There seem to be three states of athletes: hacks (who just go through the motions and don’t much care if they get it right), professionals (who practice doggedly until they get it right nearly ever time), and perfectionists (who are driven to get thing right every single time and who see anything less than perfection as unmitigated failure).
Notice I said that professionals practice until they get it right nearly every time. In horseback riding, regardless of which specific sport you choose, things just don’t go perfectly. You get long spots at a jump. Or you chip in. Or your horse refuses a jump. You can slip on a cross country course where the footing is uneven. Or the circle in your dressage test isn’t completely round. Or you don’t go as deep into your corners as you should. Or your halt isn’t completely square.
Or you fall off. I’ve seen it happen in some pretty high profile competitions with spectacular horses and amazing riders. But that’s the amazing thing about the professionals. They take these less than perfect circumstances and turn them into excellent rides. Not perfect, but excellent.
Perfectionists, on the other hand, can be paralyzed by a lack of perfection. It gets in their heads, and it often overwhelms progress in other areas. Things seem black and white. It’s either perfect, or it’s completely horrible. There’s no middle ground.
Unfortunately, I can be a perfectionist. I’m not sure if it’s to the level of full blown character flaw. But at a minimum, it makes me a little nuts when things don’t go as planned. Riding has at least taken the edge off that quality about me. It’s hard to hold on to perfectionism when you have a 1,200 pound partner, and are running over cross country and jump courses.
Thursday I got to squeeze in an extra lesson. My trainer put me up in two-point/galloping position, and told me to stay there. I couldn’t stay very long. It was embarrassing. So the challenge came: every schooling ride for the next week I had to commit to doing two-point for two minutes, three times per ride. Then twice during the week, I was supposed to stay up for five minutes. I could do this at trot or canter, but at least one set had to be at canter.
Fast forward to my regular Sunday lesson — just three days later. I’ve only done the two minute exercise over two rides. And honestly, I haven’t done very well at it. I’ve only been able to stay up for a minute or a minute and fifteen seconds. My best effort was a minute and a half. But nothing close to two minutes. And when I tried at canter, my leg came off enough that Charlie broke gait.
So here I am in my regular Sunday night lesson. I’m nervous about what my trainer will think. And when she calls for my two-point, I can almost feel my balance leaving my body. So much for perfectionism. I can get up out of the saddle, but I can’t stay there without holding onto mane.
Then my trainer called me out – two-point without holding the mane. I held my hands out to the side of Charlie’s neck to show that I wasn’t holding mane, and that satisfied her. And miraculously, I didn’t fall back into the saddle. Even more, it seems my position was better than I thought. Not perfect, but better than the “terrible” assessment that was running through my mind.
Since my trainer didn’t have a stopwatch, we shifted from timing my two-point sets to seeing how far around the arena I could get. It was interesting how the different form of measurement helped shift my perspective. Sometimes that’s all you need to get out of perfectionist mode.
My trainer is out of town next week, so I have two weeks to work on my balance and stamina at two-point. I double checked, and we have plenty of Advil to get me through the anticipated soreness. I’m leaving my watch on the stopwatch function so I can measure each of my two-minute stints.
You see, with fitness, there’s always another goal. When I master the two minute set, I’m sure we’ll move to a five minute set. Then it will be something else. The point is that we keep pushing. There will always be a challenge. There will never be a perfect fitness level.
I’m sure I won’t do the exercise perfectly, over these next couple of weeks, but I’ll certainly try. And we’ll see what kind of progress I can make in that time. Either way, my fitness level will be a lot better in a pretty short period. The funny thing is, I can’t want to get to work on it. And I’m eager to show off the progress we make when my trainer returns.
Don’t worry, No Stirrups November is coming. And while I won’t be perfect at that either, I’m sure Charlie and I will get a lot out of it. Just like now. Not perfect, but better. And isn’t that the point?