Disclaimer: This is not an article about dressage. Well… mostly not about dressage. This is also not a definition of ‘better.’ It is an example that works for me. Go find what works for you!
This is a picture of me during a lesson with Pernille Andrée, rider and trainer extraordinaire.
Hold on to your thoughts about that picture for a minute while I offer another one for your consideration.
This is a picture of me in the gym. That’s me squatting on the left. Just so you know I’m also holding a 45 (or is it 35?) pound kettle bell. Because I can.
I’ve been riding horses for as long as I can remember and studying, training, and competing in dressage for longer than I want to admit. I can not say either of those things about being in a gym and lifting weights, let alone some of the other crazy, fun, painful stuff I’ve done recently. There was a time when- I kid you not- I thought squatting was what you did if you couldn’t find anything else to sit on. I had to learn how. Once I gave up trying to explain the process and “just trust the ride down,” as Ryan Wickham put it, I did it and did it well! Now I squat whenever I get the chance.
Of course I’ve worked out in gyms before, but I now know that I have never done anything that could be called life-changing in one. It never occurred to me to engage with other people in a gym on the same level that I do with any other expert who has experience and knowledge to share with me. Enter Ryan Wickham (also extraordinaire in oh so many ways), et al. at Wickham Athletics.
After my first workout at Wickham Athletics I wrote the following:
“Day 1 and an exciting, new path full of possibilities lies ahead.”
Little did I know…
A few days earlier, I had walked into Ryan Wickham’s facility knowing that it was way past time to do something about the way I felt and looked. The thing is, I also thought I knew exactly which path to take and where I was going to end up. The rest is not even history yet.
I was hooked after one session. Why? Because I could tell that there was more on offer here than weights and treadmills. Even after Ryan Wickham told me respectfully, but honestly, “you are not strong,” I knew that this was a the beginning of something that would make me better.
It is rare that what I want coincides with what I need, but in this case the only problem I had was deciding which opportunities to pursue. Opportunities for what, you ask? I wanted to “get in shape” to be a better rider. I wanted to “lose weight” so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in white spandex breeches in the dressage arena. And, yeah, my doctor had also mentioned that some of my health statistics needed attention. Addressing these issues would make me better, right?
But wait! Don’t answer yet!
After about a month of guided work, I realized- and accepted- that my original plan was seriously flawed. I also realized that I didn’t care! The things I wanted were happening anyway, and doing what I needed to was turning out to be more fun than I ever thought could occur in a gym- even while sweating like a Dressage Queen when the judge hasn’t waived the coat rule on a summer day. Every day I make some connection to the way I use my body in the gym and something else that is important to me. I am stronger. I can feel that I am a better rider mentally and physically, and this can only be good for my horse. I feel great! There are murmurings about my improved posture, among other things. I am becoming a better person from the ground up and the inside out. Literally.
There is a saying in equestrian sports: Ride the horse that gets off the trailer. I haven’t been around the weight training arena long enough to pick up many of the expressions, but this one that sticks with me: the iron does not lie. Pernille Andrée and Ryan Wickham have both told me to do the work and trust the process. Regardless of who says it, trust, training, and work will tell. It’s up to me to approach the horse/bar with an open mind, trusting my trainer, the work and process, and myself. That’s when things start to change for the better.
Speaking of trust and confidence, sometimes this happens.
Me: Things we say to our trainers (or Another Reason We Need Trainers): “Would you please not say anything else for a few minutes. There’s a lot going on right now and I need to catch up.”
A friend: Or “Please stop talking. My head is full.”
Me: Exactly! We were addressing an issue that required quick “doing.” OK- so I was doing, but my brain was about to explode because what I was doing was working, but I needed time to understand WHY it was working! Sad, I know, but my instincts were telling me to do something else (that wasn’t working), so it was one massive overhaul for both me and horse.
Have you ever wished that you could just pull a curtain across part of the arena and get through some of the ugliness without anyone watching? Well, I have. Often. In the top picture, I am overthinking something instead of just getting on with it. I have wished that I could hide behind something in the gym and do the work without anyone seeing me. Notice my position in the second picture. As far from the crowd (all five of them) as I can get. The conversation above took place in the riding arena, but a version of it has also happened in the gym (Like when I was learning to squat. My head was full, but I was the one who got told to stop talking.).
We all begin the process at a different point. Whether I’m in the saddle or the squat rack, I’ve gotten better at shutting out the noise and getting to work. Put another way, I now have enough confidence in myself to do the work that is presented and required while viewing the prospect of an inelegant ride or not being able to pick up another ounce as opportunities. I will learn something new, even if it’s what not to do. Then it’s up to me to make a difference. If Ryan Wickham asks me politely,”Where’s the focus?” I no longer feel compelled to explain myself. The answer is to focus, not explain why I temporarily checked out.
<Darn. No pictures of me flat on my face on gym floor after a 21-15-9 set of “Thrusters” and “Over-the-Bar Burpees”.>
Do I lose sight of this sometimes? Yes. Do I find my way out of the weeds by myself? Not always. Honestly, there are still days when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing- with a horse or a barbell. I get impatient or embarrassed. I’m pretty sure that these are just some of the reasons that “few walk our path.” That is the official motto, mantra, or most important saying at Wickham Athletics. Self discovery can painful, but it hurts more to not make a change for the better- especially when the tools you need are right in front of you.
Through it all, there is always someone who seems to know just what to say and how to say it in order to guide (or yank) me back onto the path. They cheer for me when I am trying to lift more weight. They tell me to get to work. They encourage me when I think that I can’t get up. They joke around with me. They know when to push and when to let me find the path for myself. They even let me pick the music once or twice. Not that I’m counting. There’s a saying in the horse world: My barn. My rules. My music. Enough said.
Here’s another story. I can’t do a pull-up. I’m told that my age (and even my decreasing weight) is not what’s holding me down, so to speak. As of this writing, I have just figured out how to use my back to get closer to the bar. Yeah, it seems simple to some of you, but for me it’s a really big deal. It didn’t just happen. Remember that process I was talking about?
Little did I know…
The days when I fall on my face are still good days. I will get up. I will eventually pull myself up over that bar. There was mention of weighted pull-ups, but I might have misheard. The ugly rides are still good rides. My horse and I will still learn something, and he will get a treat. It’s all part of gracefully accepting and sharing every
opportunity gift that has been placed before me. It really is that simple no matter how hard I overthink it.
If that’s not a better life, I don’t know what is.