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. 


  1. I like post this a lot. My right and left brains are often my right and wrong brains; they don't communicate well.

  2. i need a trainer who can try to find different words when what they are saying is clearly not getting through to me. getting yelled at again and again with the same word over and over and just getting louder.... is not effective. being able to communicate the same concepts in different ways is one of the hallmarks of good teaching imo!

    1. YES this so much YES it's so obvious and important I'm shocked I forgot to include it.

      Thank you for the thoughtful addition, I'm debating going back and editing the post -

      regardless, a related anecdote:

      I went to a boarding school that had a bunch of kids from Korea and China - they did not come to us with a good grasp of English. You could watch their new friends ask them a question, and when the non-English speaker shrugged, the new friend would repeat it, but louder. And again. Until eventually, the foreign student would feign understanding to prevent themselves from getting shouted at.

      It's the same thing, really.

  3. I am a professional skibbler. :P It's totally true though, some words mean totally different things to different people. I find with horses I am more of visual learner than in other areas, so it's extra handy when my coach is on a horse to show me what she means.

    1. That's so awesome that you know that about yourself. Do you ever ask for extra 'showing', as it were, to make sure you're understanding?

  4. You could have said jibberish to me and I would have been like "don't care need foods" lol but great topic to write about!

  5. Interesting analogy. Schooling at RDLA looks fun. Are you going to the November show there?

    1. Not this time around, I've got this fun clinician coming to my place instead

  6. Really good point - your definition may differ from your trainer's and it's important to get on the same page

  7. This is a really good point! Each person learns a little differently, and a good instructor can adapt to explain things a little differently when something doesn't make sense. I think this complication is also a great reason to ride with other people from time to time. They might be able to explain something that just wasn't clicking for you!

    1. That's partially why I try to ride with different people, though there's something to be said for knowing and trusting a program

  8. Really great post and it definitely is something I'm realizing as I take lessons with sooooo many people.