So positive 2019 is going well. PMA and Power-posing (yes really!) has seen me throw myself into clinics without the usual semi-apologetic “Amber is a good horse with a numpty rider” introduction and the preparing to fail “we aren’t very good at steering” excuses. Instead I act as if I believe I belong on her. The difference is striking and suddenly we have gone up significantly in terms of size and technicality of the lines we are jumping.
I was buzzing the first few times out – ecstatic at what we were achieving. But recent clinics and a BE training day left me feeling surprisingly deflated and frustrated and I could not work out why. Until it occurred to me that pretending to be a confident and positive rider helps to a degree but does not actually make me more skillful that I truly am!
We were jumping angles, a ski-jump to a weird mushroom thing, a skinny out of the water, trebles on a curve, a skinny to a corner etc etc. We had a couple of stops as Amber was confused about the questions being asked. Seeing and maintaining a line through a set of spooky obstacles was just a step too far to get right at the first attempt on every line. Amber, bless her, jumped her heart out and we did the whole course/ the various lines without mishap in the end. So really it was a great learning experience for both of us. But I am riding at the absolute limit of my ability so I am making mistakes which is proving to be mentally testing. Those ‘I am letting my horse down’ feelings are back.
A year ago or so ago I wrote that I felt I was 6-8 weeks away from it ‘all coming together’. Then this month at a clinic at Somerford my instructor said ‘you really aren’t far away from it clicking and coming together.’
Wait, what? I am STILL 6-8 weeks away….. but I have improved a lot since then. So what does ‘it all coming together’ even mean?
Well I guess it means that the specific thing I am struggling with right now will ‘come together’ so something that is currently in the Learning Zone near or on the edge of my ability will slip into the Comfort Zone. But then something new will be a struggle. So as long as I am trying to improve I will always be in that frustrating place of struggle, mistakes, and crises of confidence. The Learning Zone is an uncomfortable place to be!
Thinking back to a year ago, I was trying to steer Amber around a simple course of jumps in some degree of control – struggling with her running on or breaking to trot. Now I am struggling with finding technical lines and holding her on them over spooky fences! A year ago I was trying to get Amber to canter on the right leg and move in a vaguely straight line. Today we are working on her being consistently engaged, relaxed and rhythmical. Those are not the same places.
So yes I needed to get better at being positive but I also need to recognise that confidence does not mean not making mistakes anymore. Quite the contrary – I need confidence to ride at a level where I will make mistakes. To strive to always be in that scary and frustrating Learning Zone, working on what I find hardest. And once I have mastered that, to move onto the next challenge. And the next and the next. Because I guess if it feels easy then I am just not challenging myself enough!
What I need to let go of is the impatience and the frustration about how long it is taking to truly improve. I can only be as good as I am so that just has to be ‘good enough’.