Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Words and Definitions

Sunday I took two students up to RDLA for a good old fashioned cross country schooling and when we got in the truck, tired and hot and thirsty, I turned to the girls and said, "Would you like to stop for lunch, or do you want to skibble on home?"

The unanimous response was something along the lines of "what on Earth does 'skibble' mean?"

The answer: nothing. But it's a phrase my mom used a lot with me when I was a kid, so I sort of assumed it had roots in slang.... somewhere. It doesn't.

I took an extremely unscientific poll, and received the following definitions:
  • Drooling
  • A brief fight
  • A part of a turkey
  • To waffle
  • To skip a pebble
  • To run (my sister's definition)
  • To fall
  • It describes the weird state of being that halfway between a walk and a run. Like when you know you should be running but can't bring yourself to do it so you walk uncomfortably
When I ask you to imagine a lily, what do you see?

Do you see a flower?
What color was your original flower?
What about Lily Potter?
My point is that unclear definitions and fuzzy understandings of words can cause confusion and tension in the training ring. If your trainer has told you to bend the horse a hundred times, sometimes you aren't confident you should even ask how she wants you to do that. After all, you've been riding forever, and bend is a simple concept! Right? 

And some definitions necessarily change as time goes on and can be relational to the horses you ride. How balanced is "balanced" or how steady in the bridle "steady" is. 

Here's one of the massive kickers of learning to ride: our instructors tell us things through words. And so our left brains get a hold of those words and try to translate them to the right brain. 

Sometimes our left brain does a great job at this, and sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes our instructors get really good at helping our right brain a lot (like when Dumbledore told me to pop a balloon between my thighs, or suggested I imagine my ponytail tied to my horse's hindquarters, or when Megan wrote about being a brighter lightbulb).

But sometimes our instructors are not good at this. And I would argue that it is our responsibility to ourselves and to our horses to be sure we've all got the same understanding of nebulous phrases like "through" and "collected". Team to team those definitions might change a lot, but you've got to be certain you know what those words really mean.

Otherwise you might just be skibbling around. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"Brain Training For Riders"

Andrea Waldo has written a really lovely sports psychology book just for us horse people. Brain Training for Riders is in three parts: the first is about the basics of fear and our psychology, the second is about taking this information to improve our performance, and the third is about overcoming deeper fears or recovering from bad accidents.

Now, as anyone who knows me will realize: I read a lot. I read broadly. There's nothing in this book that I haven't read elsewhere, but if you're somewhat new to sports psychology and ESPECIALLY new to the idea of cognitive behavioral therapy as a method of improving your sports performance, then this book is a MUST. This book is densely packed with actionable, important information.

After all, as Yogi Berra said, "Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical," but I really think he misspoke and intended to say horseback riding. 

Due to its density and especially due to the fact that the whole thing is written about my sport (duh) I had a lot of good thoughts about it and you all helped me with the first one. 

Yesterday I asked you to give me ten skills you have as a rider. I can't know how much thinking or pondering it took, and I also can't know how hard it was. Most of you reached ten skills. But 4/6 of you made some hedging comment as you added the comment, and another person reached out to me off the blogosphere to ask what I intended with this question. 

I'm going to quote Waldo directly on this one, "Riders who lack confidence... don't recognize their abilities, so they can't possibly have confidence in them. And when they don't have confidence in their abilities, they ride as if they don't have those abilities." 

Later, she writes, "Many students tell me they're not good at a skill because they don't do it perfectly, or someone else does it better than they do. This misses the point. You don't have to be perfect at something to know how to do it, and you don't have to be the best to be good at it." 

I loved reading what you guys had as skills, and I love knowing that there are so many thoughtful things you're willing to own and rely on in your riding. But enough on that! 

Here are two things I took from the book that I'm going to try to implement yesterday: 

1) When seized by fear, or when I see a student frozen, I'm going to ask these questions --

  • What skills, abilities, or knowledge do I have that will make the worst-case outcome unlikely? 
  • What will I do to prevent the situation from happening? 
  • If the problem starts to occur, what will I do to solve it? 
This methodical examination of something fear-causing (let's say a horse is rushing a fence, or perhaps even trotting too fast) will both provide the lower brain with a PLAN to avoid the worst case scenario, and reestablish the frontal cortex's control over thought patterns. 

2) I'm going to start practicing single-point focus, and I'm going to make my students do it too. I'll not copy the whole section, but I will summarize --

Making sure you're safe and your horse is calm, pick something to focus 100% of your energy on. For example, holding the reins. Focus on the sensation, on the amount of pressure you feel, the way your fingers curl around the reins. For one full minute, focus entirely on your hands on the reins. If your attention goes to the arena fence or a flickering light or a deer in the distance, bring it back to the sensation of the reins in your hands. Eventually, after daily practice of 2-4 minutes on different parts of you (your seat bones, your feet in the stirrups, your thighs, your sternum, your core) then try it at the trot or the canter. 

There's a lot to unpack in this book and I'm sure I'll be writing about more of it as I implement it. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Please Chime In! (This is an experiment)

Okay - I've read a book over the last two days that I've written my thoughts on and I'll post them Thursday, but first:

Can you list 10 of your riding skills?

I'm changing my blog's preferences so that none of your comments will immediately go live so that you don't give each other ideas for a list.

I'm including this photo because I just rediscovered it and I think it's hilarious

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Wherein I Fabricate Disaster

Kat has been on stall rest while we try to minimize damage to her fetlock wound - it's a very tricky place to have an injury, I'm learning.

Sunday I wanted to bring Kat down to the main barn to groom her a bit and spend some time with her, but she barely agreed to come out of her stall. She was holding her right front up and hobbling over it. I decided that I would soak the foot, liniment the leg, and see what Monday brought around. I inspected the leg, I ran my fingers over every crevice and couldn't find anything wrong, but the mare was clearly unhappy.

She was lethargic and dull Monday morning, still avoiding bearing weight on that leg. I ran my fingers over the leg again, pinching and looking for reactivity, feeling for heat, checking her pulse. I called the vet, was told it'd be a few hours, and proceeded to manufacture worst-case scenarios until he showed up.

What if she needed an extended rehab? Would I be able to execute a proper rehab out of my farm? Do I have the facilities, the time, the control? Could I afford to send her to a center designed for rehabilitation? How would we keep her brain from leaking out between her ears?

When I led her down to meet the vet and she hopped over the leg, three-legged lame, he said, "Why, how did you even tell she was lame?" It was that comment that broke my anxiety a bit, and when he  pulled the shoe to dig the hoof out, he found a pretty hefty abscess.

Jeez! All that panic for something that will resolve as the abscess drains and she heals up.

Monday, October 3, 2016

One of my favorite parts

I taught a lesson yesterday to a pretty darn adorable kid - sweet, talkative, willing to take instruction. She was quite small and it was her first time on a horse, so I kept Chente on the lead and just walked around with him while we talked about where to put your foot on the stirrup, did some stretching, and talked about favorite ice creams (hers was chocolate).

And then, near the end, I asked if she wanted to trot a bit. She nodded and I urged Chente up to a trot while I held the girl's leg.

It started as a muffled giggle but erupted into belly laughs within a few strides. Her face was radiant, and the laughter so contagious I found myself giggling while jogging along.

And that's how, out of breath from running and laughing, I welcomed the girl into the world of loving horses.