She's big on natural horsemanship (Dennis Reis). I'm big on practical but kind horsemanship. She's a dressage rider, I'm a trail rider. We had a very polite argument running the entire time about semantics and the philosophy of horsemanship. And I worked on some really basic things, which were surprisingly hard for me.
Mainly, I discovered, it's an ego thing for me.
First, she wanted me to drop the reins. Like completely. Apparently, "on the buckle" means "put your hands on that goofy little buckle at the end of the reins." But if your hands are on the goofy little buckle, there's a half acre of reins dangling loose between your hands and the bit, and I had a HUGE problem with that. It's my second ride in a treacherous* English saddle on an Ay-rab** and you want me to basically drop the reins? Lady, are you crazy? If he spooks at a deer, it's going to take me an extra two seconds to get the reins sorted and get some contact and keep us from dying. The instructor was a little nervous about me at that point. I explained that it's really just that I don't trust the horse, that I would be ok with dropping the reins if I were on Champ. She managed to talk me into dropping the reins and ... nothing happened.
*Ok, it's a very comfortable suede dressage saddle.
**The sane, kind, old Arab fell asleep while we were arguing about reins and deer.
Then we talked a while about being a passenger versus riding, and letting the horse decide what to do versus... I dunno, then it got into semantics so I'll probably say this wrong, but "being a leader and asking the horse to do stuff."
I unexpectedly felt extremely defensive. Yes, on a good trail ride to a certain extent you are "just" a passenger, because if you try to micromanage the horse you won't have any fun. Point horse down trail, set speed, let horse pick best route. Yes, you have to let the horse decide what to do, but it's not like he's out there all alone. It's more cooperative than that.
But then I kinda took a step back and thought about the big picture. I am a perfectly good trail rider. I can take a horse out and keep him safe and have a great time and come back alive, every time. (I even come back with the horse 99% of the time, haha.) So why the hell am I even taking lessons? It's not to be a better trail rider - it's to learn something new. Dressage is to me, and it's the opposite of what I've been doing, and it all feels completely wrong. But learning this new crazy stuff does not mean that everything I already know how to do is wrong. Once I realized that, I tried really hard to put aside my ego and listen to what she was saying and experience what was going on with me, my horse, and her.
I am getting the hang of pointing my toes straight ahead. I am getting the hang of keeping my heels in the right spot. I can turn a horse with my legs just fine (at least basic turns, I still don't really understand crazy language like "keep his shoulder from popping out.") I'm close to understanding how to "bring up my energy" / "activate my core" / get the horse to speed up without using my calves. And I'm trying really really hard to learn how to do the elusive halt. It's something more than just sitting back, and it's more than just holding my breath and tensing up all over. Sometimes I can do it (at least a half-halt) and sometimes, nothing.
Uhh, ok, confession time. My first major (lasted half a semester) was biology. But then I realized chemistry was hard, so I switched to history. Got bored with history after a couple years and went all-out philosophy for two years. You know what?
Philosophy sucks. It's mental wanking. It's really really fun when you're a starry eyed 20 year old, and you're exploring all the -isms of the world, and it's just, like, about arguing and thinking deep thoughts while you're high, MAN. But then you hit a difficult concept (Kierkegaard's Knight of Infinite Resignation, I'm looking at you), and you have to write a paper on it, so you just churn out 10 pages of total bullshit and you get an A. Then you start to realize that the entire field is just playing with words, really. If you're really a philosopher, you love it; if you're me, you get very disillusioned, drop out of college again, and eventually go back and finish up in history.
Anyway. Apparently there's some huge difference between "making" the horse do something and "asking" the horse to do something and "being a leader and
I still think it's just semantics. I can ... cruelly, callously, ineffectively (try to) make the horse do what I need. Or I can calmly, sensitively, elegantly, effectively make the horse do what I need. I strive for the latter, no matter what verb you choose to use.
We agreed that all roads lead to Rome. It all comes down to timing, reinforcement, and making the right thing easy to do. I think we both enjoyed the lesson - I know I did, and I suspect I'm an interesting challenge for her to work with.
I don't know who will be teaching me this Sunday. If my usual instructor is still off, it'll be the owner again. I'm not even sure who I'd prefer! I feel like a kid kicking rocks when I think about spending another hour with the owner - "I don't wanna. This is stupid. I wanna trot in circles with the other guy!" but I realize that I probably AM getting quite a bit out of dealing with her. And I *like* her! I'm pretty sure that I "don't wanna" strictly because she challenges my ego.
But this whole thing is not about my ego. It's about me learning something new, and of course I suck at it because it's new. Honestly, I'd be madder 'n hell if I was paying a lot to learn something that I had already figured out how to do.