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We Are Flying Solo

December 7, 2011

Me Vs. Me: The Internal Monologue Of An Inveterate Self-Critic

If I ride him just right, he will get it.

This is the thought that runs over and over through my head as I worked with Encore last night. If my position could just be a little better, if my aids were just a little more accurate, if my balance was just a little more consistent, then Encore would succeed in doing the right thing.

Self-flagellation is, of course, default mode after a ride that had some very frustrating moments. There was a section of the most incredible stretching at the trot, where Encore's whole body was an upside-down U of supple, lifted, connected engagement, with his nose down to his knees and elastic springs in his legs. I thought, just, WOW.

Statler: Well, that was different.
Waldorf: Yep. Lousy...but different!
But then there was a period of tension, rushing, and falling in through the shoulder. My irritation mounted as I thought, What am I doing wrong? If I was just a better rider, I could get my horse to do this. I am just going to end up with a crooked horse pointing the wrong way because I can't seem to communicate this correctly.

I was bone-tired, I've gotten far too much bad news this week, it was dark, and my temper was short. I will never let that out to Encore of course, but it still wreaked havoc in my head (a confusing, scary place at best).  Over and over, I wondered why I couldn't just be better

None of this actually improves one's riding, naturally, but it seems to be an inevitable destination for us at some point or another.  Perhaps there are people who can remain eternally cheerful, but I suspect that we all have our moments of exhaustion and weakness.  I remember when I didn't canter Solo for months on end, as I could get nothing but an unbalanced gallop out of him.  I told myself, you should just sell this horse, you have no business owning something you are not even capable of riding a basic gait on.  Dejected does not even begin to sum up how I felt then.

Looking back, I can see that I was wrong, of course, and those months were simply something we needed to both work through and learn from.  With the help of one very good clinician, we found our canter again and went on to many triumphs.  Objectively, I know that the journey with Encore will progress in the same way, but it can be hard to trust in that view of the forest when you keep banging your head on the tree in front of you.

My point to this musing is simply to share with you the internal argument between two of the voices in my head aspects of my brain.  So that when you are in your own dark, frustrated, jaw-clenching throes of a not-so-smooth training phase, you can remember that you are not alone.  If horse training was easy, everyone would win Rolex, but alas, it entails an indescribably complex lifetime of lessons that would probably take ten actual lifetimes to absorb. 

I have two choices:  I can (a) give up or (b) give Encore a treat for trying (he also did some big, voluntary stretching in the left lead canter, good boy), take a nap, and come back another day.  After that nap, it only takes one look into big, kind, innocent brown eyes to choose option b.


  1. I second the above comment! I love your line - if it was easy, everyone would win Rolex.

  2. Heehee! I've had this conversation with myself too many times to count. Great post!

  3. Oh the "leave me alone, I'm arguing with myself" moments! I know them well! Great post...and remember, time in the saddle is ALWAYS a good thing in the whole grand scheme of things.

  4. Excellent post. Kind of sums up where I'm at right now, too.

  5. In some ways, I think that I have learned more from the rides that did not go well than the rides that were dreamlike. Of course this realization is only in hindsight and quickly forgotten when the next "bad ride" occurs.

    Thanks for the very down to earth post.

  6. Ha, I am glad I am not the only one who argues with myself!

  7. Thanks for posting this. It sums up how I feel when some rides just don't go to plan, but hey, it's not easy and we're gonna have crappy rides sometimes.

  8. Oh, my inner critic sounds about the same. I have been mulling over this very same blog post lately and getting frustrated at myself enough so that I haven't even written a thing. SIGH. At least I know I am not alone. Oh the joys of training... :-)

  9. I soooo get that! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Oh yes, we riders are all internally suffering from multiple personality disorder, lol.

    And sometimes, you can have blindingly frustrating moments even when you're not riding. For instance, tonight on the longe I could NOT get a trot-walk transition out of Salem when going to the right. We could get trot-halt, but the trot-walk was just NOT happening. And he knows the hand cue, the voice cue, etc. left, right, and sideways. It took me a good 25 minutes to get one transition. It was definitely one of those times when I get very frustrated with myself and think I should just throw in the towel.

    But, HEY. congrats on the stretchy springy trot--that sounds great!

  11. I have had this argument with myself many times. I have the privilege of riding an amazingly well trained TB who could easily win Rolex if he were only 10 years younger and a little bit faster. The downside to this is that although he knows so much more than me, he will not do anything unless I ask him correctly. Many rides have ended with me practically in tears because I get so frustrated with myself. Why aren't I a better rider? Why can't I get my legs in the right spot to ask for the half pass? Why can't I get over my fears and jump him more than 3 ft? Like you said though, two choices. And it just takes one of those looks from him, and one nuzzle from that soft nose to know that I could never give this up.

    Glad to know I'm not the only one out there!

  12. Damn, we all work this hard and torment ourselves and we STILL don't get to Rolex! ROFL! ;-)

    OMG, Frizz, the dreaded "I know you know this, why are you torturing me you horrible beast of a horse" session. It's enough to make a person lose their mind. But then we remember, they are horses and it's amazing what they do for us and we cut them a break.

  13. I love you :-) It's good to have a reminder that most riders go through this. I'm coming back to riding after essentially doing nothing in the saddle for 2+ years while I was getting my master's degree. Now I'm discovering the horrible pain of finding out that my old riding muscles aren't there!! It's hard not to be discouraged and to think that my horse deserves someone better, as we're struggling with the most basic things. Ah well, he's loved, well-fed, and has the biggest heart in the world :)

    P.S. The bridle bag looks great & shipped fast!

  14. Glad you liked it, Jen! And don't worry, those muscles will come back in no time!