It looks likes it’s going to be another blogging year.  My first attempt at blogging brought many unexpected results and events.  Some of the changes brought about feelings of pride and a sense of self-worth.  Other changes, while still enlightening,  forced reflection on aspects of dressage, or organized horse-sport in general,  that I had never before contemplated.  While I feel overloaded with ideas to blog about, my less naive side now worries that every story will read as either self-aggrandizing, cynical or sales pitchy.  When these feelings start making me avoid the vulnerability of writing this blog my new inspiration is to go back to the relationship between the rider and the horse, a relationship without angles or agendas.  Following is a letter from a student that I received about a year ago.  When the distractions of competition, politics and profits get me down, letters like this one, and others from students past bring me back to that concept of what “success” in the “horse industry” means to me.

This is published with permission from the author.  Thanks Jess, your unabashed sincerity humbles me.

“I hate writing, I love to have written.”  Dorothy Parker

Writing this blog, originally a writing exercise imposed upon me by my roommate, an avid birder that blogs daily at thebirdhousechick.com, has brought about many unexpected benefits and pleasures to my life.  While it sometimes seems like a chore to sit down and torture myself with self-doubt and criticism just to get three paragraphs completed, once it is finished I feel a sense of relief and am usually inspired for my next topic.

In addition to the cathartic experience of sharing issues that are dear to me I have met so many other bloggers, and many other riders that stumble across the writings and share their comments and insights. Some of them are professional trainers and many of them amateur riders that are passionate about their journey with riding.  Without the global reach of the world-wide web I would never have met these kindred souls that share my love of dressage or horses in general.  The comments and e-mail I receive as a result of my small blog have inspired me and made me feel part of a community in which I have never felt included.

It was a great surprise and admittedly a source of confusion when I received an e-mail from Frances Keller, an organizer from the historic and distinguished Dressage at Devon horse show.  The correspondence was an invitation to attend Devon as an “expert commentator” for the Prix St. George class held in the famous “Dixon Oval”.  My first response was that the e-mail must have been sent to me inadvertently so I replied to Ms. Keller to inquire why I had been included in the group of experts that featured top judges and top competitors from across the United States.  It seems she came across my website and blog while looking for Scott Peterson, a great trainer I have listed on my resume’.  After reading the site Ms. Keller invited me to be a commentator as she felt that some of the listeners may relate to my point of view as a contrast to the great judges they have scheduled to speak.  I am very humbled by the invitation and hope that her instincts prove correct.

Although I am nervous about the prospect of speaking to such a large audience without the time to edit and rewrite that I am afforded by writing a blog,  I am more afraid of “flinching out” on an opportunity to be included in such an esteemed panel at such a dignified event.  So Thursday I board the plane to face my fears and hopefully offer a perspective that remains true to myself and resounds with others.

If any of my fellow blogging friends, or others that follow the blog are going to be in attendance at Devon please let me know so we can finally meet.  I consider you all part of my journey and wouldn’t be included if it weren’t for your kind words and inspiration.

Check out the page of “experts” here.

Moving past Perfect…

January 5, 2011

Lynn and Luna enjoy a ride by the Lake

I could write about….no, that’s stupid. Oh, I could explain how……no, everybody knows that already. Oh, I know, I could write…..no, that idea sucks. That has been my inner dialogue every time I sit down to blog for the past six months. I wish I could blame my absence on the weather or my busy schedule, but why lie? I have fallen victim to the same enemy of progress that I try to discourage my clients from entertaining, perfectionism.

Don’t get me wrong, anyone who knows me knows I’m far from perfect! When it comes to writing, whether it’s a college paper or my little blog I become paralyzed with fear that my work will not measure up. I see this same self-destructive behavior become problematic in many of my client’s riding. For fear of not doing an exercise properly the first time, they never attempt it at all.

En route to lessons this same self-doubt creeps up on me if I let it. What if I can’t live up to my client’s expectations? What if my instruction falls flat or fails to inspire? Perhaps somebody else could explain things more creatively or clearly. This almost always alleviates itself as soon as the lesson begins and the dialogue between instructor, horse and rider begins to flow, The details work themselves out and it becomes clear that it is not the over complicated, esoteric explanations or the grandiosity of the upper level movements that make a good lesson. It’s the quiet, subtle exchanges that occur only between the rider and the horse that matter.

As frequently happens when self-doubt becomes overwhelming to me my students unknowingly become my teachers. Last week while driving to teach a dedicated adult amateur rider I found myself fretting about what I would present as a lesson. We have been chipping away at the lateral exercises and because she is so dedicated to her riding and her horse I desperately wanted to help her feel confident and confirmed in her lateral work, exercises that are complex in nature and require a patient communication between the horse and rider.

