Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Allowing Mistakes

Mistakes Happen!
By Carolyn Bahr

 It’s okay to fail. 

Mistakes can be good. 

Without fear, there is no courage.

The last was spoken to me by eventing legend, James Wofford.  I had just had the privilege to be the first and only rider to part ways with her horse on day one of a three-day clinic at Eventful Acres.  It was a spectacular fall, with my green horse, Junior, managing to duck out in a one stride gymnastic line of three oxers.  I got up, dusted myself off, mounted, and tried again.  His words help me ditch my embarrassment, self-recrimination, and yes, stage fright in riding with Mr. Wofford.

Perfection Rarely Happens
Being a closet perfectionist control freak (or not so private if you talked to fellow eTwisters), this summer was pivotal in my growth as a rider.  Discovering that perfect isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be, that sometimes, allowing mistakes can be the biggest learning experience of all.  Which was true for both my horse and me.

Most Eventers know teaching your green horse to have a “fifth” leg is necessary for both horse and rider.  The ability of your equine partner to save your ass is essential for safety and competitiveness, especially for an amateur.  But in order to achieve it, you have to be willing to give up control and allow your horse to make mistakes so he can learn.

Because, guess what?  No one is perfect, neither horse nor rider.  I really hate that.  I found that out at the clinic.  It was impossible for me not to rate Junior to the fences, especially when he came out like a fire breathing dragon.  And of course, the hotter and stupider he became, the worse I rode.  Talk about a never-ending cycle of embarrassment.  But I did learn from it.  The times I managed to shut my over-active brain down and do what Jimmy asked, Junior improved and I grew in my horsemanship.

Getting It Done
It wasn’t the weekend I was expecting, but it was probably the weekend I needed. 

The clinic was a second in my lessons learned this summer.  The first was riding my horse in his first recognized competition.  I didn’t want to do it.  I normally would have had a professional ride him first.  I was afraid I’d mess up and give my boy a horrible ride and wreck him somehow.  You know, the one ride that would ruin him forever?  It took an amazing amount of faith in my trainer, Susan Friend Le Tourneur, and fellow eTwisters, bashing me upside the head, telling me I could do this, that I sent my entry in as rider.

Learn From Our Mistakes

Did Junior place as high as he could have with a professional in the irons, most likely not.  Did my confidence shoot skyward when in a class of 16, I managed to finish in 6th place on my dressage score and just three time penalties.  Absolutely!  By allowing myself the room to fail, I accepted a challenge and let go of some control.

Allow mistakes.  Give it a try.  It just might be good for you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 3 XC Day

by Nahmi Jones

Master Instruction
Cross country is dressage at a high rate of speed.

Rushing to get ready to ride is a recurrent anxiety dream for me. I do my best to give myself plenty of time to get ready for important events, so I can tack up and warm up methodically and calmly. But the early morning beat the heat schedule on cross country morning, maximum green spot abatement and fussing with Susan's borrowed air vest for the first time and oh no!! suddenly we were late for the fun of cross country day at the Wofford clinic!! Rushing through my warm up was no way to lull the fire breathing dragon into submission.

Jimmy pointed out that my strategy of throwing my shoulders back, standing in the stirrups and hauling on the bit was probably not the most efficient way for me to put on the brakes in the inviting open spaces of Eventful Acres. He had me practice instead holding 2 point position while asking for downward transitions to the halt and all the way through the reinback, just as he describes in the current issue of Practical Horseman.

He suggested a single bridge as my fire breathing dragon is rather strong. That way Simon pulled against himself and not me. He reminded us that just like in dressage, we need to be quick to reward and release the pressure on the reins once the horse softens, even at speed.

When I stabilized my shoulder position and found better body balance, Simon was happy to oblige with more sensitive brakes and we both got a little softer between the fences. Fire breathing dragon placated for the moment.

Simon was brave and bold and definitely up for the challenge of Rod's Intro to Prelim course. The gentle progression in degree of difficulty at the bank, ditch and skinny combinations gave me confidence when we moved up to the prelim sized questions. By the time we got to the water complex we were ready to tackle the whole exercise without any rehearsal. Jimmy's comment? See how much fun Prelim can be on this horse?

I finished the weekend confident and satisfied and clear on what areas I need to improve on at home. It is rumored that Jimmy might have mentioned Simon and Kilkenney's names in the same sentence. Whoa boy, I'm really going to have to get my homework done and raise my game. The fire breathing dragon's going to extra cocky if he gets wind of that kind of nod from the master.

When we were finished, after Simon was hosed off and iced, we snuck into the perfectly manicured Stadium arena for a post XC roll. Up drove Rod in his gator. Uh oh Simon, we're busted for screwing up the footing! But no, Rod just chuckled, "Spoiling your Ferrari? Good, he deserves it!"

Thanks Rod. Good job pony. I hope we can do it again next year!

Day 2 Stadium Jumping

by Nahmi Jones

When you feel nothing....add
Jimmy's sage advice for Simon

Jimmy's lectures are free form which is cool. He opens the floor for questions about anything that is on our minds. Today's lecture led to a discussion about seeing one's distance.

To paraphrase his take on the subject: If you feel the fence leaning away from you, you're going to be long, better add leg. If you feel the fence leaning towards you, you're going to be short, better half halt. Then every once in a while, it just feels sweet and you don't have to do anything to get to the fence and its a good day.

But what if you feel nothing? Then you're on the perfect half stride kid.

Isn't it wonderful when you can take what you just learned in lecture and apply it to your riding to solidify the learning process the very same day? Yeah, grrreat.

We warmed up for stadium jumping and started to string together a course in Jimmy's ring of related distances. I was just getting over the pucker effect caused by facing a whole course of Prelim sized fences when on the approach to the second line....nothing, yup I felt nothing.

My solution to the nothing feeling was to drop my shoulders and pray--Simon, please get us out of this! go. And this was how I demonstrated for the class what the perfect half stride looks like. Jimmy pointed out that we get that nothing feeling because our brains can't sort out whether we're long or short on the perfect half stride and that the solution is to fill up the empty feeling with ANOTHER STRIDE. Ok, got it Jimmy, another stride, not prayer.

We went on to complete the exercise in the ring of related distances. There was a 4,5 and 6 stride line set up in a ring and we were to connect them with circles in between each line. This simple stadium course allowed us to practice asking for the correct leads over the fences, adjusting stride length in lines with related distances, and balancing in the turns (or in Simon's case, regaining some semblance of control), all the details we were going to need to have a clean, flowing stadium round.

I finished the day with the wonderful, confident feeling of staying softly connected with my horse as he stepped lightly over a series of large fences. And lots more details to add to the homework list.