From Trot to Passage: A beginner's journal
(I have been posting in http://www.horseforum.com/new-horses...onding-280706/ but decided to move to an actual journal)
My vision of being an equestrian, enjoying long trail rides with my loyal steed and working together in the ring to conquer competitive endeavors, has materialized as a disconnected experience.
. . .
I understand that both rider and horse strive to connect their respective bodies, head to toe. Of course, they then learn to connect with each other. In the beginning, because of inexperience and lack of physical shape, they are disconnected and imbalanced. That is how my horse experience feels right now. I have my lessons, and then I have my horse.
I feel like I am mediocre at best in my lessons. I bought an exceptional horse. I can't do anything except bond with my exceptional horse, because I'm not good enough to ride him. He's very sensitive and ready to take on the world, and I'm this incapable mess that would just toss around on his back and pull his mouth and kick him on accident.
Why did I buy such an exceptional horse? It was one of those moments in life you don't pass up. You meet someone (animals are someones too), and you know that it was meant to be. You take the leap and say "yes, destiny, I do" I was not going to buy a horse. I was going to lease a sleepy, toe dragging beginner horse, and progress through horses as I gradually got better.
Destiny had other plans. Now I have my exceptional horse, out in the pasture, learning his own lessons as he adjusts to a new herd and new style of training. I think it makes me feel better to know that he is adjusting and learning, too. I would feel so much worse if he was just sitting and regressing while I got my act in gear.
I had this conversation with myself when I bought him.
"Self, this horse is obviously amazing and will win every dressage competition he enters, with the proper training and riding. You can't even trot without falling on your face. Why are you doing this?"
"Well, you see Self, this is a once in a lifetime moment and we have to seize the day, ride destiny, and trust the future that is in store for us. Plus, how long could it possibly take to catch up in riding skill? A month? A few months? Even a year? What is that in the grand scheme of things, compared to missing out on this which was meant to be?"
"You know what, Self, whatever. You're not going to listen. You never listen. And that's fine; because I just exist to goad you along with 'I told you so's' in order to motivate you to accomplish some ridiculous goal out of sheer spite for my prudence."
. . .
I have been trotting, since my first lesson, almost two months ago. My dream of riding my beautiful horse, down a gilded trail of fall leaves and fragrant wild flowers, gets harder to envision with each bouncy half-way-but-not-really post.
I keep telling myself that each bouncy half-way-but-not-really post carries me closer to my dream. Lately, it has been in a shaky, half hysterical way. One of those, "if I keep saying it, I might believe it", mantras. I am so tired of posting. I am so tired of failing.
It feels like a torture session, where I go into a ring and fail. One two one two one two fail two one fail one fail fail fail stop sigh one two one two horse tossing her head and stopping, me squeezing and yelling trot, me falling forward, one two one, me not being in the right position, one two one two.
I went to my lesson today with the goal of embracing the forward movement. I told myself that I wasn't going to fall off, shuffling around the ring at a trot, and the worse that could happen was some bouncing and being off the beat. I was just going to do it -- go forward, and forward, and forward, and around, and forward. However stupid and sloppy it was, I was going to just do it.
That worked for a few minutes; a few times around the ring. I even lasted through a few horse-head-was-up-and-now-it's down-by-her-feet-but-i-must-stay-balanced-and-GO. I even lasted through "squeeze, you aren't squeezing, kick her, kick her, come on! Good! Now she's going!" (and my legs are somewhere back in make the horse go land, so I must travel back to make the horse go land, find my legs, put them under me...and now the horse needs a reminder to go again... cry)
I lasted. My teacher told me to be happy, that I was doing it, and it was such a big step up.
Well, this is the problems with steps, they never end.
Inner leg fail. I wasn't holding my upper,forward,inner thigh against the saddle. My teacher put my legs in the right spot, put a leaf under each leg, and told me to trot. I couldn't get my lower legs anywhere near the horse to cue her. As soon as I tried anything of the sort, my leg rolled out of position and the leaf fell. It was so confusing, I just wanted to scream. My lower legs feel like they stick straight out away from the horse when I am in the correct position. I told myself that I just needed some sleep and rest and aleve, after having trotted for so long already, to absorb this information. I'm still stumped and defeated.
