For a long time I’ve had this idea stuck in my head that there are some obstacles Murray and I will simply never get to the other side of. For example, our dressage tests are consistently inconsistent: I never know what horse is coming out of the warmup or what is waiting for me in the sandbox. Obviously this is to the detriment of my riding and our overall performance, but that’s not really the focus of this particular blog.
I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d always have this horse that could really be beautiful at home but would never show himself fully away from home. I thought I’d probably always have a horse that would get a little sticky in stadium, peering at strange filler, floral arrangements, or you know, whatever he felt like. So I planned on riding a horse that was strong in warm up and backed off in stadium and never being able to appreciate the bold, brave jumper I knew was hiding in there.
Then one day I was listening to podcasts and mucking, the Dressage Radio Show podcast came on, and they were talking about the 10 Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders.The first one they talked about was
6: An effective Dressage rider knows success happens one ride at a time, day in and day out, remaining consistent and realistic in their daily goals and expectations.
And that really struck me. Day to day, I feel like I have pretty reasonable and consistent expectations. Today: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. Tomorrow, be through, be supple, and use your body correctly. Saturday: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. I’m good with that. I get it, and I understand it – perfect practice makes perfect. But it was certainly something to hear really upper level riders talking about using these tiny, teeny weeny increments to train the movements. And obviously, obviously, right?! You can’t expect a horse to hold their body up in a pirouette day after day and not get sore and pissed off – they don’t do the same movements day in and day out. But they do work slowly, with what their horse can do, and that is the road to success.
Next up was Linda Parelli, talking about using the principles of Parelli to help horses understand dressage. A lot of people think dressage is about control and rigidity and structure (Linda pointed this out, but it is also something I have noticed), but it’s not. It’s about – among other things — cooperation and building understanding. I, myself, can’t treat dressage like a place to control and bring rigid structure and my command and will down upon my horse – even if I previously thought like that, someone would disapprove.
Linda talked about taking time with a horse so they understand the game of dressage – that this is something they have a part in as much as the rider. In the Parelli structure this starts with the game of contact, but Parelli or not, taking the time, the little bitty steps and many repetitive hours, of getting your horse to understand their part of the relationship is essential to success. And it seemed, to me, that a big part of this equation was persistence. If you keep changing up your teaching strategy, how is your horse supposed to learn?
After the Dressage Radio Show, on came the US Eventing Association podcast, hosted by Chris Stafford. In this particular episode Chris was interviewing the rider who placed first in the beginner novice division at the American Eventing Championships. As she tends to, Chris asked a lot of questions about how Bobby and his horse Halo came together, as well as their riding and competition history. Bobby and Halo have an incredibly impressive competition record: They have finished in the top 3 at their last four events at beginner novice, and finished first at their move-up to Novice this year. Add the AEC win to that, and these two are a truly solid pair.
The interesting part to me wasn’t just how well these two have done. It was actually the amount of time they have been together (since 2008! If I recall correctly). Hearing a bit about Bobby’s history – that he evented through Prelim with his warmblood mare and after college was finally able to get a second horse, Halo, and started at the beginning again – really made me think about learning and time. Obviously Bobby and Halo have a great relationship, and Bobby knows how to ride his horse for the best performance. But more than that, it seems like they’ve really taken the time to do this right.
I know right?! BeyondPod was hammering the message home this Saturday.
There were the pieces. Do things incrementally and a tiny bit at a time. Be persistent. Even a spooky thoroughbred can score under 30 in dressage consistently. They percolated while I mucked and fed approximately nine million horses and dropped hay off the wagon and had to go back and pick up the flakes I dropped every time I turned a corner so that everyone would get fed.
And I realized – what kind of crack have I been smoking that I think it’s impossible for Murray to ever be consistent in the dressage court and I’ll just have to accept the wildly shitty and disappointing rides for the frequency that they are likely to come?! That isn’t logic. That isn’t what I understand of animal learning. That isn’t what I want. I don’t want to move up the levels accepting my crappy dressage tests and hoping for clear cross country and stadium runs to bolster my mood. I want to be strong in all three phases. I know we can be strong in all three phases. I want people to see my name on entries lists and fear competing against me because we can kick such ass.
This isn’t something that we can never get past. In fact, I doubt that with time, creativity, and the right learning structure there is anything that Murray will never be able to get past. He is smarter than I am, especially about learning things. But I am stubborn as hell, and now that I’ve got this idea in mind I am not giving up on it. It’s just that somewhere along the way I got wrapped up in all the other distracting things that come along with riding and competing – shiny things, satiny things, bigger things, lower-numbered-things, jealous things… all the things. I’m not sure that I ever completely equated those things with success or reaching my goals, but they seem to be correlated often enough that it’s honestly a bit hard not to. It’s hard not to think that the goal is the move up, or the ribbon, or the score, or the next level. But that’s not the end goal, is it? The goal is
total eventing world domination being really kick ass all the time*.
I know I’ve said it before, but I am committed anew to taking the time we need to kick ass and take names. What rush is there? I have nothing but time, and nothing but a burning desire to do it right.
*Or as much of the time as we reasonably can.