Monday, July 12, 2010

Hey, Mom and Dad, Look at Me!

Every three or four months I ride my horse Eddie in a dressage clinic. I love it. We get cleaned up, dressed up, and chase improvement like it was a year-end award. Henrik Johansen, the clinician and the man whose picture is in the dictionary next to the word "patient," does his magic and viola! Eddie and I have refined our skills, and added to our knowledge. It's a great confidence boost to be challenged and at the same time make positive strides toward my goals. Except this time....

It was a breezeless, 90+ degree, July day. At 4 o'clock I was wringing wet and the lesson had just started. Ten minutes into our session Eddie was radiating heat like my husband's barbecue grill turned up to burn-the-gunk-off level. Even worse, instead of showing Henrik how much we'd improved, I showed him how really awful we could be. Eddie lugged on my hands and was dead to my aids. In essence, we were barely speaking.

I was not looking forward to the second day of the clinic. But lucky me, Henrik rode Eddie first. Good, I thought, he can fix my horse. Instead, he showed me how easy my horse was to ride. Hmm.... Okay. I needed to work harder. I could do that, even in the heat.

Apparently not.

I pondered this on the way home, which is to say I thought up all kinds of excuses why Eddie worked so well for Henrik and so poorly for me. Hey, I tried really really hard, and I toughed out the near-heat-stroke conditions. I deserved something for all my sweat, didn't I? Did Eddie just like Henrik better than me?
(Yes, I was feeling pretty darned sorry for myself) Then I looked at all the pictures my friend took. Eddie looked fairly decent when I was on him, but surely I looked better than that. Why did I look like a boneless bag of lumpy Jell-O? Appalled doesn't even begin to cover my reaction.

Further reflection had me wondering why the things Eddie and I did at home worked well, but fell apart at the clinic. I neatly ignored how well Eddie worked with Henrik and blamed the heat. Had to be the heat. We'd come far in the last four months, and I'd wanted to demonstrate it. I whined to my friend the picture-taker, fellow clinic-rider, and heat-sufferer. She shook her head.

"You were trying too hard to be perfect," she said.

Easy for her to say. Her rides were amazing. But she was right. I should have realized. And I should have listened to Eddie. He was doing exactly what I was telling him to do--all the disjointed, unbalanced stuff I was doing. I'd lost touch with him because I wanted to prove how good I was. I rode him differently than I did at home and lost the focused communication I usually shared with him. Then when things went badly, I just made them worse. I didn't stop to think, I just reacted.

Next time I'll pay closer attention to all the skills I skipped past while trying to prove how close to perfect I was, and less attention to trying to impress. I guess I learned something after all. I hope.


  1. Susan,
    I agree, trying to be perfect can be a curse that takes us out of the moment where we can really accomplish something GREAT!

    Nice post!

  2. Thanks, Diane. It's a balancing act, no matter what you're doing. I firmly believe that exposure and practice--and the willingness to go back and try again--are key.

  3. Susan, these posts are fascinating. I can't relate to the horse stuff too much, but I feel like I understand it a little when you write about it!

  4. Thanks, Kaye! Obviously there's things (like canter departs) that are very specific to riding, but the overall lesson goes in lock step with life in general. We humans are so good at being complicated. Horses insist on being straightforward. Sometimes that's difficult for us to figure out!