Physical Limits vs Mental Limits

Monday I wrote about ways that I am pushing some physical limits in my life and today I want to talk about some mental limits that I’m struggling with lately in my riding.

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing lesson on Louie where my trainer even video taped part of my ride to show me how much my seat has improved and what a positive influence it was having on the way Louie was moving.




Alas, what goes up, must come down. Tuesday’s lesson was a total bust and I’m still trying to process what was going on. I think I may have been in my own head too much- trying to reproduce something I came across in a very exploratory frame of mind by instead forcing it or rushing it. Louie was being a little lazy and when I couldn’t get him to feel how he felt last ride, I kind of crumbled. When Louie started phoning it in, the wheels came off and we were a mess out there. She asked me to do some canter transitions to balance him in the trot and he was. not. there. He was super dull and giving the bare minimum amount of effort and I was suddenly completely at a loss for what to do. I could feel it- or rather the absence of it- and I just kept trying to force it. I was able to finish with some decent canter work only after a heart to heart….er…whip to rump discussion with Louie and my trainer explaining to me that I wasn’t even asking him to keep it together- I was just giving away all of the impulsion out the front. Weak sauce.

After the lesson she told me something I already knew, but after that performance, probably needed to be told again. She said something to the effect of, “you are not a beginner anymore, when people start lessons they look to their instructor to guide everything they do. When more advanced riders take a lesson, they come in and ride and I help when they need it but they do what they need to do for their horse before I say a word. You have more than enough tools in your toolbox to get him where he needs to be without me- you have to ride him like he’s your horse. If I ask you to do some exercise but you can feel he isn’t balanced enough to do it, get him there- do something else you know will help him.” She’s right, of course.

So, what happens when the EquiNovice isn’t exactly a novice anymore? I’ll tell you what happens- responsibility!!!! UGH, what a drag! As long as you are new you feel like you can make mistakes, second guess yourself, be hesitant, and it’s all acceptable because, well, it is- you’re new. Coming to grips with not being new is a bigger mental hurdle than I thought it would be. I need to level up my mental fortitude to match my skill or it’s going to be darn near impossible to continue to advance.

I don’t imagine this was a particularly enjoyable lesson for my trainer to teach and it is in stark contrast to my last lesson which I think she probably did enjoy. But it means a lot to me that she continues to push me to be better. Yes, I pay her for every lesson, but she could just as easily feed me empty compliments and let me putz around on good natured Louie every week. I’m never going to show him; never going to be reflected publicly as her student; and may not even get to take lessons from her for very much longer. But she still cares about my development as a rider enough to tactfully have an uncomfortable conversation with me and push me to be better. That’s a quality instructor.




Mental limits: must push for more progress! Onward and upward and don’t let a few bad rides get you down.






7 thoughts on “Physical Limits vs Mental Limits

  1. I made that journey, obviously with the same trainer. It was so hard and such a long process for me, and it’s only been in the last few months (knowing the move to the new barn was coming) that I really got independent. Sometimes she asks me to do something and I’m just like “Nope, this isn’t going to work with the horse I have right this second,” and she’ll say ok and change course to an easier version of the same thing or something that will get him on my aids before we retry the hard thing (if we retry). Sometimes I’ll just ignore her and do something she didn’t ask me to do, but I think it will help. It means she spends a lot of time quietly watching me instead of talking some rides, but that’s not a bad thing. I think this is going to be hardest for you with Louie, because it takes some experimenting on your own time to figure stuff out, and you do have Harley, but you never get a chance to ride Louie without her, so naturally you’re going to be more inclined to rely on her.

    Longwinded way to say: I feel you, homie.

    • Word. The solidarity is deeply appreciated. Some lessons are better than others for me in terms of taking control of my ride. I’m at that weird stage where when it’s good, it’s great! But if things don’t feel right, I immediately look to her to bail me out and now she’s looking back at me saying “yeah, now fix it!” haha Damn, it’s hard to take the training wheels off!

  2. yea i definitely know that feeling, and actually think it has something to do with that shift from ‘unconscious incompetence’ to ‘conscious incompetence’ (and eventually hopefully also to “unconscious competence’!). there’s definitely something uniquely challenging about learning to ride independently, and i know i’m in a very different mental space when i have a trainer present vs absent. sometimes (often) this means that i have worse rides without my trainer there to keep me on track, and simultaneously means i’m sometimes a little too passive in lessons. it’s a tricky balance.

    like, last night schooling by myself, my horse felt for the first time like he wanted to stretch out and down and reach for the bit. it was a good feeling so i let him go and let him experiment. but i also know that the biggest challenge for him is not in lengthening his neck and body, but in compressing it, and in lifting him off his forehand, which he was not doing in this moment. so like, one the one hand i was enjoying the feeling from him, it felt like he was trying and testing out different balances – but on the other hand i didn’t trust that it was actually the right thing to do with him. so idk. ya know?

    but ultimately i reassure myself by saying that, no matter what, it’s probably gonna be fine. we’re not going to break the horse or ruin its training by letting it trot on the forehand while stretching. or by not getting it ‘on the aids’ for the canter transitions or whatever. like, even if we flub it reeeeeeally badly, it’ll probably be ok when we come back chastened to try again!

    • Definitely feels like it’s a stage of that learning curve- or maybe an in-between stage. I want so badly to be able to trust my feel and intuition but I don’t think I’ve had enough chances to test it and have it either approved or invalidated by a trusted source. Charlie’s stretchy trot reminds me of Harley’s “collected” trot the other day- it felt good to me but I need pro eyes to either say “yes! that’s on the right track” or “wtf are you doing?!” otherwise I’ll just be grasping in the dark and like Jen said, it will be tough to get to a more independent space without the chance to experiment a little. I am hoping that at some point I can beg my trainer to come and watch me on Harley and offer some valuable feedback to my experimentation. It would be quite a new experience to say- “can I show you something and you tell me if this is correct or how I could make it better?”

  3. This post really hit home with me! For a long time I had a lot of physical limitations and now it seems to be my mental limitations holding me back. Will continue slowly chipping away at those I guess, sometimes physical limitations seem easier/more straight forward to fix.
    P.S. you both look great in those pics!!

    • Thank you!! Yeah, I agree that mental limitations are trickier to face. Even if like in my case, the physical limitations aren’t exactly fixable- they are at least easier to define. Sometimes with the mental stuff you don’t even KNOW what is holding you back let alone how to chip away at it, right? Sigh…

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