Over the past few weeks of classical dressage schooling at La Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre, I feel as if I have become polished through fire. My instructors are extremely strict and have absolutely no tolerance for sloppiness or mistakes. There are many movements which I did not know how to do when I got here, and I was expected to get it done when I was told. There was never a “these are the aids and let’s go through it step by step while I hold your hand” but rather a “you want to be here don’t you? So figure it out!” type of attitude. I have had to cowgirl up in many ways, and humble myself enough to be molded into the type of rider I have always dreamed of being. I have literally expended blood (blisters from my new boots rubbed the back of my calves…I am not about to stop and complain so I just kept walking and riding til my legs were bloody), sweat and tears (I am not too proud to admit I have bawled my eyes out a few times in the bathroom).
I feel a bit thicker skinned, and after the end of my second week, I feel very determined. In fact, I feel almost like I could do or learn anything, while still keeping in mind that I have so far to go!
As a little girl, I dreamed up tons of insane horsey futures. I was going to be a jockey, a grand prix rider, I would ride in the formations of the Viennese Riding School, etc. I also dreamed of being a groom (which I accomplished almost 8 years ago – to some that is a low end job, to me a childhood dream come true!) and a horse trainer and riding instructor (success!). I never in a million years thought I would be here today, but I guess I never gave up on working hard and doors began to open for me. I am a strong believer in living well and working hard, and that is not to say that everything will come easily or when you want it, but it seems to me the universe works itself out to give you what you need.
So here I am, riding with some of the top riders in the world on the best horses in the world! And I am extremely grateful, but it has also been very, very hard. I am very fortunate to have a base of support at home – my friends at home have been cheering me on, and I seek the daily support and advice of my mentor and close friend, Sherry Jarvis. Without them I don’t know if I would have made it! So after much failure and perseverance here I will reflect a bit on the keys to success.
A Few Key Elements Necessary to Achieve Our Goals:
-Sacrifice: Money, Time, Energy, Comfort.
People often make the assumption that learning will just “happen” to them if they go to a lesson or clinic, but the truth is the teacher can’t “give” you anything. Your energy is required to absorb it, and put it in practice! So not only does learning require the sacrifice or money and time, but plenty of practice. This means when it is cold out, dark out, when you are hungry or tired and waiting on your horse, you wait it out. The reward is self discipline and a feeling of achievement, which to me is a beautiful feeling! Which brings me to my next point…
-Self Discipline: Getting up early, setting a time every day to ride or study and sticking to it, riding figures accurately, striving for perfection instead of saying a ride was “good enough” (however you have to be careful of not being too demanding! Strive for perfection while maintaining a flexible attitude). Attaining physical fitness – I can’t emphasize enough that riding is a physically demanding sport, even if you just want to trail ride, you must be physically fit enough to meet the requirements of your desired discipline! It is not fair to require the horse to be fit without being fit yourself. That is not to say you have to spend hours in the gym, but I like to keep in mind that if my horse is working, so am I! My horse is my gym as well as my temple, meaning that another form of self discipline requires MENTAL fitness – I am in the moment with my horse, and no where else!
-Positive Attitude: Without it, success is virtually impossible! At the risk of sounding corny, you have to believe you can, no matter how many times you fail. If you believe you can or can’t, you will prove yourself right! Even if it takes you a million tries or a million years, you have to believe it is still possible. It really helps to have the support of friends, family, or mentors, but even without it, the power of positive thinking is real. Before attempting anything new or re-trying the same task again, I visualize myself doing it the way I hope it to be, and then go through a mental list of what it took to get there. After that, it’s go time! Breathe and be in the moment. And don’t worry about failure! The only real failure is giving up.
-An Honest Assesment of Self: Positivity is a wonderful thing, but it is necessary to have an honest idea of where you are. It is important to stay humble and malleable. You can not absorb new information if you believe you are already above that level, but it is also impossible to improve if you believe you are below a level that you truly are. I find videotaping to be a very important resource for learning, because the camera does not lie. I have had many instructors tell me to shift my weight back or to one side or another because I was crooked, and of course I did not feel crooked, until I watched a video of myself. So then I had an honest image of where I was at, and could spend my time memorizing the new “correct” feeling of alignment! Take time to humbly and honestly assess where you are in your learning now so that you can connect with the right horses and teachers for you in this moment. There is never any shame in learning, no matter what level you are at! The biggest shame is believing you already know it all.
-Persistance: If at first you don’t succeed, TRY AND TRY AGAIN. Everyone has heard this but it is so important and so true. Perfect practice makes perfect. Find a good instructor or a friend with a good eye and have them critique you or give you advice, and perservere! Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the book Outliers, says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field (An insightful read http://www.wisdomgroup.com/blog/10000-hours-of-practice/ ). (That means if you worked 8 hours a day 5 days a week, it would take almost 5 years to complete 10,000 hours! At 3 hours a week it would take roughly 10 years.)
-Thick Skin: This means having the courage to go on. As a professional, the public watches me, and especially when I was just starting out, many people were quick to judge and make comments. Not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to agree with you, and if you can be easily torn down by the comments or thoughts of others, you will definitely not succeed. I admit there have been times where I have been hurt by something someone has said to or about me, but I had to decide at a certain point that if their comments were constructive, I would humbly accept them and work to improve, and if they were not, then I would chose to discard them. I decided it was not worth my energy in my journey toward mastery to harbor those comments. In this school, I have had some “rough” lessons where I was not quite understanding the Spanish, not quite getting it, or just generally fumbling, and have made a mess of things. If I did not develop thick skin I don’t think I could have come back the next day to try again. Incidentally, developing thick skin has made me more confident, more determined, and more positive! I have found that all of these things are interrelated, and once you achieve one, they come by naturally!
I hope you found this blog entry helpful, and I wish you all luck on your individual journeys, no matter your goals!