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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

 

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We’re Still New Here

This has been the longest week. My coworkers from Latin America have been in town since last Wednesday so I have been playing hostess for far too long (they are not staying with me, they just don’t know the area). It’s moments like this that make the introverted parts of my personality come out in full force. I love to hang out with my coworkers, especially when we are traveling, but something about having them here in my own backyard just started to become too much for me. I am a transplant to this area and in the five years I have been here I still haven’t really learned the ropes. It is also a college town so the prospect of taking my coworker who doesn’t drink, but inexplicably still loves to party, out on the town gave me a lot of anxiety. Not to mention there was a huge campus event this past weekend and the weather was the best it’s been so far this year. The streets were packed, the bars were packed, and I was wishing I could be a million miles away.

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Luckily, my therapist has been very instrumental in helping me keep my cool this week.

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Clean me. It will help you relax or something.

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So what if I knowingly missed a business dinner for the sole purpose of going to see Harley instead!? #worklifebalance

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Hi, my name is Harley and I wouldn’t put my weenie away to take nice photos because idgaf.

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We had our first ride in the outdoor arena last weekend as additional footing and mag was being added to the indoor. The weather here has been very erratic and we did have one not so great ride in the indoor a couple of weekends ago. He is pretty reactive to sounds and got quite spooky with the combo of wind howling outside the arena and the BO doing some work with the tractor. I couldn’t really blame him too much, the arena doors were closed and he is even more concerned if he can’t see where the noise is coming from. Aside from that, Harley has continued to impress me with how well he is adjusting to his new home. We are starting to get to know each other more and I plan to start lessons with him in the next couple of weeks.

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I would describe him as the quintessential gelding. His ground manners cannot be beat and he is the type that lowers his nose into his halter when you come to get him. Under saddle he is extremely willing, very honest, and has zero opinions. Clearly much more of a “pull ride,” he gets rushy and heavy easily. He has a longer body and is a much bigger mover than I am used to so much of what I hope to work on in my first lessons with him will be not riding in a defensive position and learning some tools to help him slow down and think more about what is being asked of him. Is “too willing” a thing??  haha

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I had a phenomenal lesson this Wednesday with my current trainer on Louie. Lou is very different from Harley and I really felt the difference this time. Louie’s owner has been working so hard with him over the winter and in my lesson he gave me some of the best trot work I’ve ever seen from him. My trainer was super complimentary of our ride and I told her it’s clearly all the work she’s been doing with him lately that has produced such a big change. He didn’t throw me even half of the evasions I usually get from him and I’m hoping it’s because he is figuring out that moving this way isn’t nearly as difficult as he thought it was. These things take time. She tells me I should work on the same exercises with Harley so I try to incorporate them into our rides. What is difficult about that for the moment is that the feeling of “correct” on Louie is going to feel different from the “correct” on Harley and I am still pretty lost trying to decide if I am doing the exercises correctly on my own. Harley and I need some feedback as we try these things so I can start to memorize the way it feels to get Harley moving more correctly.

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sweet boy.

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Harley gets to meet his new vet tomorrow for just a wellness exam. He’s had his spring shots and doesn’t need his teeth done yet. Is it a total dick move (literally) if I just have the vet clean his sheath?

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Let’s Review

Inconsistency in my riding schedule has paved the way for me to let all of my old bad habits creep back in. I had a make-up lesson over the weekend which was the first time I’d ridden in two and a half weeks. For the most part, I was pleased with my ability to retain some of the finer points we’d been working on before the end of the year. There was, however, one glaring exception: I’m still a giant pushover.

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The worst part about this particular flaw when it comes to riding, is that it masquerades as a positive quality. I give myself a pass knowing that I’m never going to be the one people are worried about being rough with their horses or hauling on a horse’s mouth. Nope. My flaws damage in a different way. I will let your horse get away with way too much shit. I am a poor match with clever, opinionated horses. I think I’m being nice, instead I am untraining them. I am working on it. (But apparently need reminders to work on it)

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During my lesson we did an exercise working on getting some true bend to complete 10m circles- easy enough, right? We were doing okay, Lou was putting in some effort and I had a handle on most of his evasions. Then he started bracing a little and bending his neck in without bending the rest of his body. I recognized the problem and started trying to put him back in a more correct left bend. Two laps later, he finally gave a little and stood up straight enough to make the turn. “Well, he finally got there- you basically let him decide to offer that bend, but it took two laps- that’s not good enough. It’s not like you are asking him to try something difficult or new.” She was right, of course. The second I raised the expectations, asked first, then insisted, he was all johnny-on-the-spot. She also reminded me that while he is totally capable of easily honoring my request, he isn’t prepared to stay that way without reminders. I can give when he gives but then I need to re-ask before he loses it completely.

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In summary: basically this post from this summer. How soon we forget… hilarious because he was pulling the same crap on me this weekend as he was in that lesson.

