Last week I mentioned that my rides were full of revelation, dusted with glimpses of glory, and
glistening with the ghosts of my past bursting with hidden potential!! Even if only one of those four three things is true, it was a week filled with learning. And one of the most impactful revelations, as I was asking Murray to use his body in more correct and possibly slightly uncomfortable ways, was that there’s no need to be a dick about it.
When Murray is tense and not working over his back he isn’t doing it for no reason — there’s legitimate tension and fear there that we need to work through. And that progress is going to come slowly, as Murray gains confidence in the new way I’m asking him to move and carry himself. He’s not going to develop a springier trot with suspension by running away from scary lions (or my whip), and he’s not going to lean into the bridle and stay steady in the connection if he thinks that those lions are possibly going to leap out at him from every corner.
And that’s all fine. We will never make progress if we don’t push outside of our comfort zone. But I don’t need to be a dick about it. I have a prefrontal cortex and the ability to understand that deliberate practice and careful repetition will make us better, stronger, and more capable. Murray has a brain that is smaller than one of his testicles would have been, had he been allowed to keep them, and knows that working this way makes him feel funny and isn’t as much fun as, say, rolling in a pasture or napping in his paddock.
A chimpanzee’s brain (background) compared to one of its testicles (foreground) – lest you think I was exaggerating earlier
So I get to ask Murray to do things that are hard and uncomfortable, but I only get to do it politely and kindly, and praise him when he does the right thing. If I were better at riding, I’d ask perfectly, respond perfectly, and then praise him more quickly than I do. But I’m not (and quite frankly, he’s not so peachy keen about learning himself), so he can deal. We’ll do hard things and uncomfortable things, and then we’ll take a break — no need to drill, no need to ask at Volume 10 what could have been asked at Volume 2, and no need to nitpick the little things that I feel should have been accomplished by now.
But the same thing goes for him — if he wants me to play nice, he has to put in an honest effort. Sometimes he’s great; I can feel the confusion leaving his body and we get to a good place using more than time. And some days, that just doesn’t happen (sometimes that’s okay, but mostly that’s a no go). He knows that leg on does mean something, and it means that something for more than one disgusting inverted step.
It’s a hard line to walk, and because I generally try not to be an asshole I tend to fall a little far on the side of “that’s okay”. But we’re tightening everything up this fall, including our cues and our expectations. An honest effort is all I expect out of both of us — and for both of us to stop being dicks about it.