Whose voice do you follow, really?

You are the one that you have been waiting for.

There is a time in every rider’s life, where it is time to step into what you know. Time to back yourself, to let your intuition and years of learning lead the way. To let those twin guides be the loudest voice in your life– louder than the doubts of your mind, louder than the voice of any instructor or clinician, no matter how good they may be, and louder than any client.

Only you are in the saddle. Only you are in that moment.

No matter how well intended the instruction or how good of an eye, you are the only one who is answerable to the horse.  And you WILL answer to the horse.

It is up to you to forge a partnership, to make them a willing partner. No one else can do it for you; you must go at it alone.

Learning dressage takes a guide. Despite the many written texts the riding masters left us, it is a skill still primarily passed down from person to person.

Yet, there comes a time when you realize that you have a system, an approach of your own. You realize you know what you are looking for at a particular level– a certain feeling, a particular series of responses from the horse– and you realize you know how to create it.

At this point, you need to dig deep and back yourself. Trust your knowledge and intuition. Create what you know how to create. Push forward and discover what you know– and what you do not. Here, it is of upmost importance that you let your intuition and knowledge be the loudest voices. If you continue to “outsource” to an instructor or coach, you will lose faith in yourself and stunt your development.

Later, when you reach the edge of your knowledge and experience again, and you find yourself in new territory, you can let the voice of your coach once again take center stage.

If you haven’t experienced a “confirm” stage yet in your riding journey and you’ve been riding for awhile… trust yourself and let your intuition take center stage.

You know more than you think you know.

Let’s Talk About Your Fear

There’s a popular quote by George Addair the internet loves–

George Addair quote

While Addair’s sentiments are admirable, he leaves his audience with a sense that fear is a line to step over, a wall to punch through or a glass ceiling to shatter. Fear is something to combat. Once you’ve won, you are in paradise.

Yet, for most of us, fear is a conduit. It is not a line or a wall or a ceiling. It is a tunnel that transports and transforms us into being who we are meant to be. It is a tardis that takes us to a place beyond our imaginations.

Only by stepping into the fear, only by leaning in to the discomfort, we can be taken to the other side. It is not something to fight, but shows us the way through to greater freedom/peace/harmony/trust.

Fear is not something to be combated, stuffed down, or disregarded. It asks to be acknowledged, honored, respected– but at the end of the day, it does not get to be in the driver’s seat of your aspirations and dreams.

Over a decade ago, I had a riding accident that put me in the ICU. As a result, I became a timid rider. To this day, I still consider myself a timid rider. This surprises a lot of people who watch me ride, because it is not readily apparent. However, I have made it a practice every.single.time I get on a horse, regardless of how many times I have ridden that particular horse or how many other horses I rode that day, to acknowledge and honor my fear. Then, I choose to move through it and let joy, creativity and my dreams drive the car.

It works every time.

 

 

 

 

Lamp Lights

Plateauing is never fun.

For the first day it may be (“Hey look, I’m the same as I was yesterday. Hooray!!”), but another ride or two and the “Crud. I’m stuck.” feeling sets in.

In reality, we’ve probably plateaued every 3 weeks and we’re in a holding pattern until the hindquarters are strong enough to continue increasing demands again. But it feels different.

Everything is starting to feel murky. I start second-guessing myself on how to handle situations to keep us marching on towards Grand Prix.

Here’s the thing: it is all a feeling.

While I feel like I am closing in on the edge of my experience base, in actuality I have been in this phase before: I’ve ridden schoolmasters at a higher level than where I am now; I’ve trained other horses through this phase, including my most recent horse.

Feeling like I on the edge of my experience base here is a story (an unhelpful one) that I am telling myself to justify my doubt and second-guessing. It keeps me playing small instead of boldly reaching towards the FEI levels.

When I set aside my self-doubt and fears for a moment and ask myself what exercises did I use on the previous horses and what feelings did I look for when they were in this stage, the way forward is clear: transitions, transitions, transitions, circle work and half-passes.

The answer is always inside of me, even when I doubt myself.

At some point in the future, I will be in new territory again. But not here, not now. When I DO enter that new territory, I will have the Masters and a host of mentors to show me the way.

 

These things are lamp lights for me. They show me the path forward, even when I am uncertain.

What lamp lights do you have that exist to show you the way forward?

Permission to be horrible: Granted

Are you letting yourself be bad or are you trying to hold everything together in the name of, well, having it all together and being “good” at something?

The greatest source of stress in my life these days comes from when I believe I have to keep it all together. That I have to be good at something.

The greatest areas of freedom in my life are the areas where I have given myself permission to be bad. When I first started riding again, I gave myself permission to be bad. Horrible, even. I was 3+ years out of the saddle, and only 2 months back into semi-regular exercise (yoga). My health had given way on me, and I figured that as long as I could walk, trot, canter and still stay upright and on the intended figure, I was doing alright.

But in letting myself be bad, really, truly, bad—I found freedom.