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Things I learned from watching my trainer ride for 5 min:space

  • Her aids are much more decisive than mine. Sometimes my aids have question marks attached to the end… sponging the right rein? Like I’m still not sure it is going to have the desired response so I pose it to Louie as a question. Obviously I am not going to have all the right answers now and I will make mistakes but I realized that I need to be more decisive with my aids if I am going to improve. Maybe it will even help eliminate some of those times when things go well but I have no idea what made the difference.
  • Her aids are sharper and it makes him sharper. Don’t misread this- I realize “sharp” tends to carry a certain connotation. I don’t mean to say that she is overly forceful. I just realized that there is a difference between how she communicates with him and how I do, and she helps him be more sensitive and sometimes the way I communicate with him makes him dull. It is a little bit of an art to use as much (leg, rein, pressure) as needed and to apply it in the correct manner. You can tighten your calf muscle, you can brush the horse’s side with your leg, you can squeeze, you can tap, you can pony kick- and these all can create a different response. My lessons help me decide which combinations are the most effective. But I still find myself squeezing where there should have been a tap and pulling and leaning where it would have been much more effective and maybe even kinder to have used more initial force and then immediately release. I think I’m being nice and instead I am just muddying the message and giving him an out.
  • She repeats things often. She corrects and asks quickly and then releases the second he complies. If the quality changes or he even considers changing it, she repeats the same steps. It was very obviously more effective this way than asking sooooo quietly and timidly for an extended length of time and then finally getting some semblance of the correct response and then holding your breath and hoping it doesn’t change and then not realizing it changed until it’s too late and you have to start all over from the beginning… I mean, I have no idea who would ride this way but they should really cut it out ;-). So, if you repeat the question early and often, eventually, you may only have to repeat half the question or you may not even have to repeat it. No one ever really explained that it might require repeating every few steps- and that’s actually just fine.
  • That sweet release. This is straight up muscle memory for her. Releasing the pressure is like not an active thought for her but a trained, automatic response. I am getting better and better with this but it still isn’t automatic. It probably has more to do with how I ask in the first place- if my aids start to get long, drawn-out, too wishy-washy, and naggy, then it’s really hard to feel that moment where a release is needed. If I can make the whole process quicker and every “ask” comes with a “release” then I think it will become easier to sort out the timing of the release and, of course, not forget about the release.
  • It’s not personal. He is not getting crooked, or swapping the bend just on you- he does that with her too (or tries to). So, it’s not necessarily because you are doing something wrong- could be, but not necessarily. She doesn’t make an issue out of it, she just fixes it or doesn’t allow it.

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It was a good reminder and I am going to put these BACK to good use in my upcoming rides. What is the most glaring thing you forget after a long break from riding?

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Silence Speaking Volumes

My last three lessons have been much quieter than usual, in a really great way. I have admitted to indulging in autopilot lessons where my body is pretty much a processor and it is essentially my instructor riding from the ground and I turn my brain off to anything other than taking direction. I gave myself those lessons in good faith because I knew they would help me build muscle memory.

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This is me, judging you for taking my picture.

                                              This is me, judging you for taking my picture.

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There have been long periods of time during my lessons lately when my instructor just quietly observes. When she does talk, it is to assure me that I am correctly asking for the right thing and to encourage me that he is close to giving it to me. She told me last night that my timing is getting much better: for example if I ask for him to bend right, he wants to swing his haunches left so I am there with my lower left leg waiting to remind him to stay in the boundaries. When that doesn’t work, he’ll try to swap the bend in front and bulge his shoulder, but I am there with my upper right thigh and reins to flex him back right. We mostly drunken man walk around right now but I do get some really great moments where he bends correctly and stands up super tall and gets very light. Obviously I still desperately need my instructor, but before, I needed her to tell me how and when to do everything. I’m getting more self-sufficient and can better recognize the “when” and more correctly execute the “how” by myself.

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All of this success is at the walk and when we trot it all turns to shit so fast it makes my head spin, but she reminds me that he is just learning this too and will get better at it.

I’ve adjusted tried to adjust my expectations to reflect that I get, at most, one hour a week in the saddle but I have hit some frustrating lows along the way. This month I’ll ride a grand total of two hours… awesome. Sometimes I even feel like my trainer is frustrated about it too. Not frustrated at me but more like frustrated for me- I just cannot figure out how to get more time in the saddle. We both know I am patiently somewhat patiently waiting for the right situation to come along but it just isn’t happening. She wants to help, but can’t. I want to fix it, but can’t. I have more than enough desire, but not nearly enough means or time to fix my own problem.

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Gimme dat. I will eat your hand, don’t tempt me!!!

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Like everyone else I think in terms of “imagine how good you could be if you could ride everyday!!!” But, I have to try not to get greedy. It’s good to dream, but sometimes you just have to be grateful for what you have. And I am so grateful to still have lessons where I feel like I am making progress even if they are weeks apart.

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