Friday, September 16, 2016

Embrace the Suck

I read this article recently and it really hit home. 

The things I love about horses can also be the things I absolutely hate about horses. I love the feeling of accomplishment that you feel when you finally get something right, but man, does it totally suck along the way when you feel like everything you do is wrong and nothing is going the way you want.

The past 2 weeks, I have literally felt like I knew absolutely nothing about dressage. When I would ride Dieter, it felt like I was doing everything wrong. Everything. I couldn't get him to get in front of my leg. I couldn't get him to maintain the contact through the transitions. I couldn't sit the canter. I couldn't get any bend. I couldn't get a decent free walk (and that's ALWAYS been our best gait). I couldn't figure out how the heck to do a half-hault. I couldn't keep my hands in one place without hitting him in the mouth every trot stride. I couldn't trot without nagging him every stride with my leg. I couldn't stay in control of my dang unruly left hand. I felt like the part of my life that brings me the most fun and enjoyment was causing me strife and frustration.

Two steps forward, one step back. We all know the phrase, but it totally felt like we had taken one step forward and twenty steps back. I had no idea where to begin in the battle to regain what we had lost. What should I address first? Him? His responsiveness? Contact? Bend? Me? My left hand? Posture? I know that it's best to really focus on one thing every ride, but it felt like everything was just falling apart.

Hopefully this doesn't make me sound too depressing and I'm not the only horse person in the world who's had this thought, but I definitely thought it:
Dieter would be better off with another rider. Someone who knows what they're doing and has trained a horse before. Someone who's more confident in his or her riding and can bring him along the levels faster. He's an awesome horse with incredible potential, and I'm ruining him.

And then I realized that if he wasn't with me, yes, he might be with someone who can bring him along the levels faster and knows what they're doing. However, he might also be with someone who tries to put him in a lesson program or puts him out on pasture without a job for the rest of his life or isn't able to afford the appropriate vet or farrier needs for him or anything else that would make him unhappy or unsafe. And we've all got to learn somewhere. He's a good horse for me... very tolerant of me when I make mistakes and most likely will not blow up at me when I make a big mistake and pick a fight. He and I are developing quite the relationship- he doesn't run away from me when I go to get him from the pasture anymore! I think he's happy with me and enjoys his job.

Wednesday night, we were riding dressage at Willow Creek. I thought we were doing alright and then the suckage hit all at once. I had trouble doing every single thing I was trying to do, and it felt like we were unraveling. I literally felt like I knew nothing about riding or dressage. Chris rode Dieter for about 10 minutes and made him look fantastic. He was listening to her leg and maintaining contact, and then I felt even worse about myself. Clearly, the issue was with me. I was the common denominator between the suck. I got back on him, and we had a bit of improvement but nothing to write home about. All I did was trot to the left and try to feel when he was bowing out his right shoulder on the circle, concentrating on counter-bending & leg-yielding on the circle. It seemed to be getting better, but we were both exhausted from the fight and decided to call it a night.

Then last night (Thursday), I decided to ride dressage again to see if any of our improvement was lasting. It was the first time I rode in a few weeks when it actually felt like I knew what I was doing. I focused on keeping my reins short, catching him when he bowed his shoulder to the outside/when we had too much inside bend, keeping my left hand in check by making sure my whip rested on my thigh, and getting him in front of my leg by using thigh for slow/halt, calf for up transitions, and inside leg for forward within the gait and reprimanding him when he decided to change the tempo within the gait without me asking (usually by being lazy and trying to slow down). Everything went as planned. We had a beautiful ride! Trot/walk transitions in each direction were going well, and he was even keeping the connection! Cantering on the circle without him bowing out the shoulder by staying on the circle despite a more direct outside rein- thinking of riding circles more as squares than circles per say. Maintaining the tempo at the trot without me nagging him. And then we found the trouble- no right bend. But you know what... I'd rather have one problem than what seemed like 400 the night before! We're figuring it out!

It feels like things are starting to turn around. I just have to constantly remind myself that it's not going to happen overnight. And that in horses, there's always improvement to be made. I will never have it all correct. There's always something that can be improved. Always. And then on top of that, horses are like humans. We all have our good days and our bad days. You have to just hope that the good days outweigh the bad days and the improvements override the regressions. And they will. Over time. It helps to remember why we started loving horses in the first place and remembering that few people get to have the pleasure we do of riding and showing and literally living the dream! What we get to do every day is such a blessing and so unbelieveably cool. I wouldn't have it any other way. So I have decided to embrace the suck, knowing that it will not last forever (even when it feels like it will).

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