Emma at Fraidycat Eventing wrote a post that really resonated with me. It was based on an article by Matt Brown on 'A Case for Not Focussing on Your Goals'. Both are well worth reading but I loved the switch in perspective on goal setting. The point is that having highly specific goals can take the fun out of riding and actually make us less happy. It creates a dissatisfaction with ourselves (and our horses) that is counterproductive to development.
It fits me to a T. I am a goal oriented person. That is my nature and my comfort zone. However, the downside is that it makes me push myself and Carmen. Carmen does not like to be pushed. In fact, I am slowly learning that fighting with her leads no where because she will not give in. Ever. However, if I can soften and relax and then invite her to soften and relax we get farther.
|a photo to break up the wall of text|
This quote from Matt also really made a lot of sense:
"Process goals are more conducive to actually feeling fulfilled on your journey towards a goal, and oftentimes are more useful in the actual accomplishment of your goal. Process goals consist of things that are within your control. They have mainly to do with your attitude, your behaviors, your thoughts, your level of effort and your actions. When we focus on the things we can control we can take ownership of our path, and we can make progress in any situation regardless of our circumstances."I finished this year upset at how the wheels had fallen off our training. We have gone backwards. I wanted to be regularly schooling second level by now, not getting her trust back. This perspective is helping me realize that I need to let go of my drive to achieve the perfect leg yield or walk-canter transition and focus on the process of getting Carmen back to me.
I've been approaching our sessions with the focus of helping her seek to find the relaxation. I can make Carmen go into the spots of the ring that she is worried about (although even that is debatable as she will fight and fight and fight). The trick is getting her to seek to relax in these spots.
I start in the barn, taking my time getting her ready, helping her to stretch and relax and just have both of us 'present'. It's hard for me to not just get right at it. But rushing makes her tighter. We head up to the ring and I repeat my stretches. It's interesting how she can be loose in the barn and then gets super tight in the neck just by being in the ring. She actually finds it difficult to stretch her neck around without moving her feet. I don't worry about, I just keep asking and letting her know that I get that she's trying. Sometimes relaxing during ground work comes quickly and sometimes it doesn't. It drives me nuts that I can't hurry it along but I'm more accepting of it now.
Once she's relaxed I get on. And it starts again. I've gotten much better at not tightening my seat or hands and letting her walk forward. I slowly start spiralling out checking to see where our areas of resistance are. Sometimes it's really frustrating because she's freaking out at everything (yesterday it was Chester our cat chasing mice in the next field). Sometimes I have to dismount and start again. I don't let that bum me out because I'm working on the process goal of getting her to relax rather then doing perfect transitions.
I use bending and focus exercises to help with this. We do a lot of small circles. I ask her to go forward with leg pressure but I don't go over the top. I've left the crop in the barn. If she stops to look at something I let her and then ask her to walk on. After a few times I then encourage her to keep going. If we're trotting and she breaks to walk or starts to freak out at a certain spot I bring her back to walk and ask for a simple bend. If I can't get the bend I then insist that if she's going to do a shoulder out she does a proper one. If she spins away and refuses my aids I will back her up to where I want to be and then drop the reins to let her breathe and process.
|my goal is to get her this relaxed|
It's hard for me when she's being really resistant because giving in teaches her the wrong thing and fighting just spirals. I try to help her find the spot of where we can give to each other. Sometimes I get it wrong. It feels like I'm getting it right more though. If I have to 'wrestle' her somewhere (which can happen when she decides 'fuck it, I'm out' with minimal warning) I always halt and let her breathe. I give the reins and let her take the opportunity to bolt if she wants. She doesn't.
I work where she is comfortable and then ask her to extend out of her comfort zone and seek to relax. The way I do that is to insist she stays under me and I give the rein so that she can run if she chooses. She doesn't often take that option but she will stiffen under me. When I feel her start to seek the bit down when I give, I carry forward a bit with lots of verbal rewards (and pats). When we're there and she understands what I want I end the session pretty soon.
I have no idea is this makes any sense or if it sounds like I've lost my mind. I do believe that helping her seek relaxation will pay off in everything else.
One of my favourite sayings at work is 'You can't afford the time to not take the time'. I'm applying that to my riding and trying to be okay with how much time it takes.