My feet were sliding around in the stirrups, and I would lose them. This mostly happened after I had been trotting for awhile. The stirrups are the right length. My teacher even moved them a hole and told me I could move them back when I was better. I didn't let it bug me at first, because I was holding on with my legs anyway, and the stirrup would come back into place if I just kept going. As the lesson fell apart in my mind, however, every little thing just paralyzed me and the stirrup fails got more and more mind consuming.
My reins. Just. God, that poor horse's mouth. I usually try to focus more on being good to her mouth. I didn't this time. I just tried my best to give her the space she needed to keep going forward. Every once in awhile, though, the teacher would let me know I was being a jerk on her mouth. If I had me on my back, I would have thrown myself off and stomped all over my face.
I don't even remember what else. Those just hang over my head like an angry wasp nest. Buzzing in my ears and my face, stinging me over and over.
I felt like I had to relax and go with the horse. I felt like I was too caught up in the "how to" to actually do. So I did. And I messed up the "how to" completely. Does that mean I actually did? Or is it just a sloppy attempt to rush through?
. . .
I have to keep going. I have an amazing horse, who loves me and loves his training, just waiting on me to get to his level. I have this vast expanse of quicksand in front of me, blocking my dream experience with my dream horse. I have to pull myself through each step to get to the other side. My self doubt, my body's lack of proper tone, my complete inexperience on horseback. I pushed myself into this position. I could have kept this as a bi-weekly-tee-hee-hobby; but, I pushed myself into a high level of expectation. It hurts, and it sucks, and it makes me rage at myself. In the end, I would rather push, hurt, rage, than be mediocre forever. Do I want to be eternally trotting? No.
One day I'm going to passage all over that **** ring. I'm going to do it.
hang in there!
I forgot to mention, get video of your riding soon . In a year , you will not recognize yourself.
Wow our stories are quite similar! Gosh I so remember that feeling (it wasn't so long ago, after all). I'm just now starting to ride my horse. You'll get there!
Looking forward to reading more!
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Thanks for the encouragement :) I'm glad to hear that someone has been in my shoes and can attest to there being a light at the end of the tunnel. I love the video idea. I'll see if my husband will come along and be camera man for me.
Finding the Rhythm and Communicating Better
I had a realization today; my lifelong philosophy has been to seek and follow the natural rhythm of things, yet I have been so blindly driven in my equestrianism that I have shut myself off from rhythm in the one area I should be seeking it out the most. I have even been receiving blatant reminders from the universe during my horse experience. My teacher is constantly saying "rhythm is balance", "find the rhythm".
Following the natural rhythm of my life is what brought me to this amazing stable, and led me to this amazing horse. Once I had the two, I rushed ahead and tried to force everything. I got so caught up in trying to be worthy of my situation that I overextended my part of the deal, trying to take everything, and missing the stuff that is actually important.
My teacher has told me that I am too slow to respond. I think I tried to overcompensate for this by trying to catch and absorb everything. I know, instinctively, that the reason I'm "slow to respond" is that I don't know everything I should respond to, or how I should respond to everything. There's no way I can compensate for that, other than experience.
For instance, my horse stumbled during my last lesson, and I responded by stopping the horse and frantically drilling my instructor "is she ok? what happened? should I get off and check her?" My teacher said she was fine and to keep going. Okay, so the giant creature that I am atop of, stumbles, lurching us both downward, and I should respond by "just keep going".
On the other hand, my horse could be meandering around while I am talking to my instructor, and my instructor will tell me to stop the horse, or shorten the reins. I don't do it right away, or I just can't get the horse to stop by hauling back on its head(which I am noticing rarely makes the horse stop anyway), and I'm not responding fast enough; one, two, three, four, five -- I've told you five times, you need to respond faster. No, you've counted to five, so my five seconds of "AHH SHE IS COUNTING, I'M IN TROUBLE?!??!??!" just ended up paralyzing me during your counting! The horse was walking, there wasn't a life or death situation that I failed, there was just a moment of complete chaos that was borne of nothing other than me not responding within a second's notice.
