Saturday, April 9, 2016

Taking Responsibility for Your Training

A great skill to have in riding, yoga, and in life generally, is the ability to take responsibility for yourself and the journey you're on. Owning a horse in itself is a huge responsibility, but how much do we truly hold ourselves accountable for what happens to them, the progress of our training or our competency as riders?

Chadwick training correctly in a lesson with my trainer,
Leonie Bramall
In yoga class, they say it is not the teacher who makes your practice good or bad, it's you. Yoga practice is all about having presence and awareness of yourself, and taking on the responsibility to look after your body and explore within the poses to find what feels good, bad, easy, or challenging. The teacher is there to support you in your journey, so will answer your questions and give you advice, but ultimately the quality of your time on the mat is down to you.

Now think to when you have a dressage lesson with your instructor. How many of us walk around the arena waiting for the instructor to ask you to start trotting? Or wait for the instructor to yell out a solution to a problem you've been aware of but not attempted to fix because you haven't been told yet? Whilst we are sat on our horse, we are responsible for what happens, not our instructor. It is up to us to sit on our horse, connect with them, and train them every step of the way, with only GUIDANCE from our instructor, not them dictating every move we make in the saddle. Otherwise we take away our ability to create and follow our own training journey when we are riding alone (which for a lot of us is most of the time). Riding is something we do on an almost daily basis so it makes sense for us to choose our own path, collecting more knowledge from lessons learnt along the way to use as bricks to keep paving our way into the future.

I developed some problems with my knee that were aggravated in yoga, yet I kept pushing myself at the same intensity because I let my ego take over and I wanted to gain more flexibility, so I ignored the signs that my body was telling me for a while. The months passed and the knee pain didn't go away, sometimes it got worse, but I didn't feel any more flexible. I was forced to look into my lack of progress and the honesty of my practise, and had to take responsibility for that injury. I was responsible for pushing myself past the point that my body said no, and so now I am responsible for adjusting my hip position, activating my inner thighs to help support the knee joint, and take myself a step back to retrain the alignment of my legs. The aim to get more flexible is just as far away as when I began wanting it but because I neglected responsibility for myself initially, I learned a useful lesson that I can use as the bricks for my future path.

This is the same case with injuries in horses caused by being pushed too hard, but maybe more commonly is our performance when we go out to compete. For competition riders, when we are training at home we have the goal of taking the horse out to a competition in mind. So therefore we have a tendency to ignore (or not be aware of) the true quality of things such as the half halt, the horse's ability to carry themselves, the suppleness through the ribcage and throughness over the back. Whilst we know we need to have these things, we are also thinking of having expression, cadence, the poll being the highest point, and the legs crossing in half-passes and leg-yields. Horses have a really amazing way of humbling all of us, particularly by performing like our very own Valegro at home and in the competition warm up, yet as soon as we head down the centreline towards a judge, their ass feels like its in Hong Kong and that our seat has been dumped in the Grand Canyon with the big crater of a drop they've produced with their back.

When the time is taken to form a bond with correct training,
the horse will peform for you.
Debertina at Regionals 2015
WHY?! Sometimes we blame the horse for not co-operating, sometimes we blame our instructor for not forewarning us that this would happen, and sometimes, and hopefully most times, we blame ourselves for not getting the preparation right. For letting ourselves oversee the importance of the basics and get carried away with having legs up by the ears. For completely forgetting that the only reason the poll will be the highest point is because the horse is engaged and uphill, not because we told the horse to put their head there. For ignoring the quality of bend through the whole horse's body in a half-pass and only looking at the crossing of the legs and making sure their head was pointing in the right direction. This is extreme, I know, and will not be everyone's problems, but it is the trend that we can overlook the honesty of our training and neglect to take responsibility for every issue that arises during our training, perhaps hoping it was a "bad day" or that the problem would go away if we just ignored it and did something else instead.

Of course it will take a lot longer to train completely honestly, addressing every issue. But the issues are there for a reason and they will only raise their ugly heads when you least want them to - when doing a test. If I set out to practice my half-passes one day but then have to spend half an hour only doing walk and trot transitions because I don't feel like the horse is really understanding how to do the transition whilst staying through over the back, then so be it. Within that half an hour of simple transition work, I know I would have achieved more than I would have than by doing half-passes, and I would be saved from that guilty conscience in the back of my head that I couldn't actually do a transition to trot that day without the slight hop and drop of the back.  If I had to compete the day after that day of walk and trot transitions, I would set a new goal to ride all my transitions "through" during the test, because that would be where I'm at in my journey with my horse and I would feel a lot better about addressing that issue head-on rather than fooling myself that everything would magically be ok.

Be responsible for the honesty of your training. It makes the
journey so much more enjoyable!
This, is taking responsibility for my training, following my own path and staying true to what I want to feel when I ride my horse. Ignoring what my horse is telling me (even through the smallest blips) just because I need to live up to a judge's expectation of what I should look like is soul-destroying for me, and not what I believe dressage to be. Stay true to you and your horse's training journey and be responsible for every step you take towards your goals. This is the key to long-term success and a fulfilling partnership with your horse.

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