Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Back to square one. Again.

When you start something new (like, say, coming back into work after being a pasture puff for a couple of years), your horse is in disbelief. He doesn't want necessarily want to work ("I could spook instead!") and it takes the better part of an hour lesson to convince him of what his job is and that he has to do it. And then, maybe the last 10-15 minutes of your lesson, he starts to really put in some quality work - like a nice, connected trot. And just when it's starting to feel awesome, your time is up. You've been through the wringer (how much inside leg can you possibly NEED???!?!), and your horse looks like he's just run the Derby. You despair at how hard that was and how you'll never be any good and how COULD HE PLEASE JUST TROT LIKE A NORMAL HORSE and jeez. Why do you do dressage again?

Spooking is the best way to get out of work. 

But each ride, it gets a little better. That connected trot comes sooner and with less effort. He starts understanding his job, and you start understanding how to use your aids with less conscious effort. You're both figuring it out, working a little more smoothly, more like a team.

You know, kind of like this.

Then you add something new and difficult, like asking for bend in the corners AND a nice connected trot, and you go back to square one. Because once again, how much inside leg can you possibly need for bend (more, always more), and oh now you have to actually prepare for the corners and you can't just ride halfway through the corners and use the far wall for the second half (I've tried, it doesn't work) and and and. You're back to despairing about the damn corners because there are four of them (whyyyy so many?) and why can't your horse just keep stepping up with his inside hind and just DO them and not lose his balance and...

Forget corners, just riding in a straight line is hard.

... then you realize, after approximately 123897587123 corners, that you CAN do them and your horse DOES stay balanced and forward and stepping through and in the outside rein and since you're feeling awesome why not add something like a canter transition because hey you need to do those too...

It's a canter transition. Really.

... and you're back to square one again. Only this time, you've lost that connected trot because now he's anticipating the canter ALL THE TIME and trying to fling himself into it and WHERE DID MY NICE TROT GO OMG I'VE RUINED MY HORSE.

Totally, completely ruined. 

So you go back to trot. You try not to get frustrated when really you want to stomp around and pout because JEEZ we could totally do this yesterday but now we can't and how could he have possibly gone and forgotten how to trot in the space of two canter transitions? You remind yourself how to put his trot together, and he relaxes because this is a job he knows how to do and he knows he's right and he's good at it and you tell him he's a good boy when he does it. And you spend the rest of your ride reminding both of you that you CAN do a nice trot and you still love your horse and he's still the best horse ever and he's awesome and he gets all the cookies. And you try the canter again. And maybe it's better and maybe it's worse, but that doesn't matter, because he's still awesome and amazing.

And you try again. And again. And again. You take all the lessons you can get your hands on because you really need eyes on the ground and someone to remind you what to do with your body parts and not to pull and add more leg (you'd think I would have that by now) and talk you off the cliff when you are frustrated. Some days the canter is great, and some days it's terrible, and some days the trot sucks too. But every day is a little better, a little more, until the pieces start coming together...

Having someone yell at you in a heavy Spanish accent also helps.

... and then you add something new. But this is how it goes. You're doing great until you add something new. Sometimes the "something new" makes other things better (like shoulder in is improving his right rein connection) and sometimes the something new causes the wheels to fall off (like w/c transitions have caused our t/c transitions to fall apart. And for heaven's sakes let's not discuss our c/w transitions, because sliding stops don't get you extra points in dressage.)

I'd give this a 10 for the WTF factor.

Progress is filled with lots of steps backwards (speaking of, it would be super if Taran learned how to step backward. As in rein back. Why is this so hard?). That doesn't make it any easier or less frustrating, because I often feel like I'm starting over again from square one. But I'm not, not really, because things that were really hard 6 months ago are (mostly) easy today*. I just keep making the square bigger and more complicated, and asking more and more of both myself and Taran. It's definitely not always pretty, but that little bit better every day? That's what keeps me coming back.

This was a long time in the making. 

