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July 12, 2014: Lessons Learned: Ego Overboard

During last night’s lesson, Rosie was, I could tell within five minutes of being back in the arena, calm and mellow. This as opposed to what she was like last Tuesday -- unfocused and jittery. In fact, this time around, Rosie was thinking that she really didn’t want to do any work at all. And so, the prospect of bolting did not once enter her mind. We began our lesson with the two of us, me and Blaine (a young rider) practicing a dressage pattern, first we followed one another around, and then, working in unison, we worked side-by-side, walking and trotting, the entire time doing circles, diagonals, and straight lines.

This worked best when Rosie (who supposedly is short strided) was on the inside. As we progressed, Rosie and Sienna began moving in a more synchronized fashion, and were in the end pacing themselves alongside one another.

We next moved on to jumping, going over one, and then two cross jumps, first going left and then going right, and repeating the sequence. At the conclusion of this exercise, Blaine was dismissed and I asked to stay on for a part of the next lesson. While we waited for Beth to tend to things, Vickie and I cantered both ways around the arena, side-by-side, first one way and then the other. Rosie at first alternated trotting and cantering, but by the third go around, she found her stride and kept pace with Hunar.

As Beth was finishing up, Vickie and Brenda practiced sidepassing their horses over two poles laid perpendicular to one another. I had Rosie do this – she side passed, going maybe three steps before moving forwards. A good enough effort.

The second lesson began shortly thereafter. Five of us went in succession over two cross jumps. Rosie, when asked, refused the first but then went over the second one on her second attempt. Beth then suggested that we again go over the two jumps, this time coming back in the direction of the waiting riders. Rosie took the same two jumps cleanly, for she was now headed back in the direction of her buddies. Beth praised our efforts and added that we were done for the day. I wanted to keep going, but I agreed with her, well knowing that we had to end on a good note. I also realized that Rosie, having started earlier, had already had a good workout.

I exited the arena, took Rosie back to the trailer, tied her up, groomed her, and called it good. I next assisted Beth in putting up and taking down jumps, and listened to her ongoing instructional commentary. The remaining four jumpers did a serpentine course, with the middle jump being a double cross jump/double vertical, depending upon ability. It was really impressive – all the horses, over a 45 minute time-span, did increasingly better rather than worse. Beth’s suggestions were supposedly minor, but they quite obviously made a big difference. A leg back here, an inside rein tightened there, a head up here, a mane handhold there – all got the desired results. Hunar was particularly impressive – he went and did the entire serpentine and jumps without breaking stride once. And he left plenty of room to spare in clearing the double three foot vertical center fence.
After, I talked with each of the riders, all of whom were thinking hard about how they might do better. For instance, Vickie was thinking about consistently picking up the right lead, and Brenda was thinking about how, in the future, she might avoid “being all over the place. I of course pointed out what I saw and liked; for instance, I told Vickie that, stride-wise, she was consistent, and Brenda that she was not as all over the place as she thought.

I also gave some thought to Rosie and my performance; the word that I thought best described it being lackluster. She was balky, her trot was uneven, and she refused some easy jumps. It then occurred to me that the one commonality that I shared with those in the second lesson was that we are all working towards the unobtainable, which is perfection. And this is never going to come to be because in such instances, one can always do better.

What went unsaid was that Rosie and I will never be up there with those in the more advanced class. They know this, I know this, and Beth knows this. It then occurred to me that I was getting down on myself because I was comparing myself to the others, who have been doing arena work for a long, long time. And I was comparing Rosie to Hunar, Gracie, Izzy, and Willow, all now seasoned performers. This is the reality. Rosie, even with years and years of schooling, will never be a show jumper. She’s too willful. It’s hard to convince Rosie to do something she does not want to do. Ask her to do something too many times, and she becomes increasingly more resistant.

Negatives can also be seen as positives. One positive here is that I’m finding ways of dealing with her resistance. One way is by making it clear what I want her to do, mainly through the use of my seat and aids. Rosie also will not ever let me run her into the ground. She will always let me know when she’s tired and had enough. This is a good thing because it lowers the chance of either of us getting hurt. At the same time, I again have to honor this, by quitting while we are ahead. Another positive is that Rosie is also an honest horse. If I do things right, she will respond accordingly. This time (for example) she took the jumps when I gave her more rein, kept my head up, my heels down, and sat up a bit straighter.

Another positive is that I’m shooting up the learning curve this summer. Sure, Rosie and I are learning some about the ins-and-outs of arena work, work that will be useful when on the trail. At the same time, I’m learning major life lessons, which are life lessons that I’m going to take outside the arena, into other venues. I do not know yet what all of these life lessons might be. But I do know that one of the most important is to abandon ego. My self-perceptions last night in comparison to how my new friends are doing momentarily kept me from seeing how much progress Rosie and I have made in just two months’ time. When I stepped back, and left me out of it, I was no longer despondent. Rather, I was ecstatic. The phrase “there was the time when” often comes back to mind. And there are so many “there was a time when,” beginning in July, 2007 when I backed Raudi and rode her around our loop with Pete at my side. No, I could not then envision that we’d do all we did tonight during the course of our lesson. This is a good feeling and will remain a good feeling. All I have to do is abandon ego.

Next: 191. 7/13/14: Lessons Learned: Overcoming Obstacles