Thursday, July 14, 2016

Long and Whiny. You've Been Warned

Fair warning, like the title indicates, this is going to be a grumpy and potentially whiny lesson recap. Sorry to throw a wrench in the Tack Review Tuesday tradition but I want to get this post done with and move on. I’m annoyed with myself. Some of the things in my non-horsey life have been less than ideal, and Tuesday I really had an off day (in all aspects, not just the lesson). The perfectionist Type-A side of my personality wants to gloss over that and write a cheerful, happy blog entry, but I can’t. That wouldn't be honest, and I promised myself I would try to be honest (no matter how painful) in this blog. So I allowed myself to mope on Tuesday night, I get to write this single post full of angst and self-loathing and then I’m moving on. 
I don't hate this picture from my lesson.
From the very beginning of the lesson things were not quite right -- I don’t want to say things went wrong, because there was nothing bad per se, things just weren’t right. Ruby felt a bit lackluster and I just could not get it together -- there is nothing that I find more stressful than feeling inept, so it was a vicious cycle. Every mistake I made just stressed me out more, and the stress caused me to get tense, leading to more mistakes. Logically I can work that out in my head, but telling myself “hey, don’t stress or get tense” isn’t actually a solution. And that’s the whole point of a lesson, right? Making mistakes so you can get correction and LEARN. 
Many photos like this. WTF am I doing? What are my hands doing? What is my leg doing? Why?
It was still a good lesson in the sense that I did learn things and pick up some exercises to work on between lessons -- we started laying the building blocks for lateral work. While I’ve played with leg yielding to and from the rail (and on the trail), I guess I should have started with teaching Ruby how to do a turn on the forehand. I think that contributed to my general feelings of ineptitude during the lesson. Like oh, good job you idiot, you skipped a crucial step in your horse’s training (to be clear, no one said this to me, this is 100% the voice in my head). 
If I’m being rational (which obviously is not my strong suit this week) I can cut myself some slack for lacking the knowledge. While I’ve been riding for 15+ years, the amount of time I’ve spent taking formal lessons is minuscule -- maybe 30 in my entire life. Every horse I’ve owned has either been a “project” with significant issues, greenbroke, or completely unstarted. Mostly I’ve been figuring it out as I go along, and while I certainly wouldn’t say I’m doing the best job ever, I don't feel like I'm regressing? Topaz came to me barely halterbroke and when I sold her she was a solid Training Level horse who had most of the pieces of First Level, just needed more work putting things together consistently. 
I did this. This was me.
I haven’t been riding dressage very long in the grand scheme of things (less than 4 years), and it's really only the last 2 and a half years or so that I’ve really buckled down and made this a priority. I am woefully aware that I lack knowledge and am actively trying to improve -- looking at someone else in my position, I would totally cut them slack and say “well they’re trying!” but when it comes to myself, not so much. Even though rationally I know it’s unreasonable, I get frustrated with myself for not knowing things, or not always being able to do them correctly all the time. I’m well into the conscious incompetence stage of learning and it’s driving me bugfuck (pardon the language, but thanks KMM for one of my favorite and oft-repeated expletives). I don’t expect my horse to learn a new concept and then execute it perfectly every single time without practice and assistance, so why can’t I apply that patience and understanding to myself?
OK, that derailment and pity party is over. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or like I’m making excuses for being borderline incompetent, but sometimes I just have to hash things out (even in writing) to remind myself that even though I do (and will continue to) have rides that make me feel grossly incompetent, I AM improving and I’m going to keep on keeping on. So there.
Great chair seat. Thanks Ruby for putting up with my shit.
Back to the lesson. My takeaway from our introduction to lateral work via turns on the forehand was to make sure that when working with Ruby on this I am clear that a single aid (in this case a slight bend in the rein and leg pressure several inches behind the girth to differentiate from our ‘move forward’ cue) should result in one step. That means I have to be super quick to release the pressure (straighten the bend and pull my leg off) once she starts the step I want. Something the instructor said really stuck with me -- sure, you want to get a horse to do something, but you also have to be able to get it to stop. For instance, if you can ask for one-tempis and get them, great! But you also have to be able to STOP asking for them and have the horse respond correctly. 
So right now at the very, most basic level, I have to be clear to Ruby that one aid = one step. And once she’s mastered that and I ask for more steps, it still needs to be a very distinct balance of aid - step - aid - step. We worked on them both in the saddle and from the ground. Working on them from the ground reinforced my absolute klutziness and lack of body control -- instructor could get good steps from Ruby like 80% of the time. Me, maybe like 20%. So every day before and after I ride I’m going to try to make it a point to work on them in hand a little. As always, any mistakes in explaining that well are mine, not the instructors. 
I can’t really think of a good way to wrap up this hot mess of a post, except that I’m sure everything will seem sunnier again once I give myself a much-needed attitude adjustment.


