2017 was a whirlwind of changes to in my career and a different focus in my riding. A promotion at work saw my professional life ramp up. With Nonie and I being between elementary and medium level, competing took a back seat and the focus […]
Two weekends ago Nonie and I danced down the centreline of our first ever medium dressage tests. In the week leading up to this competition my body was filled with a maelstrom of emotions. Excitement, nerves and pride. While we didn’t make take the dressage […]
When the opportunity to train with Aussie icon Brett Parbery lined up with the Easter long weekend, I knew I wanted to be there. I’ve been a long-time fan of Brett Parbery, having watched him on horses such as Victory Salute and Aber Halo 29. Brett lives and trains in New South Wales Australia, but regularly competes in Europe. Last year he was one of six Australian’s competing for a place on the Australian Olympic Dressage Team, this is no small feat for someone based in Australia.
On Good Friday, my co-pilot Steve and I embarked on the 12 hour drive from Mackay to the Sunshine Coast and arrived at ‘Riverlyn’ which would be Nonie’s home for the next week at about 7pm that night. With my first lesson scheduled for Saturday afternoon, Mum had kindly arranged for Nonie to have a massage (which just so happens to be one of her favourite things), to help relieve the strain of the previous days lengthy journey.
My coach Dani hosted the clinic at her beautiful property on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. You enter the stunning property via a solid wooden gate edged by a sparsely wooded area. The pure white sand arena overlooks a gentle valley and one of the properties two dams.
When the horse and rider combination prior to me finished their lesson and Brett looked down at his list and called my name, I have to admit I nearly fan girled out. Nearly! But what struck me almost immediately about Brett was his relaxed and down to earth manner. We got stuck straight in with Brett asking, “What would you like to work on today?” I explained that we had recently started work on the flying changes, but that I also felt that Nonie would benefit from increased mobility through her shoulders. To me, it was the lack of mobility that had been contributing to some difficulty in the lateral movements especially the canter half pass. It was at this point that Brett asked me the question I dread, “What aids do you use to move the shoulders?” Now I am not sure why, but at this point my mind went almost entirely blank and I stuttered out some answer about how I use the outside rein and leg to guard the shoulders. Brett went on to explain that our hands and shoulders control the horses shoulders, while our legs control he quarters – of course this was not new to me. A coach, Linda Van Den Bosch, who happens to be a very successful western trainer and rider, that I have worked closely with previously has drilled this into me.
Given that I was well warmed up Brett had us go straight into canter and we began to look at straightness in the canter. The exercise was simple, I visualised a box around Nonie and myself, and my job was to ensure that Nonie stayed straight within this box and bring her back into it if she strayed outside the box, but to leave her alone once she was inside it. Almost instantly I felt Nonie soften and compress, the canter was easier to sit but still felt active. We then took this feeling down the long side and asked for some gentle shoulder fore, and our line fell apart. Brett reminded me that it was my responsibility to keep her barrel on the line with my leg – we are still working on this one.
The next step was to begin using half halts to collect the canter, while the overall use of my position in the half halt was similar to what my coach Dani had taught me, Brett had me think about the half halt starting from between my shoulder blades and lightening my seat. I was surprised and delighted when I felt Nonie’s frame and stride compact and her back lift up underneath my seat.
Over the course of the two lessons we had a look at the flying changes, whilst I have felt these become much easier to ride as I allow myself to relax mentally, they are not there yet. Brett gave me some home work for these. The first and most important thing was to ensure that at all times Nonie stays on my line, at my rhythm and tempo, no exceptions. If she alters from either of these I need to ‘abort’ the change and bring her back to my line/rhythm/tempo. He also highlighted that the flying changes are just a simple change without the walk transition and that our aid for the flying change should have the same amount of pressure/lightness as that for a walk canter. It sounds obvious now that it is written down, but at the time the simplicity of this statement felt like a revolution.
Brett showed me a few different exercises to improve the preparation for the changes, including riding a line from the long side across to the centreline and taking her across to the new flexion all the while focusing on maintaining my canter. I instantly saw how helpful this exercise would be in improving the changes.
