Actual reality versus expectations
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, March 11, 2017 04:00 PM
The word expectation explains in a dictionary as - a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. This belief has nothing to do with reality as it is. For example, a rider comes to the barn to ride his/her horse and has expectations of what that ride should be and how the horse should respond. If these expectations do not come true it creates a dangerous precedent for anger, disappointment, blame and discouragement. Even worse rider's faculty of observation gets clouded by these expectations and he/she can miss things. Or, "see" them the way rider has wanted to and not as they are. How many times you thought you read one word when it was another because you expected it to be there?
Another very dangerous aspect of expectations is blame that riders project on their horses for poor performance. Having clouded ability to observe correctly, riders miss mistakes, ride sloppy, do not work on improving things because of expectations that things will work and then blame the horse for lack of progress. Plus, expectations create an attitude that your horse "must do that". This is very wrong attitude. Your horse is only as good as you are, never blame the horse! Riding is actually a very task consuming endeavor. It takes enormous focus, ability to feel and observe, make correct evaluations and come up with solutions. Plus, a rider does all of it while he/she is sitting on a very strong, bouncy, fast and sometimes unpredictable creature not behind a desk! :)
Now the question here is: If not expectations what then a rider needs to have for the ride? The answer is: first of all a plan what to work on today and second is standards. Standard is an idea or thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations. Lets elaborate on these.
A plan for a ride can give a rider motivation, purpose and drive. Whether you are showing or not you can always work on improving yourself, your horse and your partnership. Plan allows you to see the progress or lack of it, to notice things that you missed or forgot to work on. A plan is not a rigid, etched in stone entity. It is a tool. A rider uses it to help himself/herself but can change it, stretch it and modify it depending on the observations from the rides, lessons, coach's advice, horse's health, etc.
Standards are also tools. For example, 'Training Pyramid", dressage level objectives, basics, your favorite rider/horse combination, the level of quality you want to achieve, etc are standards to evaluate yours and your horse's performances. They give you guidelines, the goal. In order to progress the standards must be really high. This is your future reality, the inspiration, the goal to work toward to. This is different from expectations. High standards help you identify problem areas, research, seek help from an appropriate coach, improve yourself physically and mentally, High standards will not allow you to settle and be OK with behind the leg transitions, crooked circles and unbalanced posture.
How does it work in actual riding situations. Here is couple scenarios:
A rider with high expectations will get angry with his/her horse for performing a walk-trot transition badly (lazy, behind the leg, pulled on the reins, crooked, etc). Why? - the horse supposed to know by now how to do these transitions will be the rider's answer. Did the rider actually prepare, paid attention to horse's responses prior for asking for the trot?
A rider with high standards simply evaluate the transition against the code of values he/she uses and decides if it needs repeating or not. There are no unnecessary emotions, wasted time, or confusion for a horse.
When work is done according to the standards it has purpose, the exercises are chosen with an objective, things repeated, modified and a step may be even taken backwards if needed. The rider is so focused that the horse gets drawn into it too and they both become like in a state of meditation.It is a wonderful feeling, everything is forgotten except the horse and the work.
In order to be in the actual reality instead of perceived one a rider must constantly work on developing observational skills, notice very little details and be able to stay in the present moment to evaluate an ongoing information from all the senses - balance, touch, movement, sight, hearing, muscle tone, amount of relaxation, state of mind, etc.
This is why a person on the ground is so invaluable. While a rider is in the thick of things a person on the ground is safe and quietly standing or sitting, he/she is not busy with anything except watching you and your horse. They can observe fully and give you invaluable information. Instructor is even better because they have theoretical knowledge and developed their ability to observe much more than regular person like a friend, spouse or even a fellow rider.
Watching your own rides on a video also is very helpful, because you are not riding at the moment and can see things from the different perspective and compare how it looks to how you remember it felt.
P.S. I am not writing about this because I read it somewhere or were told. I have experienced it first hand and I am working hard because it is still very easy for me to slip into expectations with Santo rather then assess reality as it is. Particularly now when he is an upper level horse. I do not have expectations of young horses or my students horses. I work with what I have today. However, it is very hard not to slip into attitude that Santo "must know it by now and do it correctly". First of all, it is I who must know and do it correctly and then see if he gives me correct response or feel. If not, I must observe what is wrong, evaluate and come up with solutions. It is not his job to improve but mine :)
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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