Or the times when the horse just decides that her Mommy is talking, and we are walking around anyway, so she is going to walk up to Mommy and give her a nuzzle, and I'm "letting the horse run her over" by not steering it away. No, the horse is slowly shuffling up to you while we aren't working on something. If it was going somewhere on the other side of you, I would do everything I could to change direction out of common sense.
I've let these miscommunications foster self doubt in myself. I need to respond to them by vocalizing my own reasoning, and telling her that I am responding to the situation by using my own judgement and deciding that the current course of events is just fine by me. I need to communicate this to my teacher so she understands me, and what is going on in my head, so she can teach me based on what is actually happening in my perception and not just what is happening in her perception. I need to communicate better. I am taking lessons in communication with a horse. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, this is happening to teach me to effectively communicate in the moment and not just on paper.
Somewhere along this equestrian path, I've let it convince me that I need to change. I do not need to change; I can not change. I can develop, but I can not change. I am me, and I am a seeker of rhythm. I often find my own rhythm, baffling everyone else in the process, but it is my drum and not theirs.
I need to go back to trusting myself as far as finding rhythm. When I am open to rhythm, I have patience in myself and the time it takes to do something. I have enough to work on, what with developing myself physically, and absorbing the knowledge that presents itself to me. Over analyzing and getting caught up in a frantic prey type mindset is only going to prevent me from grasping the rhythm, riding it, getting comfortable with it, and becoming one with what is happening.
When I ride on Friday, I am going to be open to the rhythm; The beat of the horse, the balance of my seat, the softness of my hands and how they work in rhythm with the horse. When my teacher teaches me, I will translate her corrections into my rhythm. I will communicate what I feel, because I am learning the rhythm of this new world, and rhythm is one of those delicate intangibles that must constantly be felt and shared and molded to as well as molded in order to develop and become beautiful.
with regard to the attention of the horse and it nudging on someone while you have been talking , my teacher says, '
"if you leave the horse, he'll leave you'. meaning, if you let your attention wander, your horse will leave you, mentally and sometimes physically. to a certain extent , you must always be with your hrose, even if it's peripheral vision, peripheral hearing, peripheral space.
love your blog.
Writing this journal, and sorting through my experience, is bringing the romance back into my endeavor. I decided to ditch the "how to's" and just watch the Olympians, the "Masters", to let their energy inspire and mold my subconscious. What a world that has unlocked. Nuno Oliveira, what a force; what a being! So subtle, so in tune with the movement; and to watch him work with a horse, to feel the moment they shared, it made me feel like I was watching something almost sacred. It made me wonder if anyone should watch, which of course everyone should; but, the intimacy between horse and rider felt almost indecent to intrude upon. If that makes sense.
Up to this point, everything I have seen besides some Olympic level riders, has felt disjointed and forced. No wonder I was feeling that way myself, seeking inspiration and knowledge from such sources. Yes, I am a beginner, and I'm a decade, or decades, from such fluidity; but, I know even a beginner can sense what is natural and beautiful.
I've been following this rhythm tonight, like an unquenchable thirst, and ended up buying a book off amazon that felt right. The Complete Training of Horse and Rider in the Principles of Classic Horsemanship, by Alois Podhajsky, a former director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. What better book to learn from than one by a man who oversaw the training of Lipizzans, when my special boy is none other than a Lipizzan!
I'm opening myself completely. I'm watching beautiful riders, not trying to interpret their commands, just let the poetry of their movement seep into me. I'm reading, rereading, letting the knowledge flow through the web of my conscious mind and find root in my subconscious. I'm not to the point where focusing on a subtle nuance or special movement will do my riding any favors. I know that consuming a subtle nuance, or special movement, will let it cultivate and blossom into my conscious mind when the moment comes forward.
Right now, your tip is what I need to focus on. I am with the horse, touching, talking, learning; that is the basic building block that I need in order to grasp technique and ability. You have been sent to me by an angel <3
Today's lesson was good and then bad.
