Thursday, May 31, 2012

TIR - Take every learning opportunity

Alright so let's go with day two on the traits of *improving riders blog :)   And no, I'm sorry, this is definitely *not* going to be an every day thing!  hahaha tomorrow and Saturday I already know are fully booked.   Only getting this post because my wonderful working student Amy is doing the barn for me in the am so I don't have to be there till 10 :)   And there are only so many traits on my list (although I admit it grows at weird times - like 3am when I'm supposed to be asleep :)

*edited after fb post because I realized as I posted it that this series isn't even really so much traits of GOOD riders as traits of IMPROVING riders. I know lots of excellent riders who are completely stalled in their progress. And lots of more novice riders who improve noticeably every week. This is targeting those who wish to *improve*.

Today we're going with "take every learning opportunity" -- now you'd think this'd be a given, but you'd be amazed at how many people turn down chances to learn.

Again - there's a huge number (arguably the vast majority) of riders who are in it because it's fun and they love the animals and that's the end of it.  Maybe it's stress relief, maybe it's just the best part of your day :)   But whatever the reason, while you'd like to improve it's not necessarily the be-all and end-all of your barn experience.   And that's totally fine.  This post is not directed at you :)

But if *improving* your riding is your primary goal, take every chance you get!   For instance -- if I'm at the barn or riding around and one of my students is riding in the same area, I'll often offer them a mini-lesson.  And I pretty much always remember to ask if they actually *want* one :)   And given that I tend to attract competitive, high-motivated types the vast majority will take me up on it.  But there are several who will say no.  This used to happen often at other schools.  And that's totally cool -- I'm not offended or concerned if they'd rather work on their own or even just not work at all (see yesterday's post :) BUT I have noticed a direct correlation between those people and the ones who are likely to sit at the same level indefinitely.

And of course the follow up on that -- go to any clinics you can.  I'm always puzzled by students who tell me how important improving their riding is who don't sign up for clinics offered at home.  There is something to be learned from everybody!   Now that being said -- to my own students there are some clinicians I would recommend more highly than others, and some I might deem inappropriate based on current abilities of either the rider or the horse.  But for the most part, if somebody who knows their job is willing to teach it to you -- go learn it :)

Another opportunity I see skipped way too often -- observation.  If you're not *riding* in a clinic, why not go watch it?  Most clinics you can audit for a reasonable fee and sometimes learn as much (if different points) as the riders!   Or on a day-to-day at home basis - if you're in a group lesson and waiting your turn for something, actively watch the others go.   Don't just sit there daydreaming or thinking about what you're doing tomorrow (side note - for those with extreme nerves who sit there panicking about your upcoming turn, go FIRST; then you don't have time to stress AND you can learn from watching others after because you're not busy stressing!)   And notice I said "actively watch" the other riders.  As in not just "oh look there goes Suzy..."  But from every ride you watch pick one thing you want to steal (ie that they did beautifully) and be aware of one thing that has room for improvement.   Getting each of those out of one ride can sometimes be more of a challenge than you'd think :)  hahaha  And the more specific you are, the more valuable it'll be.  Ie - "the way she kept her leg glued in exactly the right position over the fence" is significantly more useful than "she had nice eq".  One you can mimic, the other has so many pieces it's hard to translate to your own body.  And it doesn't have to be all rider position "that was the perfect place to turn" is totally useful and valid -- it's why going last on a course makes it significantly easier; everybody else has made the mistakes for you!   Learn from them :)   Then before your turn, visualize all the things you're going to steal from the rides you've already seen and go do it. That way you get two, or three, or four lessons for the price of one.

Look at your photos and videos.   Enjoy them.  Be proud of how far you've come.  And then consider them critically -- what's the next thing you're going to fix?   And again - pick one specific thing.  "It's all horrible" is not constructive.  "I need to release more" gives you something specific to work on.  If you're not sure how to fix it, ask.  If you're not sure what to fix, ask :)   You may find the answer is something you've heard in your lessons a zillion times but never really made the connection to.