The freedom to experiment. The freedom to connect with my horse (thanks, Gani!). The freedom to laugh at myself and most of all, the freedom to have fun again in the saddle.

When I ride, I don’t have to be perfect. I ride to the best of my abilities in the moment and let things sort themselves out. I have my trainer to help me become a better version of the rider I am, and the horse to tell me what works (and does not). My trainer isn’t a screamer, so I never feel pressure to perform or be more than what I am in the moment.

Given everything I’ve just written, you’d think that I’d have this whole “failure-thing” down pat.

I don’t.

There are times where I still try to hold everything together and be “good enough.” This isn’t my first time bringing a horse up the levels, but there are still plenty of times where I’m hard on myself, feeling like I should have things more figured out than I do.  Time and time again, I have to give myself permission to be bad. Horrible. Permission to make mistakes. Permission to learn.

It can be frustrating when you think

Yet, as item after item gets crossed off my list on what I want to feel, of what I want to be able to do in the saddle, as 2 good collected strides become 5, which in turn become 10, I can see the FEI horse emerging, becoming stronger and more real, ride by ride.

Then I remind myself to be bad, have fun and enjoy the ride.

Do You Take Your Inner Child Along for the Ride?

Dressage riders have a reputation for being so serious and heavy.

They lightened up the freestyle music to encompass pop and even –gasp!– some vocal music, but even that hasn’t fundamentally lightened up dressage riders.

Watching a couple of kids ride sometimes feels like the antithesis of dressage riders. They often egg each other on, daring each other to try new things, to take bigger and bigger risks until their limits are reached– or they scare the adults too much!

In the midst of their games, their riding begins to take shape:

  • Their seats become more secure and independent from testing their balance on the horse so frequently.
  • The horses become increasingly responsive and animated as they catch on to the games.
  • A partnership of mutual trust forms as risks are successfully taken.

As kids grow older, many turn their attention to eventing and jumping– natural extensions of their earlier games.

However, as a dressage rider, do you also take your inner child along for the ride?

Do you “dare” yourself and your horse to go bigger, to execute a more daring combination of moves…or do you keep it safe and “known?”

Do you lose all inhibition when you ride, or in the back of your mind, are you concerned about what others might think, might say about your riding?

Do you laugh when you ride, deep, heart-felt laughs?

When was the last time you didn’t care if you made a mistake because you were having fun?

Dressage is an expression of a feeling; let that feeling be child-like joy.

Does your inner child have a say in your riding?

Like Cement Drying

Dressage is occasionally called a “long obedience in the same direction,” although the colloquial “like watching cement dry” is a more apt descriptor.

As 2017 concludes, I’m impatient for the things that 2018 will bring. There are lots of good things in store planned– like the WAMS podcast– but like a child in a candy store, I want it all now, RIGHT NOW.

The thing about dressage is that one must learn to walk the fine line of patience and moving the bar forward. Too much moving the bar and you are bound to lose the quality of the basics. Too much staying in one spot, and you’ll never know what all you could do with your horse. Dressage riders are skilled tightrope artists, indeed.

Ambition is the enemy of patience.

Ambition for a dressage rider is a like a type of greed: it tells you to have more, to get it faster than it will come naturally, that achievement is greater than the journey and partnership to get there in the first place.

And yet– the desire to be more, to learn more, to seek continual improvement is like oxygen. It teaches us to keep stepping forward, to keep testing the dryness of the cement because we know that one day, we’ll come out and whatever it is– a canter-walk transition, a smaller circle, a series of flying changes or even steps of piaffe– will happen. The cement will be dry.

Patience is active. It is keeping ourselves from fidgeting, yet not detaching from boredom. Patience is uncomfortable.

What areas in your riding do you need to cultivate patience? Where do you waver between ambition and boredom?

The Monsters Under the Bed

What is the thing you fear the most in your riding?

Is it that you are truly an awful rider? That you would never achieve your goals? That you would fall off and get hurt? That your horse would sustain a career-ending injury or life-threatening illness? That you would lose your income and not be able to pay for your horse or keep riding?

All of these are real and legitimate fears. The question is– what to do with them?

Not acknowledging fears can wreck havoc in our lives and riding. Sweeping them under the rug or pretending they are not there can cause us to act in ways that we might not otherwise act if we were truly ourselves. Unaddressed fears can lead us to become codependent on others, anxious, depressed, and even make career, personal and financial decisions we might not otherwise make if were were thinking with a clear head.

The thing about these fears, is that by giving into them, we choose to let them limit us. On some level, we believe they protect us and keep us safe from something. But is what they are protecting us from truly worth the trade off?

There was a several year period while I was in my 20s where I struggled to move my life forward. I was afraid to set goals, as I had not achieved many of the riding goals I had previously set and was bitterly disappointed. When I finally allowed myself to look at the fear and what would happen to me if it DID happen, I began to see that I would be OK even if my fears were realized. With this newfound assurance, I was able to set new goals and move my life forward.

What would realistically happen to you if those fears WERE realized? Is that potential outcome worth holding onto the fear for?