The road to success does not run smooth. Nor, for that matter, does the road to basic competence. Or even the road to just-about-scraping-average mediocrity!
I have been riding Amber consistently since April. Before that her history is totally unknown but it is clear she was a) very green and b) had some physical issues to deal with. At her first physio assessment the physio told me Amber had no idea where her back legs were in space. The physio could manipulate one foot so it was treading on the other then ask her to move and she would almost trip over as she did know her feet had been moved. When she backed up she moon-walked. Her left hind limb just went random places while ridden which was somewhat disconcerting. There is a basic disconnect between her brain and her back end so her preference is to do all the work with the front while letting the back drag behind in her wake.
We have worked really hard on this both under saddle and on the ground and this has improved dramatically but she is still far from even and the physio says her glutes still feel like they belong to a different horse. She believes it is a neurological issue not a physical one – so we need to establish and then strengthen the brain pathways that link front and back and this will just take time. With a load of funky exercises along the way like ‘proprioceptive chains’ – basically ankle bracelets with little charms to stimulate neural networks. Amber the funky fashion queen!
But apart from that, Amber actually shows fantastic movement. She is a very powerful, big moving horse. Which causes another issue – my lack of skills as a rider. Because I find her power hard to ride. She is far more horse than I am used to. I have had lessons or clinics with a few different people and they all seem to have their own vocabulary: onward bound, a little wild, exuberant, doesn’t know how to contain her own power, need to work on rideability etc etc. Or in one xc trainers case: Ride her at bigger obstacles. That’ll slow her down! (It didn’t).
But all the trainers have also seen her potential and each in turn – going back as far as June – has told me that I’m ‘not far away’ from it all ‘coming together’. My rare forays into dressage have resulted in test sheets that mix 7.5s with 1s. Comments are always ‘lots to like… plenty of potential… BUT………………………
That elusive ‘all coming together’ when she allows me to ride her and uses herself correctly consistently has always felt about 6-8 weeks away. In July I tentatively targeted some dressage comps in September. After bombing in September, I was looking at November. But I am still not ready to go out and ride a prelim at small local show for anything other than exposure/experience.
I have been getting quite frustrated with myself and with Amber. Until this week I came across an article about a book by Matthew Syed called Black Box Thinking.
They key message is that failure is crucial to success. So failure needs to be embraced. A 1 in a dressage test is valuable information. A recent lesson in which Amber comprehensively lost it and galloped round the arena 4 times before I could pull her up was also valuable information. It wasn’t a disastrous lesson but a highly useful one. I learned she wasn’t ready for canter poles for one thing! More to the point I learned that she can’t – just physically CAN’T shorten her canter stride without breaking to trot. She hasn’t the strength to sit on her hocks. So short striding canter poles were simply impossible and trying to do them blew her mind. Well that gave me plenty of opportunity to break things down for her. To take a few steps back and to go work on limiting factors. Each ‘failure’ just signposts the next place you need to work on in training. Failures are our greatest teachers -Unless we just get disheartened and go back to doing stuff that is easier because we feel more comfortable and confident that way. The ‘comfort zone’ may feel good but you don’t learn much there. The learning zone is outside the comfort zone and is a frustrating, confidence sapping, uncomfortable place to be. But it is the place you need to be to get anywhere.
I still feel 6-8 weeks away from a reasonable dressage test. And maybe I’ll still be 6-8 weeks away in 6-8 weeks. Who knows. But hey ho – We will be ready when we are ready. And all the frustrating ‘failures’ along the way will hopefully just mean we are a better, more solid partnership when we eventually get there.