Yeah, I know it’s not the most elegantly phrased title, but it does capture the idea driving this latest example of mental and emotional activity. Yesterday I had one of those lessons with which any thinking and feeling equestrian can identify. I suspect that its applicability goes way beyond the world of the rider.
Despite the absolutely hideous weather at the Overbrook Dressage Society that has persisted since last October, I have been trying to move up a level in dressage. I have shown up at lessons with list of questions for my trainer. Some of them even relate to my attempts to implement instructions from the previous lesson! To her credit, my trainer, Pernille Andree, answers them all.
Back to yesterday. Because of the aforementioned hideous weather, I went two weeks without a lesson. I need frequent supervision. I showed up at the barn with only a few minutes to spare and a filthy horse who had chosen yesterday morning to abandon his usually prissy pasture manners. After removing the top layer of dirt (from both of us), I tacked up and mounted up. I was ready to work, and so was Başka!
Specifically, I was ready to motor around the arena showing how hard I had worked on the issue of engaging Başka’s outside hind leg. We were both quite content to trot or canter around showing how “engaged” we were. Then Pernille did what she always does. She upped the ante. This is hardly a new approach, but it completely blindsided me yesterday. Pernille started asking for prompter, smoother, more refined transitions. All at once. What?
What followed was simultaneously ugly and fantastic. Başka, my trusty steed, is one of the best negotiators ever- equine or human. He opted for prompt, but not smooth. Refined didn’t even make his list. I just floundered around in the saddle wondering what the #@!% had happened to my beautiful lesson. Then, it hit me… right before Pernille should have hit me. I did not come to that lesson ready to learn or be challenged. I wanted to look good because you have to look good in dressage, right?
Well, after a minor temper tantrum (directed at myself, to be sure) and an attitude adjustment, I got serious and did some really ugly, but effective riding- the kind of riding you NEVER see online or on TV. I can hear some of you gasping, but let me be clear. This was not cruel, harsh or mean in any way. This was me taking a deep breath, listening to Pernille, figuring stuff out, and then explaining it to poor Başka who was no longer allowed to treat my requests like a multiple choice question. The answer was, is, and ever more shall be: e. All of the above. Now.
I’ve certainly had better (both pretty and ugly) lessons than the one yesterday, but among other things, I came to a very uncomfortable realization: Where was I at the beginning of the lesson? Focused only on moving up a level, i.e. the future. I was not there in the lesson. The future was looking good because I looked good, even without lipstick. Once the hard work started, I saw my future as a dressage star (hush now!) crumble into arena dust. Where am I now? I am with Başka. If he isn’t where I want him to be, then I am perfectly capable of showing him where he should be, and he is capable of going there. I think this sums it up quite well- “Honoring Where We Are With Our Horses.”* To honor something, you have to understand it. Here’s the kicker or why yesterday was so different. The answer is also always “e. All of the above. Now.” for me.
Now, just for fun, here is a video from early 2011 of Başka’s first ever show- a schooling show to be sure.
So what did you see? A horse who was misbehaving? A poorly trained horse? An irritated rider? A young horse who had only been in schooling for a few months? A rider making the best of a rainy day that did not meet her expectations of that first show? Did you hear him calling to his girlfriend? If you listen, you can hear her too! Fortunately, the judge saw all of the above, and more. I received what I hope will be the lowest score of my short dressage career- a 58%. Ouch. For those of you who are unfamiliar with dressage scoring, anything under a 60%… you need more work. (I’ve known people to get a score below 60% but win the class and refuse to display their blue ribbon!) I also got some very helpful comments from her as well as Pernille. But since it was a schooling show, and lots of folks were being wimps about the rain, the judge gave me a do-over! That time we were mid-60s. I thought I had learned that the answer is “e” on that day. I guess we all need reminding sometimes.