Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Adult Riding Weekend 2016: Push Yourself to COMMUNICATE

As many of you who follow my page on facebook already know, I spent this past weekend at our barn.  Every year, we have an adult riding weekend where we focus on theory, skill-mastery, and new learning.

This year’s theme was “Push Yourself”, but I feel like there was an even more important theme present.   Every time we did an exercise or listened to lecture, there was always a common theme:


Communication with the horse
Probably the most common type of communication we think of when it comes to riding is the communication with the horse.  We do this through aids, like our voice and seat.   I think sometimes, we see this as a one-way street; we think that if we tell the horse to do something in just the right way we can get whatever we want.  

This is partially true.   

Just like my instructor told us, “if you do not get the correct lead it is your fault”.  And it is.  Horses do not know that you’re about to attempt a figure eight, or straight-line lead changes.   They just know how to “horse”.   

However, communication is more than that.  One of the greatest learning experiences was when we practiced the straight-line lead changes, and I stood between the cones, ready to go.   I began to give the signals, and at first I didn’t quite get the response I wanted.  I thought I was giving the right signal, but I realized that the horse was trying to tell me that he wasn’t quite ready to go yet.  Sometimes, he was trying to tell me that I should have let him canter earlier, or that I was sitting unbalanced and he couldn’t pick up the right lead.   We are constantly giving signals to our horses, but we are also listening at the same time.  It is a conversation between rider and horse.  It is not, and never will be an order.  

Communication with others
It is also important to communicate with others.  We cannot go this road alone, as much as some of us introverts (like myself) would like to believe.  One of our first tasks for the weekend was to see who could name the most horses at the LEC.  Since I have worked quite a bit at the barn, I was confident in my ability to name all 51 horses.  However, there is something to be learned from this experience.  Sure, I could name all of the horses and be the “winner”, but I could also help others and they could leave learning even more.  Sometimes, we do not need to  make something a competition when it doesn’t need to be.  On the second day, we briefly got to ride in pairs through the arena.  Since most of us had never participated in drill team-style riding, this was a new experience and definitely a learning curve.  We had to communicate with our partner in order to stay together, or else we would break the formation and fail at the task.   

Communication with yourself.
On the very first day, my instructor told us that “knowledge ends where frustration begins”.  I had never considered this until now, but communication with yourself is extremely important.  We constantly tell ourselves that we are not good enough, we question if we are in the right division, riding the right horse, or even if we should be in this sport at all.   We are frustrated when we fail.   We let our victories blind us.   

We have to learn to communicate with ourselves.  I remember criticising myself after trying (and failing to complete) the two straight-line lead changes.   But I also remembered that I would get nowhere and accomplish nothing if I let my frustrations take over.   I took a deep breath, told myself I could do it this time.

And I tried one more time.

And I succeeded.  

And I think that this is what communication is all about.  It is about giving the horse, yourself, and others permission to try one more time.   We do this despite frustration, pride, and fear.  

So, push yourself to be a better communicator.  Because no one else is going to do it for you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Young Voices (guest post): The Cost of Riding

One of my goals when I first created this blog was to showcase how much of a family and close community our barn actually is.   I don't think I ever had the intention of the posts on this blog being solely about me, or even authored by me.   So I've decided to do monthly guest posts, from some of our younger riders.   I'll call this "Young Voices", and I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy riding and working and interacting with these people.    We can learn so much from these people, and great care must be taken because they really are the future of this industry.

Today's post comes to you from a very talented Emily Brown, a fourteen-year-old Academy rider.  I love this post, most importantly because it shows how important learning is in our barn.  The instructors here truly do work within your budget and take every opportunity to teach you.

The True Cost of Riding
by Emily Brown

Equestrianism is not a cheap sport. It’s not a flat, one-time fee sort of deal that pays for your uniform and for you to be bused around for games. This is pretty much fact to anyone who has heard of horseback riding at all.
Now, for those of us who actually participate in this hobby (I use the term hobby lightly), we have all heard at one point, “I hate how riding uses so much money, you can’t get anywhere without money or connections!” This is partially true in my opinion.
The factor they forget is arguably the most important and organic factor of this lifestyle: Hard Work. I am proud to have paid for a good portion of events I attended in 2015, and plan to continue paying for as much as I can. The problem I have with the statement ‘you can’t get anywhere without money’, is that it implies the instructors and trainers are just in it for the money, and that’s all they want from you. That not only is an insult to trainers and instructors, but it’s highly unlikely if someone wanted to make a quick buck they’d enter the horse industry. It also implicates that hard work just isn’t effective anymore, which is just plain false.
I believe part of this is the extreme competitiveness of equestrianism… especially in the Juvenile divisions. Another more humorous root to this line, in my opinion, is the unrealistic expectations we get from horse movies.  Unfortunately, not everyone gets to buy an unrideable barrel prospect for $4 and then suddenly ride it in the 1D with no riding experience at all.
It’s a lot easier to complain about how you’re not getting there than thinking about what you could be doing to get there. A couple of years ago, I was honored with an invitation to the National Academy Finals. I couldn’t go due to lack of money. I pouted. I got upset, more than a few times. Now I can see why that didn’t happen for me, because in my opinion, had I gone that year, I probably wouldn’t have made it past Friday. Sometimes it’s just a matter of you’re not there yet.
So sure, riding can cost a lot, but realizing you can decide how you pay for it can be one of the most rewarding perspective changes you have in your riding career. I know I show a lot harder when I am working or paying for it than when someone else is, and part of that is just learning the power of the ‘almighty dollar’. I can’t speak for your barn, but at my barn, we have people who work full time at the barn because they have to pay board. We have people who work two or three shifts a week so they can lease a show horse and be ready for college.
The moral of the story is- you can get to where you need to be with a little less complaining and a little more work.