’s out in the open.

I must have jumped 20 rollback turns in my lesson the other day, and I think I hated every single one. Lauren didn’t give me one jump to regain my composure—she just kept throwing together courses with nothing but rollbacks to big oxers. Even typing that makes me cringe.

“High Performance” is called that for a reason. You’re supposed to perform to the highest standard at all times. There’s some pressure with that, but the good thing is that you have the best horses, trainers, veterinarians, grooms, owners and fellow competitors in your circle.

So I’ve opened up and exposed myself and Tate to this circle more this winter, because I think my horse and I are tough enough to handle it.

I hate making mistakes, and I hate even more knowing I’m putting myself in situations where I am bound to make mistakes. But pilots practice intense situations in simulators in order not to panic in situations, and doctors practice difficult surgeries on dummies in order test all the things that could go wrong before attempting the real thing (at least I think so… According to what I saw on "Grey’s Anatomy").

So Tate and I are locking ourselves in a rollback room until we can do it with our eyes closed. Hopefully no more trucks or trailers will be harmed in the process!

-Sinead

Sinead Halpin Equestrian