Monday, September 20, 2010

How can I work under all this pressure?

Horses move into pressure. It's instinct. Sure they shift their bodies away when the rider applies the leg aid, but we trainers teach that response. What you may not realize is the training still permits the instinctive reaction--we've just redirected it. The horse is now stepping toward the rider's leg with the hind leg on the same side--more acceptable than moving their barrel into leg pressure. Oh, and as for the line of travel—that has more to do with where your weight is directed than what you just did with your leg.

But what I really want to talk about is the absence of pressure.

Horses will, if you pay close attention, actually respond to an aid (pressure) when that aid is removed. One of the basic tenets of dressage is that relaxation is required for the horse to move with grace, beauty and optimal athletic results. That means all muscular tension not required for remaining upright and mobile must go. Mental tension produces physical tension, so that has to go too. An aid that doesn't let up—that sustains pressure—is going to make the horse wonder what the heck it is the rider wants. Wondering produces worry, which in turn produces frustration and will cause the trained horse to revert to his instinctive reaction and push back.

Wouldn't you?

Have you ever tried to produce good work while under pressure? It's exhausting, not invigorating. I produce enough of my own internal pressure so my tolerance threshold for external pressure is pretty low. It becomes counter productive. I may not push back in the obvious manner my horse would, but my quality of work suffers. And I get pretty crabby.

Like horses, people have their own optimal pressure tolerance levels. When working with someone (equine or human) it's essential to discover what that level is, and then only use it when necessary. Nobody can tolerate sustained pressure. We all do our best work when it's applied intermittently from the one directing our efforts.

It's a rare thing to have that gift of assessment—the ability to know how much and what kind of pressure is required and then have the guts to release it. Perhaps we can learn if we think, observe, and test our bravery.

Have you ever worked with someone who seems capable of helping you achieve your personal best? Maybe they had to learn how.


  1. I don't know of any writers who have a personal coach. We have to regulate our own pressures. When I first started writing, I wanted to have fun with it, knowing that writing was also a lot of work. Lately, none of it seems like fun and the pressure to blog and do the social media thing is blocking me creatively adding the wrong pressure entirely. I'm taking a day or two off. Too much already!

  2. There you go, E.B.! There are those of us who are our very own task masters--lucky us! Removing pressure will entice the muse back to play! Best of luck. Let us know how it goes!

  3. As a competitive swimmer, I had a coach who gave very little postive reinforcement, forcing me to try harder and harder to gain those nuggets of praise. Imagine my surprise when my next coach, quite the opposite, took my swimming to a new level! We all respond to pressures, some internal, some external. I think that to be able to manage our own pressures while producing quality writing is a skill, a talent, and a gift.

  4. I agree with the comments so far. There are many different pressures for writers. E.B., I can feel all that other stuff dragging me from writing, too. And Diane, I've seen people react very well to the tiny nuggets type of coach, but I'd prefer the other one myself.

    One kind of pressure I respond well to is a deadline! I can dither forever over something, but if there's a deadline, I sit down and get it done.

  5. Well said, Susan. I also agree with everyones' comments.
    Writing is such a discipline for me. I want to keep moving, but the only way to produce words-on-the-screen is to sit down and connect my brain to fingertips and fingertips to keyboard. I love your dressage image about the rider having to suspend any other thoughts and focusing on the exact amount of pressure so the horse knows what the rider wants. I find that when I'm writing, I have to sweep life's distractions out of my head and focus on the scene. If I don't it gets confusing and leaves the reader saying, "Huh?"

    Thanks for the great blog, Susan!