Reading the responses and postings from adult amateur riders compels me to address a common misunderstanding between instructor and instructee. In a fellow blogger’s comment section I referenced the different psyches involved with teaching teenagers and teaching adults. (see comments) This generated some discussion on why adults may have specific concerns. Alas, I too am an adult and have indeed suffered injuries from riding. I however, seem to believe more in some adults than they believe in themselves. This is usually illustrated when we first meet and are setting long-term goals. Almost invariably if I ask a teenager what they would like to accomplish they say “I want to ride in the Olympics.” Lofty goals indeed. We then discuss what kind of dedication is involved in reaching that kind of commitment. When I ask an adult with seemingly the same ambition and enthusiasm the identical question I usually get a somewhat…
Admittedly it took me smashing both my legs and spending a year in a wheelchair before I felt empathy for fearful riders. Although I knew all the catch phrases to try and teach someone that was afraid,- “he’s not going to do anything”, “nothing’s going to happen”, “doesn’t matter”, I really didn’t understand that it was a physical problem to be frightened, not a mental one.
It’s easy to stand on the ground when someone is fearful and logically explain why they have nothing to fear, or even what to do if they experience loss of control. These are things most people can understand and conceptualize, however; when a person has been hurt, or just has a fear of being hurt no logical understanding overrides the blast of adrenaline that shoots through their body causing a cold sweat to break out on their forehead.
If you are trying to teach, or help someone that has this fear, understand that they want to get through it or they wouldn’t be there. If possible get on the horse first and show them how quietly he goes around the arena without spooking or falling. Sometimes it’s helpful when the rider is on the horse to get them talking about something else in their life, maybe their family or their job, to distract them from the situation for a minute. This will keep them from over analyzing their ride. Put a grab strap on the saddle or a stirrup leather around the horse’s neck for them to grab if they feel the need to. If they become overwhelmed with fear and feel like they must get off the horse try to be supportive and understanding, even if you have never felt this way yourself. Everything doesn’t have to be conquered in one day.
If you are a rider that has experienced a bad fall or is fearful for some other reason, realize you are not alone. Many people feel fear and express it as anger or frustration. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your trainer about your fears. This will save a lot of time and confusion if the fear is getting in the way of training. Never feel “less than” because you are afraid. Eventually most everyone gets to experience this most unpleasant of feelings.
It took a long time after I began riding again to feel confident enough to train a horse again as opposed to just sitting there fear struck. Fear can be overcome but it never goes away completely once it becomes a part of your psyche. If you have a bad day just spend the time on the ground with your horse and don’t let one uncomfortable feeling keep you from what you love. Get back in the saddle tomorrow, it will be a better day. I promise.
Well, Back to the blog again anyway! It’s been quite a hiatus and I’ve missed my readers and fellow bloggers, but like true friendships a time lapse won’t matter.
I’m in a different state now, geographically anyway, and spend most of my day caring for my elderly father. Although it has altered the way my horse career operates I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am fortunate to have a career doing what I love because my family made the sacrifices necessary for a horse obsessed little girl. For that I will always be grateful.
This change in schedule has given me less time to teach, but more time to write and I’m hoping we can resume the conversations I have always appreciated with my old friends and hopefully some new ones too.
It looks likes it’s going to be another blogging year. My first attempt at blogging brought many unexpected results and events. Some of the changes brought about feelings of pride and a sense of self-worth. Other changes, while still enlightening, forced reflection on aspects of dressage, or organized horse-sport in general, that I had never before contemplated. While I feel overloaded with ideas to blog about, my less naive side now worries that every story will read as either self-aggrandizing, cynical or sales pitchy. When these feelings start making me avoid the vulnerability of writing this blog my new inspiration is to go back to the relationship between the rider and the horse, a relationship without angles or agendas. Following is a letter from a student that I received about a year ago. When the distractions of competition, politics and profits get me down, letters like this one, and others from students past bring me back to that concept of what “success” in the “horse industry” means to me.
This is published with permission from the author. Thanks Jess, your unabashed sincerity humbles me.
“I hate writing, I love to have written.” Dorothy Parker
Writing this blog, originally a writing exercise imposed upon me by my roommate, an avid birder that blogs daily at thebirdhousechick.com, has brought about many unexpected benefits and pleasures to my life. While it sometimes seems like a chore to sit down and torture myself with self-doubt and criticism just to get three paragraphs completed, once it is finished I feel a sense of relief and am usually inspired for my next topic.
