Monday, August 19, 2013

When to push, and when to back off

I thrive on rhythms, and I always feel off-kilter until I've settled into a new one. I like the zen, repetitive tasks. Not all the time, but I'm often calmest and happiest when I'm carrying momentum through my day from a simple job well-done. Washing dishes. Kneading bread. Compiling budgets.

I feel like Tris and I have finally settled back into a working rhythm. We're carrying through from a full warmup on to quality work, raising the bar each time. We work a little longer, a little harder, and there are small quality improvements even in our base work. He's getting a titch more forward, I'm coordinating my half-halts slightly better. Even with my job expanding through all areas of my life (3 hours of work on a Sunday night, yay) I'm finally able to capitalize on the proximity of the barn and spend long chunks of time with him each day.

One problem I haven't entirely solved yet, and it's really been an ongoing problem with us from day 1. When do I push him through and when do I back off? I am always keenly aware that he is not a horse who thrives on work; he's not a Thoroughbred who will pace the stalls unless he is ridden hard each day. Nor does he especially enjoy the challenge of dressage. I feel like I start with a shallower reserve of good will and cooperation than many other riders. And that's okay! I adore him, we work together, and he is so many other wonderful things.

However. After I've strung together three, four, five intensive rides in a row I start to worry about diminishing returns. I skip a day, or I go out and just hack him for 20 minutes. Or in the middle of a ride I feel like he's done well, and I don't want to burn him out, so I cut it shorter than I'd planned. Then I spend the next day castigating myself - how can I expect to get anywhere if I slack off like that? Couldn't I just plan better, or ride better so I don't frustrate him so much, and how will I ever measure up to what I want and hope for if we keep crawling along at this snail's pace?

I'm a high drive person, but I don't have a high drive horse. Besides and beyond that, horses are not like video games, which you can play endlessly and repetitively until you've mastered a skill. They're not books, which are happiest and best when you bury yourselves in them for unmoving hours. 

Somewhere in here there's a balance. There's a combination of intensive work, hacking for fitness and strength, and plain old recovery time, physical and mental, that will give us the gestalt we need. I just wish I could find it instead of feeling I'm constantly playing pinball with it.


  1. I get it, I'm a A type and I feel like I demand a lot and sometimes wonder if I'm demanding too much.

    1. I am often successful in channeling my type A tendencies into other areas of my life - work or home or baking or other hobbies. So I mostly am careful to keep riding as my laid back activity. But sometimes it bleeds over and I want to do MORE, BETTER, and that is soooooo not Tristan's way of being.

  2. I struggle with that ALL the time. So hard to find the balance. Ranger could, I think, be a high-drive horse if I could channel his nervous energy and inconsistency into something more focused and purpose-oriented - something I am working on, every day. But sometimes I misjudge when and how far to push, and then it all goes to hell. Brisa is more cooperative and willing than he is, on the surface, but when she's done she's _done_ and will not give another inch. Finding the balance between pushing enough to build fitness and work ethic and pushing too far is tricky, and I am still learning.

    In other words, *sympathy*

    1. Tris is so...firm, and immovable in a way. He is very centered in himself. He too has a very, very firm line about when he is done but I have found over the years that it often benefits me to see that line, and then push him just a bit further, so that it's clear that I call the shots.

      It's always made me the teensiest bit sad that I have a horse that wouldn't care if I weren't there for days on end, and gives a heavy disgusted sigh when he hears his bit jingle. But when we're actually riding he connects with me. And his self-assurance means he's got that wonderful brain, which I wouldn't trade for anything.


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