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.






Types of Athletes

Continuing with the theme of how very different my two paintasauruses are, I’d like to get your advice on some more nuanced coaching of my very different athletes.

I had a fantastic lesson on Louie last Tuesday night and I think I can mostly attribute it to me coming in hot with some energy and a very can-do attitude. I don’t know why I was in this mood but it worked super well with how Louie was feeling that particular night and we had a great ride. Louie is a very interesting ride for me and I think he’s my ideal kind of ride. We are actually a lot alike. He has this internal switch where he can go from relaxed, pokey, bombproof, toddle around on a loose rein babysitter to light, responsive, tuned in, fancy (draft cross fancy) athletic partner. You can have whichever horse you want that day if you know how to flip the switch.

Louie is like a car with a sticky shifter with a strong preference toward staying in first gear. When I find myself getting frustrated with his goofy evasions or general laziness I have to remind myself that we are literally the same type of athlete. I used to pull all kinds of shit to get out of running or fitness tests. I always told myself that I could play smarter and achieve the same success with less effort and, for the most part, I did. Well, here I am being burned by the exact same thought process…I just have to laugh. Just like sometimes my coaches had to get tough on me or creative on me to get max output, I have to do that for Louie. The silver lining is that we are both the type of athlete that is usually worth this extra effort because the resulting performance is really something. Is it a shame that sometimes talented individuals are not born with the work ethic and internal motivation to achieve their own max potential? Sure it is. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be coaxed out of them by someone else willing to put in that effort. Some coaches can’t or won’t do that and they write off these athletes as lazy, soft, and not worth the effort. They’d rather coach a team of athletes that try their best any day. That’s a decision coaches have made on me all of my life. It’s a spectrum, too, it’s not all or nothing. A lazy but talented athlete can still have an incredible amount of grit, it’s just buried in there a little deeper.

This post was going to be a lesson recap and it is quickly veering off into sports psychology territory. I’m sorry, read on if you like! I have the unique experience of simultaneously riding these very different athletes and it is exposing many parts of my personality to me that I haven’t really thought about in quite awhile. The talent vs effort argument is as old as time and sure won’t be discussed in full in this simple post. I like to think I am the coach that would put the extra effort in for the type of athlete that needed it. I think I even prefer to coach this type of athlete. It’s not right or wrong- it’s one way of doing things- a personal strategy.

I look at Harley and I feel like he is the max effort guy. The one who gives 110% every time. But EquiNovice, isn’t THAT what you want?? That’s awesome! It is, or rather it CAN be. Sometimes he feels a little bit too much like Rudy. Go watch that movie if you haven’t, it’s a valuable pop-culture reference if nothing else. Rudy gets a happy ending and is finally rewarded for putting in the effort despite the various challenges he faces. For every talented, lazy athlete, there is a Rudy or some kind of iteration that falls more on the effort side of the spectrum. That’s not to say Harley isn’t talented, he’s arguably more talented than Louie, it’s more of an effort in the right direction issue, I think. Coaching this type of athlete requires different methods. I am personally less familiar with helping this type of athlete achieve their success but I would imagine it is much more about thoughtful channeling than harnessing.

One thing is pretty clear, you can’t try to make either one of these types of athletes into the other. You will fail and waste so much effort, time, and emotional resources trying.

Being much more comfortable understanding my own tendencies, I know I am failing Harley in many ways because I am trying and learning to be a good coach for him, but I easily make big mistakes and get frustrated trying to understand what makes him tick. In my head, I see this:


To me, his evasions are in the form of bulldozing off in a million different directions with all the best intentions. I quickly run out of tools to coach this because in dealing with this much more frenetic type of personality I want to yell “Just STOP for a damn second!”  “Think!” and that is exactly the wrong way to help him succeed because that’s me trying to make him into something he’s not (but something I understand better). His answer to almost every question I pose is RUN because he truly thinks that might be the correct answer and all I want to do is rein him in. I have to adjust, but I don’t know how.

Those of you with horses more like Harley, help a sister out! Or if you were the type of athlete who always gave 100% tell me about your favorite coaches- how did they help you? What’s your take on the talent vs effort debate? Will one categorically get you farther or is it more about an adjusted development process on either side to get greatness out of both types? Where is your horse on this spectrum?


