Riding always plays a necessary part of my life — escaping from my origin of joy is damn near impossible. But I do go through periods where I experience fewer opportunities to sit in a saddle. This makes me sad to an extent, it boils down to expenses much of the time. During these times, I meditate on my riding.
Not my own, luckily, but I did witness a bad fall this weekend that resulted in a Mother’s Day trip to the Emergency Room.
No one is irreparably harmed. And truly an odd day to be in the Emergency Room, not a lot of accidents happen on this holiday I suspect (unlike Thankgiving Day, when we have deep-frying explosions to contend with).
Falls are unavoidable in this sport. I’ve had my fair share, and I immediately jump up (bad, bad, bad) convinced that the quicker I can get back on and “prove” my toughness, the better off I will be.
This was a false lesson taught to me in the days before extensive research on concussions. And to an extent, we baby children these days on the rigors of horsebacking (locking stirrups away for an entire month seems archaic) but I firmly believe our appreciation for medical consequences is not one of these misguided moments.
We owe it to our brains to be careful, “reputation” and “toughness” be damned. We owe it to our future selves. Reading about continued trauma to the head is enough to make me a lifetime activist.
Thankfully, our rider was wearing a helmet, because she did fall hard.
It’s unfathomable to me that people choose not to wear one, especially when jumping. I will write of another time when I rode western and it was far less common, and I still look back and cringe to days when I justified the choice as it being “impossible to fall off in a western saddle”. Because you are “so secure”. Uh, okay, but how about a horse falling on you?
It was an unacceptable decision.
Even when your horse is behaving admirably, you are 3-5 feet off the ground, and you travel with momentum that has the potential to stop suddenly.
If you are worried about helmet hair, get a gym membership to shower near the barn. If you are worried about feeling a breeze, get a vented helmet. If you are worried about how it looks, trust me, you look much wiser with one on.
I did not intend for this to be a rant about helmet-wearing, but we all ought to be smart when a completely innocuous lesson can turn into a trip to the ER. Respect yourself, and your thoughts, feelings, and well-being!
Riding can be such a thinking sport. Constantly, we mull over our weaknesses and how to address them. We reflect on the challenges our horse is facing and dream up exercises, tack, and strategies to reach the next step in our journey. Meditating on this sport can become all-consuming.
I spend car rides to and from the barn picking apart rides, noting where and why I need an adjustment here and a tweak there. All my directives aim toward supporting the horse I ride that day.
Then I will test out ideas, come to this blog, and write about it. I will also read the blogs of others to devour other ideas from the talented equestrian blogosphere. Throw in a smattering of COTH threads, and my head is rolling.
We are all thinking about our riding. Plotting, planning, and theorizing.
Leaping off my discussion of the trajectory of progress, I sped into a world of thinking, how do we achieve progress? Moreover, what can we, as riders, do to ensure we are moving in a direction that we like?
When I visualize the rider I want to be, how ever many years away it may be, what can I do to be that rider? It requires a foundation, a plan. Or in cooking terms – ingredients and a recipe to complete.
Without further ado, my recipe for progress.
A phrase we hear commonly in horses – progression is not linear.
I completely concur with this statement, and I can vow the number of times my riding has taken dips and turns that have felt like regression, but overall have shifted me into a more complete and capable rider.
I was killing time before getting on Q today and decided to watch the lessons at the ring. I love doing this, and it reminds me of my high school days when I had no hurry and could spend an entire day watching my trainer’s lessons. I rarely get to do that these days, so it’s a treat.
This time, I did not watch my own trainer, but another trainer who rides out of the facility. This woman is an accomplished rider, and while her style can at times be eccentric, I do respect her greatly.
Why are you hedging, you might ask?
Well, I did notice a specific and very common trend with this trainer. This trainer to student behavior is one that I have seen and repeatedly been the recipient of when I was growing up.
During a young teen’s lesson, this trainer was being hard. Her commands were tough, shouting, and exacting. I did not disagree with her corrections, but the manner of them would certainly be on south end of pleasant.
Then, the parent comes to pick her up.
And rather suddenly, the entire tone of the lesson changes. Rather than a laundry list of corrections, the trainer moves to asking exploratory questions and notes of praise. “You cannot jump until you correct your hands” to “You are doing so well with this young horse.”
Again, not disagreeing with earlier phase of instructions, but merely observing how the one parent can alter the color of the conversation.
To a certain extent, it’s expected that a parent presence will elicit a change in the trainer. When your *real* customer shows up, you have to reinforce that they are not spending hard-earned money foolishly.
I remember this as a kid very distinctly, mostly because my parents did not often stick around to watch my lessons. When they did have a weekend day free and would watch a lesson, the flip-flop was stark. I disliked when they watched. My trainer acted oddly. Maybe even disingenuous.
Until this weekend, I had yet to witness this phenomenon as a bystander, and I do think it exemplifies how much of a people business this is. Yes, it’s about getting the right horse flesh in your barn, managing and bookkeeping, and ensuring you have a well-trained staff.
But the horse industry is customer service. And until kids pay for lessons themselves, the parent will always be an ultimate decision maker.
I wish parents stuck around for lessons more. A partnership with horses is so rarely understood outside of horse people, and the more exposure, the higher the likelihood that a parent will “get it”.
Moreover, I wish trainers were more consistent. If you are going to be the tough yeller, own it. If you are going to be supportive and flowery, own that. Admittedly, trainers need various tools to work through diverse issues. That includes a spectrum of approaches – soft and hard.
The distinction lies in addressing the same core problem. To vary the tone of instruction within the span of an hour smells worrying. Especially if that change occurs after parental company arrives. That’s fishy.
I cannot be the only person to notice this?
Loaded question, I know. Why cannot we all ride perfectly, have our horses react perfectly to the amount of pressure we elicit, and have them execute perfectly to those cues?
Well, there are many reasons. For one, we are human and horses are horses. If you are thinking *no duh* and doing a facepalm, I dare you to keep reading. A point will be made, eventually.
Beyond the unavoidable things that happen to divert us from perfection, what’s wrong with striving for it?
Perfection has a lot of weight to carry. It means that every component of the picture has the same amount of attention to detail.
In the context of horses, this means not jumping a course of crossrails until you master the transition to the canter. And before you produce an uphill, engaged, and straight canter departure, it means building a connected, marching walk.
Before you even step in the saddle, you must command your horse successfully to stand quietly at the mounting block. Before reaching the mounting block, your horse must walk respectfully next to you, listening to your body, hand, voice as you lead them.
I could go on. Perfection is hard. Perfection is work. Perfection is unachievable.
Why strive for something unattainable?
This is my new state of mind lately with horses and work. If we use an excuse that it will “never happen” to be perfect, then why bother trying to improve?
Asking “what’s the point” is defeatist. We all have room to grow. To focus on the shortfall we will always have limits our potential.
Be healthy in your mindset, strive for perfection, and celebrate your progress.
/ end monologue
How do you all handle the idea of perfection as it relates to horses?