*I've probably just jinxed today's ride horribly. Your mileage may vary.

36 comments:

  1. TOTALLY. That's what it feels like. JLC said it a different way: "The horse will protect the way of going he's familiar with, and resist any effort to change it. You may be asking correctly, but he will resist the change. You have to show him over and over that your way is better."

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    1. Yup, they like things how they are. Change is bad. So bad.

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  2. YASSSS. YOU NAILED IT!! I just started riding a new horse that I am supposed to show next week (HAHA) and I am going through this with him. First 2 (easy) rides were cake with this guy, yesterday I asked for the same quality of work in a different, more distracting environment with no fences to guide him and it was NOT pretty. Thanks for the reminder that it's all part of the process!

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    1. I swear, if you change ONE TINY THING it's a whole new game sometimes.

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  3. This sums up the dressage struggle perfectly.

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    1. Two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes more.

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  4. "You despair at how hard that was and how you'll never be any good and how COULD HE PLEASE JUST TROT LIKE A NORMAL HORSE and jeez. Why do you do dressage again?"
    This is why you're riding my horse. I just got too discouraged and couldn't handle the two steps forward, one step (or more) back routine. I felt I was doing him a disservice as well since my riding was not consistent. It's so wonderful to see the two of you progressing so well (and so fast)!

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    1. Luckily he can trot like a normal horse now. Most of the time... ;)

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  5. This is the life story of every equestrian. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. No wonder people think we're all a crazy bunch...

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    1. Definitely certifiable, that's us!

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  6. Oh man. This is all so true. Looking waay back to see where you came from is really important when the wheels are falling off of the bus.

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    1. Someone needs to figure out how to keep the damn wheels glued on. WTF.

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  7. This is why I don't like the training pyramid and prefer the training loops that are interconnected because riding is a lot like what you decide constantly looping around and around, stepping back and forward and side to side.

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    1. The training pyramid is a bald-faced lie.

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  8. I mean, you never have to go *back* to step 1 if you never leave it in the first place ;)

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    1. I know! It's such a happy place!

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  9. Yeah, this is super accurate - describes my ride this morning perfectly - and makes me wonder what on earth I am doing bringing along a green horse :P

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    1. We're all crazy, that's the best I can figure.

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  10. That WTF factor image is amazing. Simply amazing. I want to look at it every day.

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    1. I'm thinking of using it as the background on my phone. I didn't actually know horses could DO that.

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  11. You just described my rides to a T. Cheers to all the riders up to their ears in struggle. :)

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  12. Your 2 legged/WTF pictures is absolutely the best. $900 FB pony said it best, this does sum up the dressage struggle perfectly. Ugh.

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    1. My horse has two legs, doesn't yours?

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  13. THIS IS MY WORLD RIGHT NOW.

    It is taking all the patience in said world to remind myself that we are doing better than we were years ago (even if it only feels minutely better), that I'm not really losing my mind, and that this is normal. *bangs head on desk and pouts.

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    1. Seriously, this is why I pay my trainer so much money to put up with me. Because the pouting and frustration are SO REAL.

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  14. Thank you for this post. Our wheels fell off over the canter, and some days I just apologize to the poor chickens who have to watch us try and trot a 20 M circle after a mad dash of a canter. It is not a 'good' feeling, but knowing how normal it is makes me feel better. So again, thanks.

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    1. It seems like there are brief moments when all the wheels are firmly attached, but most of the time there's at least one when that's loose or has fallen off completely and is bouncing along down the road in front of me. Sometimes more than one. I think that's a totally normal state for all of us!

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  15. Amen, sister. And that's all I have to contribute to THAT.

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    1. Life of a dressage rider, right? LOL!

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  16. Wonderfully thoughtful post! Balancing out to be better every day is what keeps me coming back, too.

    And also...that photo...horrible yet amazing.

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    1. I think I may need to blow that sucker up and frame it, it's so bad.

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  17. The short amount of time you've brought Taran back you've done incredible work. I am so impressed

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