Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Wall of "I Can't"

(Date of June 9, 2010) Have you ever been faced with a mental wall about your riding, that you can’t get over or under or around? Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is skill-related. Maybe it is horse-specific. But try as you may, you can’t get beyond it. Recently I had a similar experience, and it has a happy ending, so I wanted to share it with you.

I am not great at the canter. It is a hard gait for me, and Buckshot’s canter is a bit bumpy and at times too fast, almost explosive. I have contented myself with the thought that eventually, I would get better at it. And I was taking my time. We have great rides at various speeds of the walk and trot, and for our riding purposes, that was fine. I could afford to take my time developing my skills at the canter. There was no wall in front of me and I didn’t have any sense of urgency about it.

And then it all changed.

Our instructor brought in a regional professional reining trainer for occasional lessons. Buckshot and I participated in his lessons. In the first lesson with him, my mental wall of “I can’t really canter well” both materialized before me and dissolved all in the same lesson. The instructor is very kind and encouraging, has a great sense of humor and is very discerning about a rider’s skill and limitations. He challenged me, in the best sense of the word. He guided and gave tips for riding the canter. He instructed each of us differently and effectively. I felt on top of the world – that I could, really could, learn to canter better on Buckshot.

So I have practiced, and taken private lessons on the canter from my regular instructor. I have learned, little by little, to keep my butt in contact with the saddle, and keep soft, responsive hands, and use my leg aids, and steer, and circle, and sense a slowing so I can give more leg. Slowly I am learning to steer better. And ask for a particular lead. And lesson after lesson, with my instructor, and with the reining trainer, I have gotten better than I ever thought possible at the canter! I am thrilled with my progress! (Yes, I still have a long ways to go to look like the floaty-gentle-rocking-chair riding of others.) But I have progressed quite a ways for me. And I am so proud of myself and Buckshot.

Slowly I realized that I had indeed had a “mental wall” about the canter. I guess I doubted my skills and abilities to ever become noticeably better at it. During the clinics, I have seen that wall come crumbling down and my confidence grow. I’m not even sure why. I have had the attitude in each session that I would try my hardest, even if I looked ridiculous, to improve my skills. And at times I have felt discombobulated while actually doing the riding. But slowly, my skills have gotten better. How wonderful! I look forward to the reining lessons because they are making me a better rider in many ways. I don’t plan to ever compete in reining. But the benefits of better riding skills will help both me and my horse.

Do you have a “mental wall” preventing you from developing a skill, or handling a particular horse situation? I think that they are not uncommon, but I don’t think we talk about them much. If you have one, I hope you are inspired by my story, that we can get past them, and achieve thrilling results. Thanks for listening!

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