Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wise words from a horse trainer

My trainer, Susie Artes, said to me this morning in my (riding) lesson:
Your horse is an extension of you. He can feel your anxiety at the beginning of the course and that's why he's jumping nervously from side to side and fidgeting instead of picking up the canter when you ask. You can't think about the whole of the course in your head at the precise moment you ask him to pick up the canter. You have a plan in your head for the whole course. You go over it fence by fence and you hope that it will play the way you imagined it. But you can only do one thing at a time. Our brains aren't wired to focus on the whole while focusing on each separate part. You have to trust that your brain is holding onto the big picture. And then you need to sit down, pull your shoulders back and ask quietly for the first step (the canter departure).

For those of you who are interested in jumping: The course was quite straightforward and the jumps small, no bigger than three feet. A red and white and blue single off the left, tight roll back to a green roll-top bending left in five strides over a green single, right turn to a yellow single bending out over a wide-ish yellow oxer (set perpendicular to the single - a little tricky) in eight strides, right turn and back over the yellow single the other way.

I have been thinking a lot about the brain and what we ask of it and how, in order to make any task less onerous, the breaking up of a large project into small bite-sized pieces is really the only way to make it through without becoming overwhelmed and disenchanted.

The analogy may well be an obvious one, but there are few things that make me feel as happy or as connected to the world as riding my horse, Peso. We're a team and we influence each other with our moods. Sometimes it can be perfect and sometimes it can be disastrous. My daughter talks about good riders being "stone cold" ie, taking all of the emotion out of the equation. Just riding. Just doing it. This is what my horse like best -- that quiet, calm, zen-like ride where I don't mess with him too much and keep out of his way as much as possible -- and this is what I find the most difficult.

The thing about riding and life in general, is that you can't sit it out. Mrs L points this out in her latest blog post on the fantastic 43rd Year:
I realized, once again, that life is all about showing up.
I'd much rather be testing pink bonbons that writing what appears to be one trite cliche after another, but the great epiphany is just that -- overused and cliched. And true.

So, in conclusion, I would interpret Susie's wise words thusly:
  • Have a Grand Plan
  • Stick to it
  • Break it down into easy, bite-sized nuggets
  • Remain deadly calm* (ride it stone cold)
  • Just show up
* This particular aphorism can be attributed to my lovely old friend Richard in Santa Barbara, whom we've not seen in years. He is the master of remaining deadly calm while the world is collapsing around him, aided, it must be said, by a jolly strong gin & tonic.

Peso & Minks (w/funny face)


Errant Aesthete said...

I equate your trainer's philosophy with something E. L. Doctorow once said about writing. “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you to advance for the duration and trust that you will arrive at your destination. Sound advice on writing and/or life.

Miss Whistle said...

Thank you so much for that. You've actually summed up what I was scrabbling for. Sometimes I lose sight of the road just a few feet in front of me. An excellent observation, EA, thank you!

xx Miss W