Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

TIR: Is your relationship with your dreams stronger than your relationship with fear?

There have been entire books written on this.  Lots and lots of them.  By people with a lot more letters after their names than I have.  But what it comes down to is a significant portion of this sport is psycological.

Have you ever read the $700 Pony?  If not, you should.   Seriously - click the link, buy the book, enjoy it.  Two reasons -- one, it will make you laugh.  Laughing makes you relaxed.  Relaxed riders ride better.  Ergo - it's an enjoyable way to improve your riding.   Two -- cause I'm going to steal a phrase from Ellen and I feel better doing so if I've already plugged her book :)   Namely, that she routinely refers to her "trainer/therapist" -- and honestly, some days I think that is the job description.   Which may be part of why I love it so much, since psychology was definitely the only other option that was a significant alternative to starting the school *g*

So traits of improving riders -- why do kids seem to improve so much faster than adults?  They're fearless!   Seriously people.  That's all there is to it.

Riding is one of those tricky "things we have to learn before we can do, but we learn by doing" (yeah for smuggling in classical references - that'd be Aristotle folks.  Well loosely translated anyways since I never took Greek so have to take what I can get :).  I tell a group of kids to go try something; they go try it.   I tell a group of adults to go try something and they want to know every possible outcome and what to do about it and that's before they start considering what all could go wrong!

EG - Instructor: "go jump that fence"
Child: goes and jumps fence
Adult: "when should I go in my two point?
Child: goes and jumps fence
Adult: where do we take off?
Child: goes and jumps fence
Adult: how do I get him to land on the correct lead?
Child: goes and jumps fence
Adult:  how fast should I be going?
Child: goes and jumps fence
Adult: what if he stops?
Child: goes and jumps fence
Adult: what if he runs out?

Note how many fences the child has jumped before the adult has even tried it once.  So even if they've made every single mistake the adult can imagine -- they're still ahead.  Because now they *know* they can make the mistake and live through it.  AND they know what mistakes not to make.   Because they just tried it.

Fear and fear of failure are not necessarily the same thing, but they often have the same result.  One rider won't try because they're wondering what on Earth they were thinking and their heart is pounding and they can feel the blood coursing through their veins and they're wondering if it's not too late to change to a safer sport.  Like football.  Or rugby.  The other one is afraid to even try until they know every possible piece of the puzzle intimately so that they won't make a mistake.  Sadly both are seriously detrimental to improving your riding because no matter how long you think about it, the only way to learn to ride is to ride.

The second one's easier to deal with so we'll start with that -- give yourself permission to make mistakes.  "But I want to do it right!" yeah yeah well sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make a cake.   Or so those who can bake have told me anyways >;-P   Not that it's a *great* idea to use analogies involving breaking things with riding, but sometimes they fit :)   AKA it has to be ugly before it can be beautiful (ugly duckling anybody?) because, quite frankly, most of us need to learn the hard way.   You're out there to learn; which means you probably don't already know it all; which means it's totally fair to make mistakes.  And odds are really good your coach has seen them all before -- and probably made many of them! Besides, let's be honest -- mistakes usually lead to the best stories :)   I know none of my favourite stories go "yeah so I did this perfectly and then it was over."  Who would bother reading that?

A sideline to allowing yourself to improve is letting go of the ego -- if you really want to improve, you have to set it aside and let your coach tell you what you don't want to hear so you can be the rider you know you can be.  And sometimes, especially if you've been riding a long time, that's hard to do.   But remember, if you're standing on the edge of a cliff, a step backwards is progress.  It's entirely possible that the reason you haven't improved in the last five years is because you're missing a basic but critical piece.  But unless you are willing to accept that there just might be something wrong, and let your coach take you back to fill in the gaps, there will be very little improvement.  This is one of those things that is way more challenging for re-riders than "real" novice riders.  Real novice riders, having never ridden before, have no ego or expectations -- so as a result they generally learn faster as they don't get frustrated as quickly.   Re-riders often remember how it *should* work but can't quite make it happen.  Or, harder yet, never *really* knew in the first place, but memory has added a rosy hue that makes them think they did.   To improve, to get back to where you used to be -- or better yet surpass it! -- you have to let the past go and work with what you've got today.