There are all sorts of ways to learn that don't involve actually riding.  Be a barn rat -- muck a zillion stalls, wrap thousands of legs, treat minor injuries, deal with high horses on a windy day -- all the behind the scenes work will make you a far better horsewoman (or man :).  And if you can read your horse better on the ground, you'll have a much better chance in the saddle.   Go to shows - any level, any discipline.  Particularly good if it's a discipline that's NOT your style of choice so long as you go with an open mind.   I try to hit Palgrave h/j and dr shows at least once/year even if I'm not showing.  And here's a hint -- if you really want to learn, lurk the w/u rings.   Remember that auditing idea?   Free auditing from a dozen different coaches right there.  And again, watch actively.  Consider what they're telling their students.  What do they focus on?  Why?  Do you agree?  Why?  Why not?   You can learn watching the competitors in the ring as well -- what makes one ride more successful than another?  Why would one rider choose one line while another chooses a different one?  But personally I prefer to lurk the warmups :)   Another way is to volunteer at the horse shows -- our competitors can always use extra hands and jump judges are needed at *every* horse trial.   Great way to learn -- watch an entire division jump the same fence.  Who does it well?  Who makes it look scary?  What was the difference between the two rides?    And lastly, read.  I have both Practical Horseman and Equus available at the barn -- open one of them :)   PH for riding, Equus for horsemanship.   Do I agree with everything that's published?  No, of course not.  But the thing is -- I know enough to know I disagree and why.   Do you?  If not - start educating yourself.

There are so many ways you can learn above and beyond your weekly lesson.   Try them out!  And if you have questions, ask :)


TIR - If you aren't dying, keep riding

A series I started on the Graduate Riding School page that I thought fit under the "riding theory" so will be included here. It investigates Traits of Improving Riders -- what makes some riders improve faster than others?

One of the amazing trainers I had the honour of training under a few years ago has recently published a book titled "How Good Riders Get Good" which discusses his views on how the external factors and choices beyond sheer riding ability make the difference between an average rider and a good one.

While his book focuses on the elite of the elite, I've noticed many of the same trends in my riders who are mostly either just starting out on their competitive careers or coming back to riding after some time off.   And over the last six months or so, some of them (Chelsea, Emily - till she moved way far away BOO -, Amy, Brena, Rowan, Kennedy...   To name a few :) have totally skyrocketed in their abilities.  The before and after is SO gratifying to see.  What interests me is what makes some riders progress so much more consistently than others.  One of the obvious factors is time - all of these riders ride at least twice/week, some as many as four or five times.  But lots of riders do that, and they don't all increase at that rate (although given the size of my school - I'm pretty happy with the percentage that do!  ;-)

So I thought I'd take a few blog posts over the next couple weeks to examine the traits that I feel make the difference in these riders.  I know which daemons I fight the most -- and I suspect most of the reriders have a more extreme version of some of the same issues *g*.   But the first step to improving is acknowledging the problem!  So have fun, consider carefully, and - as always, comments very welcome :)

For today's post, the concept is so very simple -- if you want to ride well, RIDE.   Every chance you get.  On any horse that's safe for your abilities; whether you like them or not :)    I was teaching a dressage lesson the other day and the rider was working *really* hard.  So I asked if she was dying (aka did she need a break).  "No, I'm ok."  And my immediate response: "well then, keep riding."  Which got a laugh out of her and then made me think a bit because I wasn't entirely joking.  She's one of my more determined students, so I can say things like that to her, but the idea is totally valid.  If you want to improve, you have to push past your comfort zone -- which means keep going even when it's hard.

And I'll tell you -- as one looking after a barn full of horses, 9 of which are mine -- some days it IS hard.   There are *often* days that I'm too tired or too busy to ride and it's brutal.  But almost always I drag myself into the saddle anyways.   And about %80 of the time I feel better afterwards than I did before.  I'll admit that mid-winter I get slightly less dedicated and will occasionally offer my horse to students to ride instead (and being well-trained and very determined themselves will *always* take the extra ride :) but that goes away pretty fast when show season rolls along.   hahaha Currently my horse is being ridden 6 days/week.  And she's being *ridden* -- not just sat on.  So if it has to be a short ride, that's ok -- because half an hour where Every. Step. Counts.  is always going to be far more effective than a two-hour stroll around the ring.

Now don't get me wrong - if you are *actually* sick or injured - then maybe you need a break.  Riding with one leg in a cast is not going to help anything!  But tired or sore or nqr -- maybe, just maybe, riding will help :)   I usually find it does.

And if it's too cold to ride.  Or too wet.  Or too windy (yes I've heard that!  More on creative excuses in another post :).  Or you're too tired.  Or too busy.  Then that's totally fine.  But realize that it makes you a fair-weather rider, and I've yet to ever hear of that designation being applied to one of the best.   If riding is a fun hobby to do when the world is good, that's totally kewl - and there is a LARGE group of people to whom this applies.  Love it.  Have fun.  The end.   But these are not the people these posts target.

And for those still reading - it's that simple.  If you want to ride, ride.   If you're determined enough, you can make it happen.   Make friends and carpool if you don't have a car.  There are lots of ways to earn extra rides if you lack the finances (my situation forever!)  Don't turn down any offer just because the horse isn't your favourite to ride -- every horse has something to teach every rider; if you're not learning from him, you're not listening to what he's teaching.  Any chance you get, ride.