Monday, January 29, 2018

Cause and Effect

Megan and I attended a Mary Wanless Workshop this weekend, and I was invited to be a demo rider with Moxie. It was an UNBELIEVABLE weekend and I'm not sure I'll ever be the same.

I met trainers who have balanced horses and real life in a way that was super commendable, I got to interview a few FEI trainers on their progression to Grand Prix (all the while embracing that they're still working on things too! You'll never just arrive!), make some friends, and let's not forget the mind-blowing experience of getting three days of lessons with one of my all-time biggest heroes, Mary Wanless.

Did you know that she has a degree in physics?!

Megan wrote about the structure of the clinic, which I think is an important background before you think about any of these concepts. 

Today we're talking about something very important that underlies the RWYM philosophy.

You've got a goal: to develop your horse as close to 10's in your dressage tests as this horse is capable of.

The question is getting the horse from his current state over to that ideal-horse state.

We refer to this arrow as the 2nd toolkit, or what to do, also known as declarative knowledge.

Then we introduce the rider and the first toolkit, which centers around teaching the rider HOW to ride, how to fix their imbalances, how to get tone in the right places in their body. This is called procedural knowledge. 
Declarative knowledge involves knowing THAT something is the case - that J is the tenth letter of the alphabet, that Paris is the capital of France. Declarative knowledge is conscious; it can often be verbalized.  Metalinguistic knowledge, or knowledge about a linguistic form, is declarative knowledge. 
Procedural knowledge involves knowing HOW to do something - ride a bike, for example. We may not be able to explain how we do it.  Procedural knowledge involves implicit learning, which a learner may not be aware of, and may involve being able to use a particular form to understand or produce language without necessarily being able to explain it. - Source

Eventually, we come to the conclusion that we can view as the rider as the cause and the horse as effect - for a small proof of concept, consider how much better your horse goes underneath a really talented rider. That rider's control over his own body and fascial net cause a very different effect on the horse than your control and your fascial net. 

I've filled in some examples of words that might fall into the 1st and 2nd toolkits, and if they don't all make sense to you, that's alright: they probably shouldn't. A big part of the 1st toolkit is creating feelages within the rider's body and then attaching specific words to those feelings, to allow for a clear coach-rider interaction. 

Then we add in one more piece called the zero toolkit. This toolkit is dominated by a thorough understanding of operant conditioning. Does the horse know how to learn, and does the rider know how to train? Many pieces of groundwork fall into the zero toolkit, and I think that the basics of clicker training add to this toolkit and make it a really powerful baseline. 

If we have a horse that throws his shoulders left and jack-knifes while tracking right, we can move through the toolkits to explore solving the problem. Zero toolkit: does the horse understand the rein aids? Are we absolutely sure he knows what pressure on the reins means? First toolkit: is the rider shifting her weight in a way that encourages the horse to collapse to the inside? Is the rider transmitting force correctly? Is the rider taking the horse, or is the horse taking the rider? Second toolkit: practice riding square turns, spiraling circles, and leg yielding into the left rein in order to get the horse more appropriately connected to the rein. 

Mary had a great way of describing this. Sometimes there are trainers who are just really blessed in one toolkit or another, and they don't think much about the existence of the other toolkits. So it's as if these three trainers are in a pitch black room, touching one part of an elephant. The zero toolkit is touching the elephant's ear and trying to explain it, while the first toolkit examines his trunk, and the second toolkit has his leg. Without an ability to see the elephant in its entirety, each trainer might think the other is stark raving mad.

When we put it all together, we have a much more convincing roadmap forward toward our ideal horse than if we only focus on the exercises we need to be able to accomplish to make it through a test, or if we focus on position to the exclusion of all else, or if we feel we have to perfect our groundwork before ever riding.

Coming in future posts, explore what it was like to take a lesson from 30 trainers at once, learn more about fascial nets and what to do about soggy lines, the emotional impact of abandoning what's comfortable, and even more. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

An Antifragile Connection

Fragile objects are harmed by chaos. Example: a glass breaks when dropped on the ground. Or, a sensitive horse loses his mind when his threshold is crossed.

