Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why I Suck at Riding.

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.


  1. Hay..you are just experiencing the joys of horseback riding!!!teehehe!
    It is brief when we get it and joyous too!
    Once when my sissy was helping me...she asked me to simply turn down the center line and halt at X...HOLY CRAP! Took me 11 times before I knew it and finally I did it! I was settling for mediocre and she wanted me to execute the 5-10 feet ahead of me at all times!
    Ride on!

  2. That sounds like how most of my rides go... Whee! Fun! I find my brain is too involved and I overanalyze instead of trying to feel what is right...

    Maybe if perfect rides came too easily, riding wouldn't be any fun either? Or maybe I'm just crazy, lol... ;-D

  3. "I ride in pursuit of that moment."

    As do we all kiddo!

    As do we ALL!!

  4. :D
    you tried again, and succeeded, therefore you are a GOOD rider.

    There will always be moments when you feel like you have NO idea what is goin on and which way up is, then again there are always moments that feel like heaven and that everythign is as it should be, that make everything alright again :D

  5. I think you are over working everything in your mind. Of course your trainer is the best to go over this with you, but it just sounds like you are consentrating SO much on every single tiny detail, that you are not riding at all by feel. You and the horse are two seperate "units" for lack of a better word, instead as going as one. (as simple as that sounds) I'm not much at reading how to books on riding. I admit they are very boring to me. But look for Sally Swifts book on Centered riding, and read about soft eyes. **Encourage visual and physical awareness, better peripheral vision, and improved “feel.”**

  6. A friend of mine commented one day that if horses always did what we wanted we'd all be riding ATVs instead. But I know exactly what you're talking about. Yesterday my trainer set up cones in a square that I needed to lope around and I was inside the cones and over the cones and about everything else that wasn't right. After my lesson another lady came into the arena and, after asking what the cones were for, just casually started loping around them perfectly. Maybe she needs an ATV? :)

  7. So beautifully written! When broken down like that, it is very evident how complex riding really is. It comes so naturally to me (I have been riding since I was 5!) that I never really think about exactly what I am doing; I just say I'm going to do something and do it. It's nice to have the perspective that what appears to me one thing (say, turning a barrel) is actually the accumulation of several minute movements! I think, if you stop thinking so much, and start trusting yourself more, you'll get that blissful feeling more often.

  8. Girl, I SOOOO do the same thing. After having kids I don't ride nearly as well as I used to. Simple tasks seem so daunting. I mess up on super simple drills. But just think the more you do it the better you will be!! At least you are riding, I am still sitting on my butt waiting for my horse to not be lame. Keep it up, you'll get it!!

  9. Don't worry - you'll get the hang of it! I know you will. It just takes time, lots and lots of time. English riding require patience and is a little short in the instant gratification section....unfortunately. I tell ya one day you'll just notice with amazement that you are doing right.

    Hey if you get a chance take a peek at my blog - I was curious to know your thoughts - I thought you covered the same subject last year?

  10. Hey- you are forgetting that you are only half of the whole riding equation! And your horse is somewhat 'new' to you- correct? So how can you expect her to understand all the subtleties of ' you' yet? Maybe she's having doubts or a bad day too. Maybe your cues aren't what she's used to- maybe she forgot something back at the stall and just remembered it...
    Don't be so very hard on yourself. We strive and therein lies the joy when we succeed!

  11. yeah!!!
    We are all working towards that "riders high" or perfect moment when everything connects. Getting there is a whole other matter, but doesn't it make it feel just that much greater because of the journey?

  12. Great post C! "The snowball effect continues as, in my bid to salvage the course I kick him forward." So well-written and descriptive of this moment! ;) I feel your pain in this struggle, but, it's why we are doing it- because we love the challenge, we love learning, we want to do well, feel that connection with our equines, and have it all come together! Keep at it, it will get easier and easier (but probably harder before it gets easier, LOL!)

  13. Girl..you just described my last couple of months in the arena! Dust off your britches and get back on..the moment happens when you least expect it.

  14. it drives me crazy the way germans pronounce the names of american cities on the news. but lately they are all talking about the olympics in vancouver, and every time they say the word vancouver, they screw it up. every newscaster. wth! it's van-COU-ver, not VAN-cou-ver.

    it would make you crazy too.