Last Friday, I was riding with my daughter Maya. We were on our matching dark brown horses out in the pasture together. Maya was riding Belle (our fantastic medium pony hunter) and I was on Jordan (my big Thoroughbred gelding). It was our first time riding these 2 together and we had some fun making up "courses" (a pattern of jumps or obstacles) out of our logs, cavaletti and poles.
Maya is a beginner rider and has recently worked successfully to ride without her grab strap (a strap you can put on a saddle to hold on to so you can maintain your balance without pulling on your horse’s mouth). After warming up a bit, I had her make up a course. She did a great job. After riding such a nice simple "pile of poles" course, (this is where you ride a pattern over poles or low cavaletti at the trot or canter. If trotting, the horses trot over the obstacles and do not actually jump), I created a more challenging course for her. It included some bending lines, tighter turns and was longer, so there is more to remember.
After doing the course a couple of times, we worked on how she should ride the bending line so she could trot Belle straight (perpendicular) over the cavaletti. A bending line is where the path between two obstacles is curved so you can either increase (or decrease) your distance between the obstacles and also choose your path to cross the obstacles, this can be at an angle or perpendicular. At one point I demonstrated a portion of the course for her so she could see where I made my turns, then I had her do the course again. I was very impressed with how well she did and how much we covered in one ride.
Then (noticing that she seemed a bit "flat" in her enthusiasm), I asked her how she felt she did. She said so-so and I probed a little deeper, wondering why she wasn't happy with her performance. After a bit she confessed that she didn't feel good about it because she didn't ride it as well as I did. I joked a bit with her, lightening the mood "because you've ridden for 35 years and trained multiple riders and horses and won numerous championships?" She laughed. Then I reminded her of all the progress she has made the past couple of weeks, and told her how proud I was of how well she was doing. Then I took it one step further - I asked her what she felt she wanted to work on. And she had a very specific request: she wanted to work on her leg position because she could feel it slipping forward. I then gave her the biggest compliment of the day, that her awareness of her leg position really showed how much progress she had made.
Each child (and adult) is different in how they take instruction and how they internalize a lesson. My goal with all my students is that I break through that wall of "trying to be perfect" so we can make progress, and to always acknowledge the progress and effort that they put in. Each of us is an individual, we don't learn the same and we don't all progress at the same rate. The big question is: are we taking our mistakes and learning from them or are we beating ourselves up because we can't do it like someone else? I encourage all my riders to look at the positive steps they've taken and then evaluate where they want to go from there. I love seeing the progress, and I especially love seeing a rider's enthusiastic anticipation of getting to the next step - whether that's working on your leg position, learning to canter, competing at your first show, winning your first championship, or just the sheer enjoyment of riding horses! What a fabulous opportunity, it is an honor to assist other's on their journey with horses. I'm so very lucky!!