A Teachable Moment

A Teachable Moment

Very few magazines cross my threshold. I’m at a time and place in my life where I’m trying to pare down the “stuff” and just get the essence or experience. That being said, I do still receive Dressage Today. It’s a great way for me to learn every month from the world’s top trainers and instructors. In the October issue, which I received a few days ago, I learned more than I thought I would, and it all started with one little sentence.

In his article “Teachable Moments”, Dr. Cesar Parra – trainer and rider extraordinaire, discusses canter work through the levels of dressage. Being a great fan of Dr. Parra, I flipped the magazine open to the first page of his article and one line popped out at me: “Don’t ride to avoid mistakes”. I stopped in my tracks when I read this line (I was walking in from the mailbox at the time, so it’s probably just as well I stopped, it saved me from tripping over something as I read). I went over that line several times, layering on deeper levels of understanding each time.

I’ve never been a particularly bold rider, as a matter of fact, I fondly refer to myself as a chicken-shit rider, and I’m OK with that. I know I probably won’t event any more, and I’ve jumped 4 feet before, I don’t need to do it again – as a matter of fact, I don’t want to do it again. Somewhere along the line though, (perhaps the first or second time I got on a horse), my naturally cautious nature stepped in and started doing what Dr. Parra was now warning me against: riding to avoid mistakes.

During my drive to the barn after my Aha Moment, I considered my riding habits since I’d adopted my current horse a nearly two years ago. I had planned on showing him and advancing through the levels, but somehow the plans weren’t coming to fruition. Time, money and ……. an odd reticence to get down to it and do the necessary riding and schooling. On examining this insight a bit further, I realized that I was viewing my horse, Atlas, as a great gift I somehow didn’t deserve, and I was afraid I’d screw him up and forever carry the scarlet F on my forehead (for Failure, but there is another, more pithy term you can stick in there instead). I determined then and there to try to change this behavior. I’d been even more cautious since falling off Atlas a few weeks ago (he’s 18.2 hands, which is huge for a horse, and it’s a long way down. As it was him tripping and going onto his knees which prompted the fall, at least I didn’t have to drop the whole distance). So we started with walk and trot warm up and then moved onto some lateral work and then canters. We’ve had a bit of a challenge with the right lead, but instead of avoiding cantering to the right (which I would have done in the very recent past), I asked for the right lead. First attempt – not successful. I re-evaluated my position and balance, rode some straightening exercises to help counteract Atlas’ tendency to bulge through his left shoulder and asked for the transition again…. and got left lead canter. Previously, I would have given up and waited till my next lesson and hoped my trainer could “fix” me. Not anymore – no more riding to avoid mistakes – we were going to work on this and figure it out. I ran through my aids again, and decided I may have been using too much inside leg, so I backed off the aid a bit and, Voila! Success!! We cooled out and finished up for the day.

The change in my behavior and its attendant results led me to think even more about the that line of Dr. Parra’s, and I had another Aha Moment (usually I’m so busy working that I don’t have many Aha Moments – they fly by in the ether, unnoticed and I muddle along. To have two in one week is pretty amazing). My latest revelation? The sentence could also read “Don’t live to avoid mistakes” and it would also apply to me.I don’t know if I was always a play-it-safe kind of person, although the fact that I didn’t start riding roller coasters till I was 40 should probably have laid thatquestion to rest… I do remember, rather vividly, a discussion I had several years ago with my best friend about risk taking. He was a walk-on-the-edge kind of guy and I just hadn’t developed much of a taste for taking risks. This included things like obsessing about school work so I didn’t “risk” anything less than an A- and not following up on certain opportunities because they involved the risk of failure. It wasn’t something I thought about too much, but it was pretty easy to see a pattern since I’d been hit upside the head with it. Now, with the (slightly edited) advice from Dr. Parra, I had a new growth opportunity. I’m not going to charge around looking for risks just to say I did, but I’m sure going to be living life for the experience, the learning and the growing… and we all know that none of those are possible without a few mistakes.