I arrived at the barn after spending the drive over mentally preparing for my lesson with Lynn. I was determined to dazzle her with lofty explanations of the communication needed for her to properly execute jaw dropping shoulder-in and breathtaking renvers. My perfectionism was in overdrive and my anxiety about presenting the perfect lesson was building. When I determinedly walked into the barn I noticed that Lynn was wearing a radiant smile. She explained that for the first time ever her sometimes aloof mare, Luna, had cantered up to greet her in the pasture. Her excitement from that one interaction from her horse was nearly palpable. My anxieties melted away as I realized that riding, like life, is defined by the small things. Sure, great lateral work is nice to have but no lofty speech or complicated footwork can offer the undefinable joy experienced during the quiet moments understood only between the horse and rider.

With luck my writing self can learn something from my riding self. Tell the perfectionism to back off and just keep writing. Every ride isn’t perfect and every blog post won’t be awe-inspiring, but hopefully, if I keep moving towards the big things the small things will make it all worthwhile.

2010 in review

January 3, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2010. That’s about 24 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 47 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 50 posts. There were 95 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 133mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 31st with 150 views. The most popular post that day was Sweep your Cares Away…..

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, suzannekingdressage.com, equineink.com, blogger.com, and iamthesprinklerbandit.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for dressage blog, dressage blogs, lisa wilcox, ron smeets, and lisa wilcox dressage.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Sweep your Cares Away…. January 2010
8 comments

2

About me December 2009

3

Say What? May 2010
21 comments

4

Keep the helmet, ditch the Tux… March 2010
16 comments

5

Meet Mr. Smeets…. March 2010
6 comments

Say What?

May 20, 2010

Scott Peterson communicates with his horse before the show!

One of the challenges in teaching dressage lies in formulating analogies and phrases to evoke the proper “feeling” between the horse and rider.  On the technical side this includes teaching the mechanics of the movements, the relationship of the aids between the rider and horse,  and the systematic use of the training scale.  More imagination is required on the abstract side, as one must describe  feelings.  Elasticity, forwardness, throughness and many other dressage terms have either different definitions in the real world, or no  application whatsoever.

Many times word selection is pivotal in eliciting the right response from the rider, both physically and emotionally.  This obsession with word choice causes some clients annoyance as I use their questions and interpretations of their rides as indicators of their understanding of the training concepts and of their relationship with the horse.  An example that comes readily to mind is the common malady, “he keeps throwing his head up!”  Although visually this is true, the rider’s choice to focus on the horse’s head leads me to conclude that the rider does not understand that the horse’s head is not the problem, the problem is losing engagement and dropping the back, the head tossing is merely a symptom of this problem.  When focusing on the horse’s head position the rider will usually correct the head tossing with the reins.  This correction is temporary however, as the problem itself has been left unaddressed.  By asking the rider to think and speak in terms of the horse’s back, as opposed the head, it increases the likelihood that he will take the steps necessary to correct the source of the problem, and not patch it up for a few strides with force. 

“He keeps drifting out!”  Another clue to a misunderstanding.  If the horse is drifting, breaking stride, speeding up, slowing down or any other deviance from the rider’s intent it is not “his” fault.  If he is doing it, it is likely that the rider is inadvertently asking him to do it.  Pointing out this word choice problem is not one of my more popular speeches.  It almost always merits an exasperated sigh and “you know what I mean”.  The problem here is that, yes, I know the rider is trying to convey the nature of the error, however the words selected indicate that the rider believes the horse is responsible for the failure of the exercise.  The same observation worded “I’m doing something that keeps allowing him to break or asking him to break” is more indicative that the rider is taking responsibility for the error, thus making correcting it a possibility. 

A client of mine, a young rider that rehabilitates traumatized horses, used to describe resistance by the horse as “fighting”.  Although I know that she is not using the word literally, or in any way being unkind to the horse, I stop her explanation every time the word fighting is included.  It is important to me, as the trainer, that the relationship between the rider and the horse is one of teaching and understanding.  If the rider feels that the horse is malevolent as opposed to confused then the course of action will be disciplinary instead of instructive.  The word fighting indicates a combative stance with the horse that is not helpful in the training process.  It is the responsibility of the instructor to ascertain the rider’s understanding of the training relationship.  To assume an understanding, in spite of terminology to the contrary, can be a mistake the horse must pay for.

