Saturday, March 22, 2014

To Lesson or Not to Lesson: Training Update

If you've been following AWIP at all you may remember that I was having a difficult time adjusting the interim trainer my barn owner/trainer brought in to give lessons while she was in Florida for the winter.  To make a long story short, I was not adjusting well to the new trainer's style.  

Ears up and forward - how I like to see them.
I felt she was extremely critical of me. I felt (and I'm trying to make clear this is what a felt, not necessarily what may have been happening) like a couldn't go around a 20 meter circle without hearing a correction every other stride.  Criticism, if expressed constructively, is not a bad thing.  I've always been told that if you are managing people, for every negative comment it helps to make a couple positive comments if you wish to keep the person you're dealing with motivated.

However, in this case, I was hearing 5 negative comments, a less negative comment, and then 5 more negative comments.  She seemed to be softer and less critical with my kids, and I told myself I was being paranoid and there'd be no reason for her to be harder on me than the kids.  That being said, some of my barn-mates who were present during my lessons did mention that they felt she was being extremely critical with me, more so than she was with the kids.

I also felt she was not understanding of some of the conformational and health issues I face.  My heels do not go down.  They just don't.  It's a conformational thing.  It's not the achilles tendon, so it's nothing I can fix with stretching.  It's the way the shinbone and the ankle joint are constructed. I've asked chiropractors and orthopedics about it and they say there's nothing I can do, it's just the way I'm made.  T2 tried to accept that, but still asked me to try and get my heels down and toe facing up and out, forcing my foot and ankle into a position that I could not maintain.  This activated the nerve condition I have so badly that after 15 minutes of riding I'd have to stop, as my leg and ankle would completely go neurological and give out.

I can accept that I need a lot of work, but have found that I learn best if we concentrate on one or two major issues at a time.  Any more and it becomes overwhelming.  I fought through the difficulties, knowing that there's an adjustment period with any change.  I sucked it up for just over two months, and I did have some lessons that were marginally better, but most left me upset and tense.  It got to the point where I did not even want to ride, and on lesson days I would feel anxious all day.  I was so tense and over-thinking everything I was doing that I was riding horribly - I couldn't even pick up the right diagonal!  I do want to make one point clear -- I like this woman.  I like speaking with her, she's funny and extremely knowledgeable about horses and riding.  It really bothered (in fact, still bothers) me that I could not seem to work well in her system.

To add to all my worries and woes, Sug was not happy.  She'd always gone nice and round and happy.  Now her head was up, and instead of being round her back was inverted.  Instead of happy forward and relaxed ears, hers were now tense.  I may not be the best rider in the world, but before my horse seemed happy, and now she seemed as anxious as I was.

The confusing part of the whole thing was that I felt a lot of what T2 said made sense, and again, I liked her, and the kids were certainly improving under her tutelage.  I gave it a couple of months, and finally just decided I needed to stop lessoning with her.  I'm looking at it this way:  There are a lot of good teachers in the world, but if they can't get their message to you in a way that you can process and act on it, they are not the teacher for you.  For example, my kids have had a lot of the same teachers over their years in the school systems.  Teachers that Noah has worked well with are not necessarily teachers that Sophie has understood.  George Morris is one of the most venerated horsemen of our age, and has a lot of great experience to pass along.  That being said, his way of passing that message along might not work for everybody.

So for the most part I've been working on my own, just trying to get out of my self-critical mode and get back to a feeling of riding with confidence and feeling.  I've taken a couple of lessons with an eventing trainer at the barn, and have had a blast working with her.  It was amazing, the difference between being absolutely miserable in a lesson and feeling invigorated and joyful.  The eventing trainer concentrated more on being effective in the tack, and less on perfect form.

I said before that a lot of stuff T2 has said made sense, and I find myself consciously paying attention to some of the things she had me work on while I was riding with her.  I'm more conscious of not leaning in around turns, and Sug feels more balanced and less like she's falling in on the turns.  I'm also more alert to the fact that I tend to drop my inside hand on turns, so now I'm trying to raise it a bit, which is also helping my turns.  I'm trying to keep my hands quieter in general.  I'm also trying to keep my body more still as we go over a jump, doing my best not to throw my body forward when taking off and then have it fall back at landing.

So that's it.  While the content of T2's lessons had value; the way that content was delivered made it difficult to absorb.  I'm much happier now, although I feel my riding took a definite step backwards. Sug is much happier now, and back to being round and bendy. There's a part of me that feels like a quitter: I've never been a quitter, always trying to tough things out.  I've certainly been criticized before, professionally and in my riding life.  I've had trainers get frustrated with me, I've gotten frustrated with them, and been frustrated with myself when I can't execute.   I've never faced anything like this, and I tell myself that I gave it a good effort, and really tried to make it work, but it wasn't a fit.  I tell myself it's not a bad thing to decide a situation isn't working for you and you need something different.  I still find it really hard to deal with, because part of me feels that because I like her as a person I should be able to work with her.  Part of me feels relieved to have made the decision and to be giving myself permission to make this decision, part of me feels guilty and like a quitter for not being able to make it work.  Overall, though, the relieved part is the more dominant feeling.

So that's where things stand.  We'll see how things progress moving forward.

I hope things are well with you and your equine partner!


  1. I'm glad you stopped taking lessons from her. Sticking it out and making yourself and your horse miserable in the process is like staying in a bad relationship in hopes that this time you wont say or do the wrong thing and that everything will be harmonious if only you could {insert perfect behavior here}. If its not working then its not working. Its no reflection on you, if anything its a reflection on her.

  2. Good call. This is what you do for fun. I don't teach every student (on horses or in the classroom) equally well. Students are humans, horses are practically humans, and not all humans have good chemistry. So you have to decide what's right for you and not base that decision on what works for other people, because you aren't those other people! Well done.

    1. Jess, Sorry it took me so long to reply. Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree - she's a great teacher, for some people, just not for me. The chemistry thing is important. With horses, humans, and teachers.