For a long time I’ve had this idea stuck in my head that there are some obstacles Murray and I will simple never get to the other side of. For example, our dressage tests are consistently inconsistent: I never know what horse is coming out of the warmup or what is waiting for me in the sandbox. Obviously this is to the detriment of my riding and our overall performance, but that’s not really the focus of this particular blog. I thought I’d always have this horse that could really be beautiful at home but would never show himself fully away from home – and I was becoming resigned to that. I thought I’d probably always have a horse that would get a little sticky in stadium, peering at strange filler, floral arrangements, or you know, whatever he felt like. So I planned on riding a horse that was strong in warm up and backed off in stadium and never being able to appreciate the bold, brave jumper I knew was hiding in there.
Only took 14 fences to get to “brave”!
And then this weekend while I was listening to podcasts and mucking, the Dressage Radio podcast came on (part of Horse Radio Network! Free podcasts! So fun!) and they were talking about the 10 Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders. The first one they talked about was
6: An effective Dressage rider knows success happens one ride at a time, day in and day out, remaining consistent and realistic in their daily goals and expectations.
And that really struck me. Day to day, I feel like I have pretty reasonable and consistent expectations. Today: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. Tomorrow, be through, be supple, and use your body correctly. Saturday: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. I’m good with that. I get it, and I understand it – perfect practice makes perfect. But it was certainly something to hear really upper level riders talking about using these tiny, teeny weeny increments to train the movements. And obviously, obviously, right?! You can’t expect a horse to hold their body up in a pirouette day after day and not get sore and pissed off – they don’t do the same movements day in and day out. But they do work slowly, with what their horse can do, and that is the road to success.
Next up was Linda Parelli, talking about using the principles of Parelli to help horses understand dressage. A lot of people think dressage is about control and rigidity and structure (Linda pointed this out, but it is also something I have noticed), but it’s not. It’s about – among other things — cooperation and building understanding. I, myself, can’t treat dressage like a place to control and bring rigid structure and my command and will down upon my horse – even if I previously thought like that, someone would disapprove.
Linda talked about taking time with a horse so they understand the game of dressage – that this is something they have a part in as much as the rider. In the Parelli structure this starts with the game of contact, but Parelli or not, taking the time, the little bitty steps and many repetitive hours, of getting your horse to understand their part of the relationship is essential to success. And it seemed, to me, that a big part of this equation was persistence. If you keep changing up your teaching strategy, how is your horse supposed to learn?
After the Dressage Radio Show, on came the US Eventing podcast and who was a guest on it but — lo and behold – Bobby Covington! Bobby was talking with Chris Stafford about his win at the AECs and Chris, as she tends to, asked a lot of questions about how Bobby and Halo came together and their riding and competition history. Now I’m on Team Amanda all the way, but you have to admit that Bobby and Halo have an impressive competition record. They have finished in the top 3 at their last four events at beginner novice, and finished first at their move-up to Novice this year. I mean, no matter who’s team you’re on, that’s impressive.
The interesting part to me, however, wasn’t just how well these two have done. It was actually the amount of time they have been together (since 2008! If I recall correctly). Hearing a bit about Bobby’s history – that he evented through Prelim with his warmblood mare and after college was finally able to get a second horse, Halo, and started at the beginning again – really made me think about learning and time. Obviously Bobby and Halo have a great relationship, and Bobby knows how to ride his horse for the best performance. But more than that, they have clearly really, really taken the time they need to get it right. And make sure it stays right.
I know right?! BeyondPod was hammering the message home on Saturday.
There were the pieces. Do things incrementally and a tiny bit at a time. Be persistent. Even spooky thoroughbred can score under 30 in dressage consistently. They percolated while I mucked and fed approximately nine million horses and dropped hay off the wagon and had to go back and pick up the flakes I dropped every time I turned a corner so that everyone would get fed.
And I realized – what kind of crack have I been smoking that I think it’s impossible for Murray to ever be consistent in the dressage court and I’ll just have to accept the wildly shitty and disappointing rides for the frequency that they are likely to come?! That isn’t logic. That isn’t what I understand of animal learning. That isn’t what I want. I don’t want to move up the levels accepting my shitty dressage tests and hoping for clear cross country and stadium runs to get in the ribbons. I want to be strong in all three phases. I know we can be strong in all three phases. I want people to see my name on entries lists and fear competing against me because we can kick such ass.
Weird/fat/drunk/sad tiny shoulder Napoloen is back!
This isn’t something that we can never get past. In fact, I doubt that with time, creativity, and the right learning structure there is anything that Murray will never be able to get past. He is smarter than I am, especially about learning things, but I am stubborn as hell, and now that I’ve got this idea in mind I am not giving up on it. It’s just that somewhere along the way I got wrapped up in all the other distracting things that come along with riding and competing – shiny things, satiny things, bigger things, lower-numbered-things, jealous things… all the things. I’m not sure that I ever completely equated those things with success or reaching my goals, but they seem to be correlated often enough that it’s honestly a bit hard not to. It’s hard not to think that the goal is the move up, or the ribbon, or the score, or the next level. But that’s not the end goal, is it? The goal is
total eventing world domination being really kick ass all the fucking time*.
As I seem to pledge to every few months on here, I am anew-committed to taking the time we need to kick ass and take names. I’m sure in a few months I’ll get all ahead of myself again and have to remember to get back to this place.
*Or as much of the time as we reasonably can.