In addition to the cathartic experience of sharing issues that are dear to me I have met so many other bloggers, and many other riders that stumble across the writings and share their comments and insights. Some of them are professional trainers and many of them amateur riders that are passionate about their journey with riding. Without the global reach of the world-wide web I would never have met these kindred souls that share my love of dressage or horses in general. The comments and e-mail I receive as a result of my small blog have inspired me and made me feel part of a community in which I have never felt included.
It was a great surprise and admittedly a source of confusion when I received an e-mail from Frances Keller, an organizer from the historic and distinguished Dressage at Devon horse show. The correspondence was an invitation to attend Devon as an “expert commentator” for the Prix St. George class held in the famous “Dixon Oval”. My first response was that the e-mail must have been sent to me inadvertently so I replied to Ms. Keller to inquire why I had been included in the group of experts that featured top judges and top competitors from across the United States. It seems she came across my website and blog while looking for Scott Peterson, a great trainer I have listed on my resume’. After reading the site Ms. Keller invited me to be a commentator as she felt that some of the listeners may relate to my point of view as a contrast to the great judges they have scheduled to speak. I am very humbled by the invitation and hope that her instincts prove correct.
Although I am nervous about the prospect of speaking to such a large audience without the time to edit and rewrite that I am afforded by writing a blog, I am more afraid of “flinching out” on an opportunity to be included in such an esteemed panel at such a dignified event. So Thursday I board the plane to face my fears and hopefully offer a perspective that remains true to myself and resounds with others.
If any of my fellow blogging friends, or others that follow the blog are going to be in attendance at Devon please let me know so we can finally meet. I consider you all part of my journey and wouldn’t be included if it weren’t for your kind words and inspiration.
I could write about….no, that’s stupid. Oh, I could explain how……no, everybody knows that already. Oh, I know, I could write…..no, that idea sucks. That has been my inner dialogue every time I sit down to blog for the past six months. I wish I could blame my absence on the weather or my busy schedule, but why lie? I have fallen victim to the same enemy of progress that I try to discourage my clients from entertaining, perfectionism.
Don’t get me wrong, anyone who knows me knows I’m far from perfect! When it comes to writing, whether it’s a college paper or my little blog I become paralyzed with fear that my work will not measure up. I see this same self-destructive behavior become problematic in many of my client’s riding. For fear of not doing an exercise properly the first time, they never attempt it at all.
En route to lessons this same self-doubt creeps up on me if I let it. What if I can’t live up to my client’s expectations? What if my instruction falls flat or fails to inspire? Perhaps somebody else could explain things more creatively or clearly. This almost always alleviates itself as soon as the lesson begins and the dialogue between instructor, horse and rider begins to flow, The details work themselves out and it becomes clear that it is not the over complicated, esoteric explanations or the grandiosity of the upper level movements that make a good lesson. It’s the quiet, subtle exchanges that occur only between the rider and the horse that matter.
As frequently happens when self-doubt becomes overwhelming to me my students unknowingly become my teachers. Last week while driving to teach a dedicated adult amateur rider I found myself fretting about what I would present as a lesson. We have been chipping away at the lateral exercises and because she is so dedicated to her riding and her horse I desperately wanted to help her feel confident and confirmed in her lateral work, exercises that are complex in nature and require a patient communication between the horse and rider.
I arrived at the barn after spending the drive over mentally preparing for my lesson with Lynn. I was determined to dazzle her with lofty explanations of the communication needed for her to properly execute jaw dropping shoulder-in and breathtaking renvers. My perfectionism was in overdrive and my anxiety about presenting the perfect lesson was building. When I determinedly walked into the barn I noticed that Lynn was wearing a radiant smile. She explained that for the first time ever her sometimes aloof mare, Luna, had cantered up to greet her in the pasture. Her excitement from that one interaction from her horse was nearly palpable. My anxieties melted away as I realized that riding, like life, is defined by the small things. Sure, great lateral work is nice to have but no lofty speech or complicated footwork can offer the undefinable joy experienced during the quiet moments understood only between the horse and rider.
With luck my writing self can learn something from my riding self. Tell the perfectionism to back off and just keep writing. Every ride isn’t perfect and every blog post won’t be awe-inspiring, but hopefully, if I keep moving towards the big things the small things will make it all worthwhile.