  1. I'm like you. I've spent a significant number of hours in the saddle but have only been in lessons/learning dressage for the last few years. It is definitely frustrating at times to feel totally inept. Hopefully things will start falling into place for you guys.

    1. It's comforting to know I'm not alone in coming to formal dressage lessons more recently! :)

      Things will improve, it's just one of those weeks. I feel better for getting this out of my system so I can move on!

  2. So first of all - you don't look awful in those photos. Also, Ruby is forward, relaxed and reaching for contact so you couldn't have sucked.

    Second- I've never heard that you must teach ToFH before the leg yield. And I don't think it matters. She'll figure it out. I find it easier to teach on the ground and then in the saddle.

    Third- I'm completely with you in the concious incompetence thing with Royce and Carmen. infact I have a blog post worked out about it. That is the most frustrating part stage of learning but it's what leads to the most growth. I have always found that when I am really really frustrated by something- that's when change occurs. so your frustration is actually positive.

    Maybe it's time to throw on the saddle and do something fun!

    1. Sometimes I think I might be a little too obsessive for dressage. Thanks for providing a much-needed reality check! :)

      After hearing the instructor explain things, I can totally see now how teaching the ToFH will make leg yielding (and other lateral work) easier, but you're right -- Ruby is figuring it out and we'll still end up in the same place eventually, no matter which one she learns first.

      I just feel like I've been stuck in this stage forever -- hopefully that means a breakthrough is coming?

      Your absolutely right -- I really want to go for a long hack on the trails but it's so soggy. Maybe Sunday if the weather clears I'll trailer out to the all-weather trails and reset my brain!

      Honestly I debated about even posting this. I wrote it yesterday morning when I was in a snit, and I reread this morning and thought "well that was childish" but I went ahead and posted it anyway. Because, authenticity? But a good night's sleep and some perspective (and the nice comments from you and EventingSaddlebredStyle have me feeling better already! Thanks ladies!

  3. Blogs where life is perfect, horses are perfect and full of rainbows seem false to me. None of us are perfect and we struggle. It's ok to share.

    1. I think the particularly odd thing is I don't mind reading about other people's struggles at all, I really find them relatable. But I feel silly posting mine. That's weird. I'm weird :) I'm sure it will get easier to more comfortable I get with this whole thing.

  4. You did nothing wrong in teaching the leg yield before turn on the forehand. I'm proud (and lucky) to have 2 horses I started go on to Grand Prix, and both of them learned leg yield first. No, I didn't train them to GP (in my dreams!) But I sure gave them a good start!

    1. Thanks for being another voice of reason! After getting my head on straight I can see that it's really six of one, half dozen of the other, and she's clearly not ruined by it... I was just having a rough evening and beating myself up for no good reason... haha. I tend to do that!

      And wow, that's quite an accomplishment! Do you have a blog I can follow? (or maybe I already do and just don't realize it, lol). I checked out your profile and saw the Moondance Ranch blog, but looks like it hasn't been updated in a while. I'm always looking for new blogs to follow, and somebody who has started horses that went on to GP sounds like somebody I'd like to read about! :)

  5. I hear ya. we are our own worst critics as always. Le sigh. Horses have a nasty habit of keeping us humble but then they car turn right back around and make us feel on top of the world too. Hope your next ride gets closer to that feeling!

    1. Tonight I took a western saddle out and we just goofed off. I think we both needed that!