I ended up riding the older lesson horse at the barn. He's 30+ and super sweet. I was cleaning out his hooves, and felt him turn his head around to me. I thought of moving but sometime told me it was gonna be just fine. Then I felt his tongue licking my back like a big puppy. He's so sweet.
My teacher stuck around in the arena to get me up on him and then went off to finish something with her last student. I practiced riding him around at a walk based on what I had been reading in my book. I kept my hands around the reins like they were ribbons leading to his mouth, and when I wanted to turn I just gently sqeezed my hand closed. It was like magic, he responded so fast. I figured there was no rush, so I did diagonals and figure 8s.
After awhile I felt like trying the trot just cuz what the hey, this walking and steering stuff was going so great. I made sure my legs were in the right position with my inner upper thigh against the saddle, my lower legs against his body, my heels down. And it was great. We weren't doing a super awesome fast trot, but he is a bouncy horse, and it was happening! Then my thighs sent a suicide note to my brain, and my instructor came back. At least she saw me for a whole two minutes before my body crapped out on me. "You're getting stronger! And look, you're riding him in hand, he is paying attention to you!" She is really nice. She still lets me know when I'm messing up. I love her :)
The rest of the lesson consisted of me trotting halfway around the arena, getting bounced higher and higher, getting more and more mad at myself. The more mad at myself I got, the worse it got. My elbows kept ending up behind my body. It just sucked. My muscles were tired, they didn't want to do anything I told them to. Whenever I got something resembling a trot going, and managed to post it halfway around the arena, my teacher would remind me to make him trot a little faster, and then whatever rhythm I had gotten comfortable with was gone and I just lost it. I'm sure he was moving at a crawl, but bahhh!
I wish I could just ride for short periods without having to get better or learn something. Just tack up, go out for twenty minutes to feel how the horse's body and mine work together, come back in. The lessons are an hour though. My husband says that's how I get better, is pushing myself. So I guess going out for short rides wouldn't be pushing. Wouldn't it be nice to not push, though? Just enjoy it for a little bit?
I mean, I have my own horse, I just don't know if I could even ride him at a walk. He's super sensitive and wants to go. I'm kind of losing track of when I'll ever be able to ride him. When I'm strong. I can totally understand why people take steroids.
My neck got hurt somehow in all the bouncing. I came home and poured a big drink and knocked myself out with an ice pack on my neck. It still is stiff and hurts to turn. My husband says I got so tense from wanting to be better that I got hurt.
I'm going to Georgia tomorrow with my trainer to watch a dressage competition. She was saying we were going to go size up my competition. I was in my head thinking "hah, in ten years maybe"
I'm glad I got a horse, because after every lesson I leave wanting to give up on myself and not come back. Having a horse there reminds me that there's something besides this crappy lesson hell. I think.
love your blog!
it helped me remember how it felt to trot, 15 years ago, when I started as an adult. I always felt precarious . I always felt that I was lucky to stay on, and was riding by luck, not by skill. But, little by little, without me really noticing, I started to ride enough by skill, that things like a change in speed or tempo did not upset the "luck", as it would have before.
As you build strength, balance and timing, you will be better able to ride without working so hard, so you'll actually need LESS strenght. Good skiers can ski all day because they have good balance and aren't working so hard. beginners are working there legs at 85%, all the time, so they tire very quickly, even though they are on the bunny slope.
your horse going a bit faster will actually HELP you , 'cause you have to work less.
I think the idea of a 20 minute ride on your own is a sweet idea, and something you can maybe "earn", by achieving some goal with your instructor.
Good luck and remmeber to take that video, so you can look back and laugh!
I did did ittt!!!!
I have a lot to cover in this entry. The moral of the story is, I DID IT! Anyways:
My trainer and I went to the USDF Region 3 Finals in Conyers, Georgia. We sat in the big arena and watched musical freestyles all day. What an eye opener!
We got there around the time the level 2 freestyles were starting. My jaw dropped open. There were so many people there just flopping all over the place. One person's shoulders rolled forward while her head bobbled around when she was sitting the trot. I couldn't believe people would compete unless they had a good strong seat and a balanced posture.