Seeing Double

The idea for this post came to me after I sent a photo of my lesson horse, Louie to my mom after my lesson the other day and she wrote back “I’ve never seen Harley’s more white side before” or something to that effect. I realized that for the less horse crazy or even new blog readers it might not be the most obvious that I ride TWO different pinto horses on a consistent basis.

I lease Harley, a soon to be 19 year old, chestnut tobiano Belgian Warmblood. I board him at a dressage barn just outside of town.


I ride a 9 year old dark bay tobiano Percheron cross named Louie in my weekly lessons at an eventing barn an hour an a half drive away.

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 9.53.30 PM

They are different in almost every way: Harley is super hot, Louie is very lazy chill; Harley has big tall withers, Louie is much rounder; Harley has trouble growing much of a forelock, Louie has the thickest bangs I’ve ever seen; Harley has a white tail, Louie has a black tail; Harley wears size 5 shoes, Louie wears size 2; Harley is spooky, Louie is practically bombproof; Harley never has a floppy lip, Louie always has a floppy lip; Harley is extremely sensitive, Louie is extremely forgiving; Harley is ridiculously photogenic; Louie simply cannot be bothered to look majestic for a photo.

They are similar in some ways too: Both will eat any kind of treat you offer- not picky AT ALL; both love to get dirty and are near impossible to keep white; both are tidy jumpers;  both have excellent ground manners and are genuinely sweet horses.

Now I’m just going to drop a series of photos of each of these handsome geldings that I hope will help new readers identify who I am talking about in upcoming posts even if I fail to identify my ride!














Dark, sweaty Harley is still not Louie


haha a trick! Throwback to Shadow, the OG tobiano mare who taught me how to ride.


Louie: my lovable lesson horse


Harley’s mini winter mustache


Louie’s treat radar nose


Harley loves cats


Louie does too!


Selfie with Louie


Awkward selfie with Harley

So you see, I’ve got two painted main men in my life right now. They are both great horses who have taught me so much over the past few years. You could even say I’ve developed a “type” maybe this blog should be called “Painted Dressage” instead!

Oh Happy Day

My first lesson back after a 6 week hiatus was a total win! It was great. The best part about riding someone else’s horse is that when you can’t ride, they have still been training super hard. I got to slot back in and feel like I haven’t missed a beat. She adjusted the lesson to try and make things relatively easy on my knee, but it was just as detailed in terms of pushing me to improve both my aids and my position. Getting Louie, french leather lover, to come on to the aids and lift and feel super light and ready is soooooo much easier than it was one year ago. It is a great feeling to hear my trainer comment how tall he gets and how great he is moving while I am riding him. I can’t seem to replicate this feeling much with Harley yet but I’ll allow myself to feel like I am at least on the right track.


We walked for most of the lesson and worked on half-pass. Louie is such a funny boy and often makes us laugh during lessons because he is so tolerant and forgiving but you can always tell when his brain is about to explode and he has earned a break. He will totally let me keep him there teetering on the edge of sanity for a good long while as we try to get the right result before finishing the exercise. He is never naughty and doesn’t buck or bolt, you can just feel it through his whole body that you are really pushing him outside of his comfort zone- it’s kind of this potential energy, snorty, chaotic sensation. It’s the best. He’s such a good boy.






No treats…no photos


My knee did very well. It was starting to get tired at the end of the lesson and that’s when I will have to be extra careful. I gingerly dismounted and paid very close attention to each step while untacking, grooming, and walking him back down to his barn. When I got home, I could really tell that it had been quite a bit of work for my knee. I was sore and my knee was a little swollen. I iced before going to bed knowing that I had PT the next afternoon so I needed my knee to be feeling good for another tough workout. I don’t want to push things too far too fast for fear of backsliding. Overall, I am very pleased to be back riding and thankfully with dressage, an “easy” workout doesn’t have to feel limited!



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.


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



Clean me. It will help you relax or something.


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




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


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.




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


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.



sweet boy.


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?