The idea of not being in control is something that a lot of us struggle with, I think.
So often we, especially equestrians, get so focused on doing things just right and it has to be right on the first try or we have to start all over again until we get it right. But, isn’t that setting ourselves up for failure?
I wouldn’t have thought so two weeks ago, but my mind is changing.
Now, why two weeks ago? It seems like there should be some earth shattering, life altering change that happened, doesn’t it?
All I’ve done for the last two weeks is work. However, as trivial as that sounds, it also forced my schedule to be a bit shaken up. Normally, I ride multiple days throughout the week. Four to five days out of the week, you can find me at the barn, working on this or that in a lesson or just on a hack.
For the last two weeks, due to my work schedule, that hasn’t been a possibility. When I got in the saddle today, I did so knowing that I was out of practice already. Two weeks off shouldn’t seem like it would make a big difference, but it does.
I had very little aspirations about my ride and what I wanted to really work on. Normally, I approach each ride with a goal in mind and while I still had a goal this time, it wasn’t on the usual technical work. This time, I just wanted to focus on really listening.
We’ve only had Forrest for a few months now and while he is a complete doll, our relationship still needs work. Part of that work involves me learning to really hear and feel what he’s trying to tell me. So, with that in mind, I set my expectations aside.
I let go.
I focused on him. On feeling him move, feeling when he would grab at the bit and collect up when I asked, extend his trot. But most of all, I went with it. I forced myself to not grab at him when he stepped into his canter, which has been our biggest struggle so far.
Was it perfect?
But I listened. I felt for when he would truly give to my hands and engage with what I asked of him. Suddenly, the step up to his canter was there, even on the right lead. It didn’t feel like he was surging straight up beneath me. Just a simple rise and we were off. I think the sensation surprised me so much the first time, that he didn’t really give me a chance to worry.
His right is notoriously hard for me to get him stepping up into and his stride and size being what they are, tends to intimidate me more often than not. Today, I put all those worries, all those “We have to get this on the first try or start over” thoughts on the shelf and just rode. I didn’t worry if he was going perfectly, if he was one hundred percent straight or even halfway there.
I just wanted to be going forward, so we went forward.
Again, not perfect, but certainly better than many of our usual attempts have been.
I focused on feeling him stretch out into my hands and could almost feel him relax when my hands went with him. If he could have given a sigh of relief, he would have. And you know what? I would have too. It was such a relief to just go with it for a change.
With that first gentle canter transition, feeling him relax into my hands, I listened. I’m not kidding when I say he could have heaved a sigh of relief at that moment. Almost as though he was saying “See? I’ve been trying to tell you mom, I’ll keep you safe if you just let me.” For once, all of the worries and stresses that I had always felt, vanished.
Sure, I still put in the effort of asking for him to listen and engage. But if he didn’t do it right away, I focused on figuring out what wasn’t clear. I regrouped for a stride or two and asked again. Slowly, I could feel him really start to bend around my leg and collect himself up for our transitions.
Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s still a little shit about bending right, which contributes to his right lead being the more difficult than the left. We did many a circle with an exaggerated bend so he would get the idea of what I was asking for and really believe that yes, I really do want you to bend. But, after a few circuits, he was there. We picked up our right lead canter like it was nothing. A little indecisive on one or two, but we got it after a stride or two.
Sure, B gave me plenty of observations about what I could do to improve this or that. I’m mostly grateful that he gives me criticisms on any given day. Buuuuuuut if I’m being honest, I ignored him for the most part. This ride wasn’t about getting it perfect. It was just about making it happen. I wasn’t worried about riding deep into my corners or half of the hundred of other things I usually worry about. I just wanted to listen and work with Forrest. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. It rarely is, even on the best of days.
So often we get locked into that “do it right the first time” mentality that we forget to just make it happen. Especially the equestrian world, which seems to breed perfectionists. We get so focused on the “pretty” picture that we forget to just get there.
We see such phenomenal athletes in our sport that it can be hard to remember that the beauty, grace, and flawless connection that they have also came with many failures and many attempts. We see them perform and fervently wish that we could perform even half as well as they do. Think about how we can improve. Constantly setting those goals, constantly working to improve, our time in the saddle is spent around nailing that transition. Riding deeper into our corners. Getting our horses on the bit, keeping our hands soft, our thigh on, ankle soft, seat connected, leg. Always more leg.
There are a million billion little thoughts that pass through our brain. Minuscule muscle reflexes and corrections. Equestrians can be the ultimate multitaskers in some cases, but so often we lose sight of really listening and going with the flow. You don’t have to wet noodle down the stream, but you can’t fight the current the whole way. Striking the balance between being a soggy noodle and an uncooked rigid one is something that I’m working on.
I know I absolutely hate not getting something on the first attempt, especially when I know how to ask for it. At the same time, there are moments I just slump in the saddle and heave a sigh because I still haven’t got it right and want to give up. I am probably the worst offender with grumpily dropping down to a walk and re-trying. In the end, that just reinforces a bad habit on both of our parts.
It doesn’t have to be pretty. That can come with time.
It just has to happen.
If we always get locking into that mentality, then we set ourselves up for failure. We start to think that simply because we don’t pick up a new skill or improve right away, that we’re failing. That we have no aptitude for it.
That type of mentality can be paralyzing. It stops us short of that moment where we teeter on the edge of success and go over. That little extra oomph can be the bit that makes or breaks it. Goals are great to have, but they aren’t all important. They give us direction and purpose, but we have to also see beyond them too. We have to see the little moments that build us towards the goal. The little bit of give here and there than pushes us along if we learn to see it for what it is and really go with it.
This is something that I am continually reminding myself. Without failure, there can be no success because we have nothing to measure it against. Every time, as long as there in improvement, then it isn’t a failure. It doesn’t have to be perfect or look flawless, as long as we get it in the end.
Forrest isn’t perfect. I certainly lay no claim to it either and I’d wager you’re right there with me. I’d like to think though, that we took an itty bitty step towards getting there today.
So, what I’m getting to in a rambling roundabout fashion is this:
Stop trying to micromanage everything and just go with the flow. Control it so it doesn’t run away with you, but don’t impede it. This applies beyond the saddle too!
With that in mind, I’d ask you to think about this. Are there parts of your lives that you think you could apply this as well?
Until next time,