(“We tiptoed gingerly through the minefields”)
Most of us take our riding seriously. Ego and self-image and even self-worth get all tied up in it. Sometimes we care so much, we get in our own way beyond all reasonable measure.
To paraphrase Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own,” there’s no crying in dressage. Except there is.
Case in point: a pair of ladies whom I’ve been teaching for quite a while now. When I first met them, they each cried in their lessons, but to my mind, they should have. Both horses were sufficiently inappropriate to their skill levels that their situations were border-line dangerous. Since it wasn’t decorous for me to cry, they may as well have! Since those were the horses each rider was wedded to, we soldiered on. I rode each of them a bit each visit, and we tiptoed gingerly through the minefields until some degree of order was established.
In Phase Two of our relationship, they were still crying but now it was from frustration. Having surpassed the Survival hurdle, they had each raised their sights considerably and—for a time—unreasonably. Whereas before they were grateful not to be risking life and limb, now they were complaining if they couldn’t keep their horses’ outside shoulders straight in leg yielding! This was Reality Check time. Inclusive in the goals an instructor sets up, is the time frame in which they ought to be accomplished. The lecture went: “Hey, if solving problems like this is frustrating enough to make you cry, you’re clearly in the wrong sport. It’s like crying if you can’t solve a jigsaw puzzle. Either take pleasure in the process or don’t try to do it. Nobody’s forcing you to do this!”
Phase Three was more brief and more incomprehensible.
“Now why are you crying?” I had to ask one day.
“I don’t know!” my student sniffled.
I knew then I was over-matched.
The crises are fewer these days. Both students have discovered how to let go. They don’t care less, but they care differently, and when they have problems, they take them less personally. Like a recovering alcoholic or someone who has quit smoking, one of them said to me proudly not long ago, “It will be a whole year next time I see you since I’ve cried about my horse!”
I have another student who tears up, but she does when her horse is good. A new insight that translates to lightness in a pirouette or a line of changes that she knows are the way they’re really supposed to feel and she gets all verklempt. That I can deal with!
Once in a while it’s actually my fault that someone cries. I always feel badly afterwards. Some time ago I was judging a schooling show, and a teenage rider made some off-the-wall, inaccurate would-be 20-meter circles. At best, they were half the right size.
In trying to help her identify the problem post-test, I said, “The arena is 20-meters wide. How big do you think a 20-meter circle ought to be?”
That one was beyond her so I tried, “OK, who do you think is buried in Grant’s Tomb?”
Still a shrug.
When I rolled my eyes at her and slowly enunciated, “G-R-A-N-T!”, she cried.
Guess she didn’t perceive me as the empathetic, avuncular soul of my self image!