Friday, August 14, 2015

a note on progress + uncertainty

Last week I mentioned the growing pains of moving up: namely, that our mistakes and oopsie moments are amplified as the stakes get (quite literally) higher. Since it's seemingly a recurring theme, I want to address it as its own topic, rather than just as a lesson recap side note.

can't have a post without media tho, so enjoy these pics from a recent trail ride
For context, our current schooling level (low tho it may be) is uncharted territory for me. Getting back to 2'6" didn't truly constitute 'moving up' in my book - rather it was more like knocking the rust off existing skills (I showed 2'6" through college). But our lessons of today are officially beyond my ken. All shiny and brand new, ya know? Exciting with a tinge of uncertainty.

And that uncertainty is what bleeds through in many of my lesson recap posts.

Kristen suggested a leather curb strap instead of the chain... seemed like a great idea and i improvised with a sheepskin cover to test it out. verdict? mare was less reactive to the chain but the brakes still work. score!
So what is that uncertainty? Why does it exist and what does it mean?

For me, right now, the uncertainty might be about executing a challenging exercise correctly. Or whether I can develop the feel for the perfect canter.

Figuring out why it exists is the easy part. Crashing through rails, refusing fences, botching distances - that all introduces uncertainty: Can I get it right next time? Can I fix it?

this is izzy's idea of paradise
The amplification factor comes in as the complexity increases. A flat canter or a horse that's stuck behind my leg might lead to very different outcomes if the fence is 2', 2'6", 3', solid, wide, spooky, on a down hill approach, etc etc.

So all these nasty little habits that I've allowed to perpetuate and become ingrained are now suddenly impeding our progress. Letting Isabel drift off her line in the last stride or two to a fence has morphed from plain old 'sloppy riding' to a missed distance at a novice xc fence. (Which sure, a missed distance at novice might be nbd for many riders and horses out there... but it has the potential to create quite the hairy moment for us right now).

we're comin for you, bambi!
Meaning, as I manage the uncertainty in myself, I'm also thinking about the implications for Isabel. This puts us into 'trust bank' territory, a concept Nicole wrote about this spring. Basically, she defined the trust bank as the "the balance of trust between you and your horse."

Mindy from That Horse Force wrote about a similar concept, which she referred to as the 'margin of error.' Specifically, she noted that her margin of error with Leo was larger at training level than at prelim, and that a mistake at prelim could mean more disastrous outcomes.

Basically, the smaller margin of error means I have a greater responsibility to get it right as a rider to avoid crossing that line wherein the 'balance of trust' dips into the red.

seriously, you better run!! lol
But what does all this mean for me? The thing is, I generally see the uncertainty as a GOOD thing. An encouraging thing. And I see value in acknowledging it (obvi - otherwise I wouldn't be here droning on about it haha).

Lessons are challenging. They're supposed to be challenging. If it isn't hard, am I actually learning? If I already know the answers to the questions, why take the lesson? Getting the answers right or floating flawlessly over a jump feels incredible, sure - that's really a huge part of why I do all this in the first place. But that's not how I grow.

In a nutshell, I believe progress is not comfortable. That with the right attitude (as described by Lauren), bad rides can be very good things. Any opportunity to identify and fix training holes can only be positive.

sometimes the view straight up is just as good or better than looking around
That sounds kinda preachy tho... and really, when I'm circling in the arena while my trainer resets the jump I just demolished... well, maintaining that rosy outlook is admittedly pretty difficult. 

Which is just one more reason I love having this blog. Because thanks to technology and my insatiable need for documentation, I can watch this video from a rough lesson a couple weeks ago and look beyond the missed distances and knocked rails and refusal to see her canter (esp that first 10 seconds). 


And compare it to her canter in this video from a lesson last fall that I held as the standard for our 'A game' for a long time.


Or I can watch the helmet cam video from last weekend's epic xc schooling, noting Isabel's forward and balanced rhythm and game attitude.


And reminisce about one of our earliest schooling outings in this video. That was a confidence inspiring and very happy ride. Yet Isabel is an entirely different creature from what she is today.


To me, this all boils down to our mutual education. Our lessons are very often not pretty at all. Sometimes they're ugly. But they're changing our shape, changing the entire picture, really.

mare is torn between begging for more treats or booking it down to her friends and the grass

It's super easy to let bad rides or big mistakes weigh us down and sap our motivation. But I'm determined to move beyond the 'good fence / bad fence' mentality and focus on the parameters (as per DOC). What decisions am I making that work? Don't work? How did I achieve that canter, or correct that imbalance? How can I reproduce those good moments? Can I fix it?

