It is kind of funny, but I have given this pep talk twice this week to two different riders. Both are fairly new to the dressage world and riding or re-riding. Both of these ladies want to learn the discipline of dressage and how to ride well.

We all come to the sport with an ideal: I want to look tall and lean and elegant and I want my horse to move effortlessly across the arena and be beautiful and round and supple and graceful. And then reality hits and you feel like a boneless chicken bouncing around willy nilly on a motorcycle with one square wheel and a sticky throttle. And there’s all these terms that instructors throw around that you have no idea of their meaning. Suddenly, you are in class sitting next to Charlie Brown and the teacher is saying “whawhawhutah” and you are thinking, “I have no idea, so I will smile and nod and post harder.”

By the time you get home and try to web search the term, you have already forgotten it, your brain is fried, your body aches, and you know you will walk like a hunchback tomorrow.

Newsflash: EVERYONE started here. As you begin the work that is building the basics, you will start to understand some of the terms and you will stop feeling like you are inhabiting the body of some stiff alien being. Your instructor will begin to say, “Yes, good” on occasion and you will feel a warm beam of light from above for that nanosecond until he or she shouts, “Now you’ve lost it!”

I have found it helps to channel the instructions. Turn off your mental processor and just feel it. Then you can break down the process … slight inside bend, inside leg, half-halt … straighten and forward.

Timing of the aids is everything. What you ask is just as important as when you ask.

Everyone has one (or more) certain thing that they struggle with in regard to their body, like this one hip that wants to tip slightly. Guess what, my little boneless friend? Keep at it and you too will be able to identify and bemoan this personal struggle. Your riding friends will join you in this bout of wailing and self-flagellation. Let me just stop you right here and say, “Congratulations on how far you have come!” You are now able to identify things within your body that affect your horse’s way of going.  My guess is you no longer feel as though there is a Perdue truck waiting to scoop you up and take you to the market.

The struggle is real and even when you think you have mastered something – like connection – in three months you will look back and say, “Wow, now I REALLY understand how that works!”

But that’s ok. Just keep on going and try not to wear your judgmental pants when you think about your riding. You will get there if you just keep chipping away at it. Keep looking at the big picture but realize that there are an infinite number of small victories that you can celebrate along the way to getting there, like being able to make a ROUND circle that is the right size and happens exactly where it should. And once you have that, you can add some bend and some connection and…