I was kind of wondering if this was all a big joke, but then we started going up the levels and by the time we got to Grand Prix, it was a pretty good show. There was one person there that really took my breath away. It was like watching an Olympic performance. Every move was crystal clear and performed with style.
Overall, though there were a lot of really good riders and horses, I left with a firm idea of what NOT to do.
While we were at the show, we walked around and looked at the vendors. A saddle vendor practically ran us down and dragged me over to sit in a dressage saddle. I had never sat in a dressage saddle before! It was a big "ahhHAH" moment. When my legs slipped into place, I finally understood how I was supposed to sit. I've been pressing my thighs up to the padded spot on the all purpose saddle, so it's been giving me a chair seat no matter what I try to do. Understanding that my legs hang more "down" realllllllyyy cleared up a lot. Now I know how my upper inner thigh rests against the saddle, instead of me contorting my hip socket around to try and get it and hold it there.
I bought a V headband with a classy line of rhinestones embedded in it to make my bridle all pretty for when I show. With that on my bridle, my bridle looks exactly like a $500 bridle I saw for sale. Pretty cool.
My trainer and I also had a talk about how I get too hard on myself in lessons. We made a deal that I would just go with the flow in lessons, and let her worry about what I am doing wrong. I can be hard on myself when I work out instead.
Soooooo, fast forward to today. It felt like any other day, as I got ready at home and drove to the stable. I was hoping I would at least do a little better. The lesson before me was still tacking up when I got there, so I hung out a bit and talked to some people there. Then it was time to get my horse and tack up.
I rode around at a walk, but not very long, because I had told myself in the car that "I won't learn how to do anything just walking around". As soon as I pressed her sides to get the trot going, she did her "I don't wanna, I'm gonna toss my head and walk in circles and be a little pain today". Yea? Well I saw horses at the show that didn't feel like doing anything, and I saw what those riders did. I was sick of having to kick that mare to get her to go, so I took my loose reins and popped her.
Now, I don't know how to pop a horse, so what actually happens in this process is I whip my hand and somehow the noise transfers to her ears. But anyway, I showed her (mostly my hand) who was boss, and she was like a different horse. "Yes, Ma'am, let's work!" It's way easier to balance on a horse when it GOES instead of stopping short and tossing her head and changing up her speed. I never realized what a brat she was, because I thought it was my fault so I let her get away with it. Over the entire lesson, whenever she started her little "I don't wanna" dance, I would pop her, smack my hand in the process-doh, and she would go back to doing what I told her to.
AND WE TROTTED! We didn't just saunter at a nice jog trot, nay, we TROTTED. I kept her little butt moving. Another difference today was that I realized I had never fallen backward. Whenever I've lost my balance, I've fallen forward. So I leaned more back today (so I was straight, not leaning back back) and that let my weight finally balance all the way down through my heels. I was able to relax. Can you believe it? Relax while I trotted! Yay! Even when she would decide to be a little pain and toss her head around out of nowhere and throw her shoulders forward, I was able to balance and pop her, and we kept going.
I know I'm bringing up the popping a lot, but it was a huge revelation to me to take charge. I hadn't had the confidence to before, but I realized just how much I was letting the horse screw with me. I just needed her to do her job so I could learn mine. She was happy doing her job too. Her ears were perked forward, and I could feel her having fun just moving forward. She even respected me enough that when we were coming to a fence, I could feel her asking me which way to go, instead of just deciding which way she thought we might go.
So, today was just awesome. I ended up trotting in circles and figure 8s, diagonals, everything. I took charge of my horse. I told my trainer "I just don't want to look like those people. I know it will take me awhile to stop flopping around.." and she said "You're not flopping around, you've got a strong leg and seat" And I was like "AHHHHHHHMAHGAWD!"
My trainer said she would give me this week to keep getting secure in the trot, and then next week she is going to start working on details.
I'm so happy.
I hope when I ride a horse with a bigger trot that I'll do as good. This mare is pretty smooth. I've moved my lessons up to three days a week instead of two. That should help me get better!
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