After each lesson use your own words to convey your understanding of the concepts addressed by your trainer.  Your explanation may illuminate misunderstandings that  prevent you from being  the partner your horse deserves.

It’s no coincidence, the spring weather appeared and the blog posts disappeared!  Break’s over now and I’m back with enthusiasm!  Much of my enthusiasm has been influenced by two, yes two! awards bestowed upon me by my blogging friend, Bree Nicole at Cavalli Connections.  I couldn’t be more pleased with my awards, The Beautiful Blogger award, and The Classical Riding Awareness Award, an honor that Bree will be granting to one blogger every few months that she feels demonstrates compassion for horses, a thirst for equine kowledge and dedication to the classical principles of training and riding.  I hope I can live up to these admirable standards.  I certainly aspire to.

When I began Tango Dressage Blog in December ’09 I’m not sure I even knew what a blog was.  It seemed like a good way to overcome anxieties about writing, a problem I have sufferred from since childhood.  I didn’t realize that I would grow to enjoy the process and the people associated with it.   I have come to believe that the blog format will bring about a sense of honesty and sincerity in journalism.  The blogs I enjoy are not only as informative and well written as any magazine articles I read, they are generally less wordy, and less biased by advertisers (since there usually are none!).

If you haven’t already, please check out Bree’s blog, Cavalli Connections and the others I have listed on the right margin of this page under Blogroll.  They are all excellent blogs written by people that are so passionate about horses they are willing to put the evidence up for the world to read.  You may even want to start one of your own.  As a condition of my Beautiful Blogger award I must pick some beautiful blogs to bestow the award upon.  I don’t think this will be a problem, there are so many I have grown to love.  There will be a post listing them shortly.

Before I sign off to rest up for the horse show tomorrow I want to thank Bree once again for her kind words and thoughtful consideration.  I greatly admire her writing and passion for horses and consider her recognition of my blog a real honor.

Check in tomorrow for some horse show blogging!

On occasion I receive calls from prospective  schools or employers wishing to verify the integrity of  a current or previous student that has me listed as a personal reference.  These calls are usually unremarkable, a few sentences verifying how long I’ve known the applicant and a couple of obligatory questions regarding their work ethic.  Earlier this week I received one of these reference check calls regarding a student I have known for ten years, Lindsay Hildebrandt.  The business owner calling me was Linda Miller from Elkhorn Ranch in Montana.   Ms Miller’s warm sense of humor and sincere desire to hire the right person for her ranch made this call anything but unremarkable.

I have never been to Elkhorn Ranch but have many times thought I would like to take a summer off from teaching and spend it as a guide, or wrangler, taking people out on horseback treks through mountain passes, and enjoying horses without the pressures of daily commutes or the underlying intensity of competition training.  Unfortunately, however, Ms. Miller didn’t call to ask me out to Montana to be a wrangler for the summer, but instead to find out if I thought Lindsay Hildebrandt might be right for the job.  “You would be crazy not to hire her”, was my initial reaction, and I stand by it still.

Elkhorn Ranch, Montana

I assured Linda that Lindsay was nothing if not determined and hard-working.  Anyone that has ever met Lindsay’s horse, Prophet, can testify to that.  As charming and talented as Prophet is, I have never met a more challenging or difficult horse to train and Lindsay has persevered on him through the years, training him as a showjumper.  I’m sure there won’t be any horses at Elkhorn like Prophet, but if Linda needs any help with training horses for the trails, she’s getting her money’s worth with Lindsay. 

A talented artist, Lindsay has designed logos for me, given me drawings and paintings that I cherish and created a beautiful wire sculpture of my horse, Wango Tango.  Before the advent of blogs I recruited Lindsay and her best friend Amber to write and illustrate my first newsletter, Hot2Trot.  It was a lot of work for the kids but they did a great job!   If Linda is as sneaky as I am, Elkhorn may have some new signs and artwork before the summer is up!

Wire Sculpture of Wango Tango

I could go on and on about traits that make Lindsay a great candidate for Elkhorn Ranch but I’d rather let Lindsay update us herself.  She’s leaving in June and staying for the summer.  I have a great feeling about Linda, she seems like a genuine person that cares about her guests, her horses and her staff.  One day Nickel (Wango Tango) and I hope to make it out to Montana to meet her and her horses. 

Lindsay, good luck at your job and have a great time.  You have been promoted from Hot2Trot illustrator to blogospondent for Tango Dressage!  Send us updates and photos from your trip and put in a good word for me, I’ll be a wrangler one day soon!

Click here to visit Elkhorn Ranch Homepage

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