Robust objects are not impacted by chaos. Example: a nalgene water bottle does not change when dropped on the ground. Or, a solid lesson horse continues trotting along on the lunge, unfazed by his flapping child.

Antifragile objects are made stronger through chaos. Example: the human body rebuilds itself stronger after exercise. Or, the connection I'm considering in this blog post.

The rain has made for some really lovely photos that are not at all horse-related...

Has your horse ever offered you a few strides of the most amazing, connected, powerful trot? And you relax, thinking "finally!" Maybe you have the sort of horse that took your relaxation as reinforcement for the behavior and you got more of that amazing trot, and maybe you don't have that sort of horse.

I've watched my students experience those moments countless times. The warm-up led to a happy, supple horse, and the student and horse seem to be in the right mood to really come out to play. The horse brings his back up and powers across the ground, showing himself off. And then it all crumbles -- maybe a leaf moved or the rider sat down too heavily or the rider accidentally bopped her leg against his side or maybe the horse got tired.

I bet you've done it too, held your breath while you hoped it could go on forever.

... as highlighted by Justin the Slug. He has 27,000 teeth.

I know I have. Those moments are the epitome of a fragile connection. I also know that in the last year, I've learned to seek an antifragile connection, primarily through how I've thought about it.

An antifragile connection is one where you can place your inside calf against his ribs and he steps more deeply into the connection, where when the cat jumps out of the tree he brings his back up rather than runs away, one where you can feel his balance change and correct it before he even thinks to come off the bit.

For me, I've learned that the connection needs to be able to tolerate a bit of chaos, that the connection isn't really working until it gets deeper through a few moving pieces.

It's not just about "on-the-bit", either, this antifragile connection. When we go to horse shows and subject our horses to the chaos of warm-up arenas, spectators, our well-meaning but overzealous friends, our own uncertainty, all those elements are bits of chaos that we're earnestly introducing to our horses. I have found that approaching those moments with a sense of, "this chaos strengthens us", rather than imagining that we have to endure until our horse finally adapts or submits to what's happening around him makes me enjoy it more.

I'm talking about these experiences differently with my students as well. No longer is the stormy, windy day one to hold our breath through, it's one to wake up to and celebrate the opportunity to practice our antifragile connection. Am I able to hold enough things constant (my position, my mental attitude, my expectations) that the chaos of the world around us makes our connection better?

If not, why?

This curiosity meets a bit of eagerness to create calmer horses. I expect you (and me) to get stronger through chaos, so let's meet it with introspection.

Have you ever experienced an antifragile connection with your horse? If so, how would you describe it?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Loss of momentum

I haven't posted on Instagram in nearly a year - some of my students consider this egregious. It's been almost six months since I posted here.

I don't know about you, but I know that there's a bit of momentum that has to be built up, that once you're rolling it's easier to keep going. There's so much to say here, and what of it to write? Moxie and I rode five first level dressage tests together, progressing from an impressive 59% at a schooling show to a 67% at a rated show. There were a great many lessons learned there.

Freddie went from his very first jumps to competing at Novice in 2017. It was a big year for him, too.

I got the opportunity to compete with one of my student's horses, which perhaps was the most surprising event of the year. I came 4th in a large and competitive field on a horse I'd never jumped cross country with before (oops). It helped that the mare is a total professional in the ring.

I forged new friendships with bloggers, took lessons from eight different trainers, attended World Cup in Omaha, read about seventy books, joined a gym, stopped going to the gym, dedicated myself solely to horse training, doubled my clientele, showed in new venues, euthanized a horse, bought another horse, borrowed/acquired three others, rehabbed Kat, expanded to a second barn, helped purchase four horses....

It was a huge year. And I love looking back over my writing in 2015 & 2016 as an archive of my memories. You'll forgive me if I don't hold myself to it, but I would like to more actively share on the blog this year.

Welcome to 2018 :)