While Nonie and I have ridden in Dani’s arena a number of times, this particular weekend Nonie found something greatly offensive in the bottom corner. On day one we largely ignored this, however when she continued to spook and run away from it on the second day, Brett brought us back to the walk asking if Nonie often spooked. Brett explained, that there are two aspects to a spook, speed and line and if we can control those two things we can control the spook. When Nonie began to speed up and come away from the long side of the arena in her spook we brought her back to walk and then made her halt in front of the spot that she found particularly offensive. After doing this a few times I began to feel Nonie relax and we were then able to ride straight past the spot without issue.
The thing that really stood out to me from these lessons was the importance of simplicity. As the saying goes, “Any darn fool can make something complex, it takes a genius to make something simple”. He explained to me how all of the higher level movements, even piaffe is simply a combination of lower level aids applied in a new sequence. I learnt so much during these lessons, it was worth every kilometre of the drive and I cannot wait until Brett comes back up to Queensland.
Unit next time, happy riding. xo
Daring to suck… It’s a seemingly bizarre concept that resonated deeply with me. I was listening to one of my favourite podcast’s (check it out here http://summerinnanen.com/frr-37) when I stumbled across this idea.
So what does ‘daring to suck’ actually mean? In a nutshell, it means giving something a go even if there is a possibility of not pulling it off, not getting the outcome you were after, or failing. For me, daring to suck is an action which is in direct opposition to fearing failure.
Why is this important? As someone who identifies as having perfectionistic tendencies, I can see how my fear of failure has held me back at times. Whether it be something as simple as not riding that movement that is tricky and feels super uncomfortable or not entering that competition because you might make a mistake. Looking back, I can also see that my fear of failure kept me competing at prelim/novice level for way longer than necessary. I wanted everything to be perfect when I took the step up to prelim. This is a real problem because life is not perfect, particularly when you add a horse into the mix.
Over the last two years, I feel that I have become much better at embracing imperfection. Here are some things that I feel have helped me along in this journey:
Understand why things feel uncomfortable.
For me one of the most useful things in understanding this was understanding the four stages of learning. The first stage is unconscious incompetence (that is we don’t know anything about what we cannot yet do). The second stage is conscious incompetence (we know what we can’t do). The third stage is conscious competence (we know the skills needed and we can use them but a high degree of concentration is required). The fourth and final stage is unconscious competence (we are able to apply the skills effectively with little conscious effort being required). Sure, there are times when something that is normally effortless becomes incredibly hard. But for the most part discomfort comes about when we are learning a new skill. I’ve found it particularly useful to link discomfort in my riding with the understanding that I am learning something new and growing.
Push yourself to do things which are uncomfortable, but not unsafe.
Many of you will be familiar with the concept of the ‘comfort zone’, the ‘learning zone’ and the ‘danger zone’. We have to learn to balance the need to push ourselves beyond our established skills. However, we also need to be mindful that we do not push too far and create a dangerous situation. In doing this having a coach who knows your level of skill and can push you is invaluable. Get to know what it feels like when you are working within the growth zone. For me things feel uncomfortable, challenging and requires a lot more conscious effort, but it never feels unsafe.
Don’t be afraid to try new things.
Perfection it doesn’t exist anywhere. Even less so when you bring an animal with its own thoughts and feelings into the picture. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Whether that is trying a different exercise, playing around with the timing of your aids or even seeking the input of a different coach. A few years ago, Nonie and I got to a stage where we could barely ride a 20m canter circle despite having compete successfully competed at novice and prelim. With limited access to dressage coaches in the area, we struggled along on our own for several months. Rides would frequently end up with me in tears and questioning my ability as a rider. I eventually contacted one of the local western trainers who had a good reputation. She helped Nonie and I make some changes that greatly improved our straightness, Nonie’s obedience and my confidence to lead. Her strategies worked even though they were not classical dressage.
The dressage coach that I train with now lives about 800km away, so we get her up to run clinics once every couple of months. In between clinics I am training on my own. This sometimes means that I have to use my knowledge and skills to figure things out on my own. Sometimes this means that I make mistakes or do things that don’t work. What I have learnt that it is much better to make a mistake than trying the same thing over and over and expect a different result. And generally we get things to a point where they start to improve.
So join me in embracing imperfection. I’d love to hear about a time when fear of failure has held you back and how you have dared to suck!
To read more on this topic check out my post, “I’ll be a good rider when”.
As an equestrian, my relationship with rain one of love-hate. While I can accept that regular doses of rain are necessary, bringing with it wonderfully lush grass, providing respite from the oppressive humidity and filling up rain water tanks and bores, there are also several […]