You know what is frustrating? That I've been riding for damn near 15 years and I still suck at it. As much as I've tried to learn, as many hours as I've spent in the saddle, for all the bruises and bad falls, and countless dollars invested, I still- still- suck.
Bear with me for a moment or two... or five and I'll explain....
Maybe I shouldn't use the word "suck" but that all-encompassing layman term best sums up the dichotomy between where I am at as a rider and where I want to be... and how incredibly frustrating it is to understand a concept and yet be unable to execute it in the simplest of forms.
For example. I am given a drill:
Trot my horse down the centre of the arena and over four polls. Then, in three strides, pick up the canter and ride over two more poles.
This task, at face value sounds like it should be simple. And, in theory, it is... I know what I have to do and think that I should be able to do it... maybe not perfectly but competently at least.
Here's what I visualize doing... it might not be correct but it's what I aim for:
As I come to the corner at the top of the arena I need to adjust my rein and send my horse forward freely and in a balance frame, (which means I need to be able to create a balanced frame through the position of my feet, legs, seat, and hands in conjunction with the stride, rate and implultion of the horse.)
I need to look where I am going and decide where I need to make the turn so that I can ride a straight line to the poles.
As I get to the corner I need to keep him bent, upright and balanced through the turn (with my inside hand tipping his head in, my outside leg asking for the turn and my inside leg holding the bend. The squeeze of my legs drives his impulsion but the check of my hand forces his weight back into his hind quarter which frees up his shoulders and allows him to stay upright in the turn.)
After the turn I need to straighten him for the line to the poles, (being sure to look past the poles not at them) as well as assess his pace in relation to the position of the poles and adjust accordingly.
Post quietly over the poles.
As my horse goes over the last pole I sit in the stride, reach my outside leg back, push forward with my pelvis, bend him slightly to pick up the correct lead and send him into a canter.
I then check the speed of that canter in relation to the coming poles.
As he canters over the poles I turn to look where I am going next, adjust the horses bend and my body again for the turn and then set up for the next repetition.
Through all of this I am checking my body position (the balance of my weight between my seat, legs and feet, that my pelvis and elbows are moving fluidly with the horse but my upper body is quiet, that my shoulders are square and back and head is up, heels down.)
All of the above is what I think I should be doing in order to successfully negotiate the drill. Instead this is what I do:
As I'm trotting up the arena and setting up to make the turn I realize that my reins are too long, my foot has slipped back too far and my forward impulsion is lacking. While my mind is completely occupied with all that I'm doing wrong and my body is struggling to correct it, I miss the turn that will set me on a straight line to the poles.
Then, instead of yielding him over to the correct line I instinctually steer him into an over correction that (inevitabley) takes me right past the right line, which forces me steer him back the other way and so instead of a straight line we do the snake for six strides which is about when I look down and panic because now the poles are but a stride away. Because I'm looking at the poles my weight has fallen forward and caused my horse to stall...
The snowball effect continues as, in my bid to salvage the course I kick him forward. This sends his head in the air, hallows out his back, sets me off balance and forces him to prance through the poles. He ends up trip over two of the three anyways.
Of course by the time we come out the other end and get partially recollected we're late picking up the canter. Again I kick him forward but my horse is off balance from sliding over the poles and so he picks up the wrong lead. By now the second set of poles are beneath us... which I know because I'm looking down at them . Now, my horse is no dummy, he aint takin' the chance of hitting these poles again so he does a Lipizzaner leap over the last poles. We canter out, off lead and out of control with my ass in the air and my hands scrabbling for enough rein to pull him to a stop before I fall off. Alas we come to a hault.
...And then I say a very bad word under my breath.... which no one can hear because I've forgotten to breathe.
And then I chastise myself for failing at such a simple task. I tell myself I can do it. And so I try again.
And again, until there is a moment, however brief, wherein it all comes together. My body, mind, and horse move gloriously as one and the transitions become seamless- the stride rhythmic. Everything flows together and becomes just that simple. For the briefest moment in time, I can ride.
That moment is what we chase... we seek to capture that illusive and seductive feeling of competence.... to suspend that moment of unity and make it stretch to encompass the whole of our ride... or at least the better part of it.
I ride, in pursuit of that moment.