And then there's true fear.  One of my favourite lines came from Woffard's gymnastic book -- which suggests using gymnastics to push students out of their comfort zone safely (ie slightly higher etc).  His point is that "it can be difficult to analyse your horse's performance whilst you are also concentrating on not falling off."  hahaha fair enough.  So when trying something that's going to require some bravery on your part -- putting it in a gymnastic and thereby insuring the striding is correct for your horse -- makes your odds of success much greater.

Sometimes it takes bravery just to get on.  Sometimes it's to go faster - canter or gallop.  Sometimes it's to leave the ring.   Sometimes it's to jump.  Sometimes it's to remount after a fall.  Sometimes it's to ride out a spook or buck or just plain unpredictability.   A a rider, you have only a moment to react instinctively to these movements.  And when that doesn't work, you have to respond strategically -- unfurl from the fetal position, loosen the death grip, breathe, and ride forward.   Often this means fighting your most basic impulse: to hold on for dear life and try to stop.  Too often in riding, as in life, falls are the result of holding back when you should be kicking on.   But when every instinct in your mind is screaming STOP THE RIDE, I WANT TO GET OFF -- that can be incredibly hard.   And any time you stop the ride, you stop your improvement.  Managing fear requires two things.  First - leave the ego at home.   Forget that once-upon-a-time this was easy; that just makes it harder.  Pretend it's the first time and savour it as such.  The second thing is to take it in baby steps.  I had one student whose goal for her first lesson was to get on.  It took the entire hour, and she was mounted approximately sixty seconds -- and shaking so hard it was challenging to dismount.  But she did it.  And the next lesson she got on much sooner and sat still for a while and then even braved a few steps at the walk.  And the next lesson she got on right away and started walking right away; by the end of that ride, I was allowed to step a few feet away from the horse.  Anybody starting from scratch and unafraid, the first ten lessons would've been covered in one.   But for this rider, who'd had a very serious fall more than ten years earlier, we had to put aside what she used to be able to do and break down her goal (of eventually going xc) into achievable pieces.   It took about two years - but with bite-sized pieces, she did get to do entry level xc :)   Now what the steps are and how you're going to tackle them depends on your situation.  Almost always it involves adding in the perception of extra control to the scenario.  Could be putting the horse on a lunge line.  Could be "only canter for 3 strides".   Could be "just go for a walk outside".  Whatever it takes -- STAY on that baby step until it gets boring.  Or at least easy :) Then you can be climb, jump or be pushed up onto the next step.  And eventually the item at the top of the ladder won't be quite so far away.

But the one thing YOU have to decide -- and nobody can do it for you -- is do you want to ride more than you fear?  Because if the fear is strong enough, for a while riding won't be fun.  And almost every rider I know has gone through it at some point; some of us more than once.  If you're a true rider, one for whom the passion is in the blood, you will get through it.  And if you're not, you'll find all sorts of reasons not to ride (see the excuses post below :).   And then soon you'll be finding reasons not to go to the barn...  And eventually riding will be "something you used to do".  And you won't be missing anything, because for you, it wasn't a passion.  And if you don't have the passion, you don't understand the sport.   With the little kids it's almost always really obvious.  Nerves present *often* as tummy aches.  The child will show up several weeks in a row complaining of stomach aches.  It's not that the child is making something up; they do genuinely feel ill.  But what's interesting is the reaction.  There are the kids who come in saying "I have a tummy ache, I can't ride", and then there are the ones who say "I have a tummy ache, but can I ride anyways?"  I'm sure you can figure out for yourself which is the one who will be a life-long rider.

The only two emotions that belong in the saddle are patience and a sense of humour.  If you really want to improve, leave everything else at home.


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