The answer isn't always clear, but that's ok. It's just part of the process.

28 comments:

  1. Good thoughts! Making mistakes and not knowing what I'm doing is still something that makes me squirmy and uncomfortable.. you have a great way of looking at it and I need to take a page out of your book!

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    1. i mean, i get squirmy and uncomfortable too... i just try really hard not to dwell!

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  2. Great post! I love reading how aware riders can be and not just going thru the motions. You put a lot of thought into you and iz and it does and will pay off.

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    1. thanks - i really hope you're right!!

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  3. I love this! I like the idea of the margin of error, where mistakes made at a lower level is just being sloppy while mistakes made even a level or two above that level could lead to disastrous outcomes. Definitely makes a good case for learning to ride accurately and thoughtfully at a level you're comfortable at to create good habits.

    Your attitude about making mistakes is so great, I need some of that! Oh and the difference between the quality of your canter and the confidence over fences between the video last fall and the current video is insane!! Huge progress being made even if every lesson isn't picture perfect.

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    1. thanks - i'm really happy with the difference in her from one year to the next too. and the 'margin of error' concept has really stuck with me, even if i haven't necessarily fixed my bad habits yet haha

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  4. This is something my dressage trainer talks about a lot. "It should feel difficult. Do-able, but difficult.". Because Henry finds dressage in general pretty hard, our rides are a constant 'do something hard, do something easy, do something hard, do something easy'... but that's how they get better. We don't learn from perfection, we learn from mistakes. It's hard, sometimes it's ugly, and it certainly isn''t linear. So basically I totally agree lol.

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    1. i really like the idea of balancing hard and easy work to help stimulate the horse too. it's one thing for us to understand that sometime it's gonna be hard, but helping the horse to understand that and feel ok about it can be so difficult!

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  5. It is so great that you have video to document all your progress! The two of you have made such huge strides in under a year. And, it always feels worse than it looks. When I watched your latest video I was impressed with how smooth it looked and how nice most of your distances were. Mistakes are how we learn, and from the looks of it, you two have both learned a ton and are on a great path!

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    1. thanks! all the video definitely helps keep things in perspective, but i also find it liberating to accept mistakes for what they are

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  6. Nothing that was ever worth it came easy! You're doing great!

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  7. This makes so much sense. I don't think I've ever thought about it quite that way before. You should hit road blocks in learning. It wouldn't be worth doing if it weren't challenging.

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    1. that's pretty much what i'm thinking too. i don't think it's an uncommon idea, tho you don't really hear much about celebrating the mistakes and failures... even tho i think we *should* embrace them (to a degree)

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  8. I think that this area is where green + green can really get scary. It takes a certain amount of maturity and insight to be able to take yourself, green to something, and educate someone/thing/horse else, also green to something, in an acceptable (and eventually, one hopes) the RIGHT way to do a thing. I think in your case you're even in a more challenging position because Izzy has an ingrained way of doing things that she's like "wait a minute... I want to do it THIS way.... that is how I do it!" instead of the blank slate of a truly green horse. So kudos to you. Embrace the challenge of learning (I heart the challenge of learning!) and come out the other side the badass you know you can beeeeee!!!!!!!

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    1. interesting (and great!) point about green on green - i hadn't thought of it that way, but yes it makes total sense. really tho i think the whole world would be a better place if everyone was a little more honest with themselves haha (whether it be about expectations, ability, whatever) - it would certainly be easier for the horses!

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  9. I love this and 100 per cent agree. You have to get out of your comfort zone to improve, but so much that you lose confidence. I'm happy for you that you are improving and moving up!

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    1. thanks! it's certainly a lot of work but we're enjoying it :)

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  10. Glad Izzy liked the hack better with the sheepskin added! That was a good (and cheaper) fix.

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    1. yea thanks again for the recommendation! i actually just learned from her breeder that she used almost this exact same set up as a baby too haha

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  11. I am in this exact same place. I totally agree and get everything you say here. I'm working on the same things and some days are better than others, but the good days are worth it.

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    1. that's what i keep telling myself! the bad days can be really REALLY rough... but those good days are something else entirely :)

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  12. Love this post! I always feel like you have to get 'ugly' to get 'pretty' with riding, and all the ugly moments means that progress is happening! :)

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    1. haha yep that's a good way of looking at it!!

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  13. I have the same viewpoint. Learning and growing in a sport is why I take lessons rather than just hack around all the time.

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