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.
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.
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 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.
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.