Reaching for perfection isn’t really an attainable goal. In the end, you’re never going to be perfect. You’re always going to have flaws. That’s what makes you human. Instead, we should strive to become the best person you can be.
My coach has told me on numerous occasions that if you’re not willing to make mistakes, you’ll never improve.
I also agree with this statement. Like most things in life though, it’s not as easy to put into practice. Especially for someone like me who likes to do things right.
Everything with riding, or any skill for that matter, only develops through training. You need to train your mind, your body and your feel in order to improve. This all takes time and lots of practice.
Think back to a time when you first started to ride. How you struggled with posting on the right diagonal or you struggled to get your horse to turn. You wouldn’t struggle with today, but it was very frustrating for you back then. And it took a lot of mistakes and practice for you to finally get it right. To finally reach a point where it became easy.
As you continue to improve in your riding, the things that you struggle with become more and more detailed.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working on my flatwork. We’re focusing on maintaining a perfectly shaped circle and supporting through the turns regardless if that’s turning a corner or a sharper turn. The goal, just like with counter cantering and leg yielding, is to organise my aids so that they are precise and clear to the horse. I try to make sure that I stay coordinated and focused which, a lot of the time, is not easy.
See, I’m not the most coordinated person. As a child, it was a task to get me to do jumping jacks. And it’s almost impossible for me to learn simple dance steps. My brain just doesn’t work that way. So, this is where riding becomes an issue. Getting my inside and outside rein as well as my inside and outside legs AND my seat and core doing different things at the same time is a challenge in itself.
Let’s say I’m on a circle and my coach says I’m missing my outside rein, I’ll fix that but, in the process, I might lose the bend in my body. Or say I’m doing a leg yield. I might have my body positioned correctly but I forget to have my leg on in sync with his hind leg to push him over to the wall. And once I fixed that, I might lose my rein contact in one hand.
I keep making mistakes. And I keep trying to fix them.
What becomes comforting throughout these exercises is when I do get it right. When all of a sudden everything does work. Regardless of how many steps I get. It’s a glimpse that I’m doing things right and that I’m moving in the right direction. Now, it’s just a matter of getting those moments to last a little longer.
And yeah maybe riding a circle seems a bit basic. It seems like it’s not worth the practice. That you can ride a circle, it might not be perfect, but it’s a circle and you’d rather move on to more difficult exercises. But I think that’s not the best way of thinking. See, through all of this training, I’m learning that my riding skills aren’t as strong as I thought they were. I never realised how weak my aids were and how unclear I was to the horse. That I would ride in a way that wasn’t the most effective, but it got the job done. Now, I’m seeing that the way I was riding will only get me so far.
In the end, if I put all of the work into getting my aids stronger and my directions clearer, jumping any sort of height won’t be as big of a deal. That I’ll have a more developed feel for the horses I’m riding and that I’ll be able to ride up with the right power underneath me. My turns will be tighter and my approaches will be straighter. I’ll have the impulsion and control to be confident going over the fences regardless of the height.
Now that’s not to say that I’m ready to become the next great Grand Prix rider right now. What I’m saying is that I’m now starting to understand how it is to really ride a horse. To really have that clear direction and to use all of your aids at once. Sure, it doesn’t always work out right all the time. I’m still learning. But it’s in those moments where things to go right that I gain much more confidence in my riding. And now I strive to make those moments happen more frequently and for longer periods of time.
This proper way of riding is giving me a new sense of control. In the past, I used to have a tight grip on my reins and tried to control my horse’s every move in fear of something bad happening like a fall or a bolt. Now, I have control through the strength of my aids. That the unison between me and my horse is giving me the confidence to think “yeah I can jump that, no problem” when before I would be freaking out inside.
By no means am I perfect. And I’ll never be. But striving to become a better rider is enough for me now. And it’s allowing me to enjoy riding even more than before. I look forward to pushing myself to have those moments where everything clicks and I can’t wait to see how my coach will challenge me in my next lesson.
I’d love to know if any of you strive for those same moments in your riding. How do you work on improving your skills? Do you also agree that your flatwork skills are important to be able to jump successfully? I’d love to know!