Posted in Dressage, Training

I’ll be a good rider when…

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‘I’ll be a good rider when…’ This is a game I used to play a few years ago and it’s about as useful as its companion game ‘If only…’ At that time the script in my head was ‘I’ll be a good rider when I am competing at elementary level’. For quite some time, on three horses, travers had been my Achilles heel and in my mind at least, being able to compete at this level represented overcoming this seemingly insurmountable challenge. But, when Nonie and I actually got to that level, something switched for me. It was as if someone had flicked a light on and I understood that it no longer meant as much to me as it had before. Not only did I realise that riding or competing at a particular level would never make me feel as though I had achieved the coveted status of being a ‘good rider’, I also learned something far more important about myself and my beloved sport.

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I realised that what was more important to me as the love that I have developed for learning the intricacies of the sport of dressage and growing the bond with my treasured mare.  Having embraced the feeling of discomfort that comes with learning a new skill, opened the door to something more. It enabled me to appreciate the brilliance that arises when a new movement clicks, or the feeling you get when you find that new gear within a pace. Best of all I now know that things only feel better as Nonie and I both gain strength and learn to relax within the work. Its been exciting to learn that as we continue to challenge ourselves, with a little patience and persistence these improvements we will continue unlocking bigger and better feelings. As I have let go of the stress of needing to be at a certain level in order to be ‘good enough’ it has created room for Nonie and I to develop a stronger relationship, the value of which cannot be underestimated.

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Posted in Dressage, Training

Daring to Suck

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Daring to suck… It’s a seemingly bizarre concept that resonated deeply with me. I was listening to one of my favourite podcast’s (check it out here http://summerinnanen.com/frr-37) when I stumbled across this idea.

So what does ‘daring to suck’ actually mean? In a nutshell, it means giving something a go even if there is a possibility of not pulling it off, not getting the outcome you were after, or failing. For me, daring to suck is an action which is in direct opposition to fearing failure. Why is this important? As someone who identifies as having perfectionistic tendencies, I can see how my fear of failure has held me back at times. Whether it be something as simple as not riding that movement that is tricky and feels super uncomfortable or not entering that competition because you might make a mistake. Looking back, I can also see that my fear of failure kept me competing at prelim/novice level for way longer than was altogether necessary. I wanted everything to be perfect when I took the step up to prelim. This is a real problem because life is not perfect, particularly when you add a horse into the mix.

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Over the last two years, I feel that I have become much better at embracing imperfection. Here are some things that I feel have helped me along in this journey:

Understand why things feel uncomfortable. For me one of the most useful things in understanding this was understanding the four stages of learning: unconscious incompetence (that is we don’t know anything about what we cannot yet do), conscious incompetence (we know what we can’t do), conscious incompetence (we know the skills needed and we can use them but a high degree of concentration is required) and finally unconscious incompetence (we are able to apply the skills effectively with little conscious effort being required). Sure, there are times when something that is normally effortless becomes incredibly hard, but for the most part discomfort comes about when we are learning a new skill. I’ve found it particularly useful to link discomfort in my riding with the understanding that I am learning something new, or strengthening a skill.

Push yourself to do things which are uncomfortable, but not unsafe. Many of you will be familiar with the concept of the ‘comfort zone’, the ‘growth’ or ‘stretch zone’ and the oft forgotten ‘danger’ or ‘panic zone’. While there is a need to push ourselves to doing things which are beyond our established skills, we need to be mindful that we do not push too far and create a dangerous situation. In doing this having a coach who knows your level of skill and can push you is invaluable. Get to know what it feels like when you are working within the growth zone, for me things feel uncomfortable, challenging and requires a lot more conscious effort, but it never feels unsafe.

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Let go of the idea of perfection and give yourself permission to make mistakes. It doesn’t exist anywhere, let alone when you bring an animal with its own thoughts and feelings into the picture. Don’t be afraid to try new things, whether that is trying a different exercise, playing around with the timing of your aids or even seeking the input of a different coach. A few years ago, Nonie and I got to a stage where we could barely ride a 20m canter circle despite having compete successfully competed at novice and prelim. With limited access to dressage coaches in the area, we struggled along on our own for several months, rides would frequently end up with me in tears and questioning my ability as a rider. I eventually contacted one of the local western trainers who had a good reputation, and she helped Nonie and I make some changes that greatly improved our straightness, Nonie’s obedience and my confidence to lead Nonie. Her strategies were not classical dressage, but they worked.

The dressage coach that I train with now lives about 800km away, so we get her up to run clinics once every couple of months. In between clinics I am training on my own, which sometimes means that I have to use my knowledge and skills to figure things out on my own. Sometimes this means that I make mistakes or do things that don’t work, but I have learnt that this is much better than trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And generally we get things to a point where they start to improve.

So join me in embracing imperfection. I’d love to hear about a time when fear of failure has held you back and how you have dared to suck!