Wednesday 30 December 2015

Day 361-364: Where patience comes from...

For the New Year 2016, I decided to give all my regular riders, both those I teach in person and those who have long distance training, a task of coming up with 3 main challenges/goals for themselves. I did it to both encourage everyone to think about their training and how might they progress and for myself to focus the lessons on something each rider really would like to achieve.
I am not talking about competitive goals by the way although some riders went for those too, but more of a rider/horseperson challenges.
It's been an interesting experience to read through those goals and I am looking forward to making things happen for everyone ;)

One rider set herself a goal of becoming more patient with herself and her horse as well as with the riders she teaches (she is a riding instructor herself working in Poland) and asked me how I stay patient. I thought I might waffle about it today.

Patience to me comes from believing in people and horses even if they don't believe in themselves...

Let's say you work with a rider or a horse and they have a lot of problems. With balance. With their seat. Hands. With their frustration. Nerves. Crookedness. Concentration. What not. If you involve yourself in their problem, you will too become frustrated for them and for yourself possibly too. Your patience will wear thin.

What helps me a lot is to be able to *see* the rider a few steps on...

For this, I like using video feedback to visualise someone's progress. I started doing this in 2008/2009 with just a faint idea of how I wanted it to teach me but have seen a huge benefit over the years that I didn't really expect.

When the riders who don't normally see themselves ride, watch their first videos from our lessons, they often find everything that is wrong with them and the horses. Years of watching exercises truly working and riders truly becoming more effective make it easier for me to now look at those early videos and see just a starting point, a point of reference that will take me from point A to B and then Z.

Like joining dots kind of game. Seeing those dots allows me to believe both in my ability to work on something and in rider's / horse's ability to do that work.

Sometimes I get stuck and don't know the answers on the spot but by that time I normally have enough patience to get me going ;)

The interesting thing is that if you believe someone can do something, that they can change something, eventually and usually they too will believe in you believing it can happen ;) Once they do, truly do believe that you *know* it will happen, they will at some point believe in themselves too...And a bit like magic, the elusive patience appears.

It might take a long time and sometimes you might be the only person believing things can indeed change but it has worked for me pretty well so far ;)

Do you have a patience solution?



Saturday 26 December 2015

Day 360: Random thoughts on teaching myself a.k.a. learning how things are done

Evening walks around London :) 

Apparently, if one dares to teach others one should never stop learning and for sure, there is something to be said about those who stop the latter and think they can be any good at the former...

So here is the thing. As we know, some aspects of horse riding are easier to teach than others. Some skills are acquired over time via trial and error and you might argue that this is the way it should be. I am not so sure however. If I can teach something quicker, something that will make the horse's life much much easier and rider's confidence in own ability increases as a result, I am all for that.

I watched many many lessons. It seems to me that a lot of the times riders do a lot of guessing of what they are asked to do. A lot of guessing. Even if they don't realise that fully.
I am aware I do the same when I am taught. I apply my own meaning to the instructions mentioned and sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

You know this "how do you explain a taste of a strawberry jam to someone who never tried strawberries" ? Well, it seems tricky. It might be even trickier if one who does the explaining was never told they were eating strawberry jam in the first place ;) They ate something. It was good. It could have been anything.

So now. When you have a skill and you don't know/remember how you acquired it and you are aware enough to know that you do a lot of things subconsciously, how do you bring it to a conscious level and explain it to someone else?

There is a lot of "mechanics" in riding. You can probably do large amount of foundation teaching simply based on 'do this, do that, place your hand here, your leg there'. However, there are also many 'feel' related actions and the problem is, without learning that feel, the mechanics can mean very little to the horse. They create tension, resistance, discomfort.

But how do you teach those non-mechanical aspects? Do you? I think so. I don't believe in the notion that 'feel' is some elusive talent of a few. I do think it's more of a case of it being too elusive for many to dress into words.

I suppose it's a part of my intellectual hobby to try to figure out how to teach those more elusive aspects of "leg on"...;)

First I try to understand what I do and how it feels to me. Then I try to make those actions independent of my own learning style, movement pattern, experience. Then, I think about who I teach it to and how might they understand what I am about to tell them. I noticed over time that if I get all these three aspects right, it works. But I don't always do.

There are riders whom I have taught regularly over a longer period of time and that knowledge of how they ride, what they do in certain situations, is invaluable when it comes to teaching something new. But it's not enough.

For the last few weeks I've been trying to figure out what I do in certain situations. Let me tell you how it feels for feels like I imagine it. And it happens. Now, this is no good if I try to explain it this way as it won't help anyone one bit! And if I say it out loud, it sounds ludicrous.

But think about it. If you are en experienced rider, well balanced rider on a well balanced horse, you can just sit and "picture" the horse in canter, and it canters...I have a similar experience with this particular skill set that I am analysing and it drives me a little mad :) I want to know what happens before I imagine it. That's why I've been thinking about it. And perhaps I am starting to understand it all better...

I guess I will find out when I try to teach it ;)

Thanks for reading the rambling thoughts today. Four days left of 2015...



Friday 25 December 2015

Day 359: Thank you Santa for technology ;)

I hope you all got your unicorns! ;) I must say, the best thing about technology and world wide connection is having a moment to moment updates from my family. Christmas for me doesn't mean that much over here but it's wonderful to "almost be there" thanks to the clever What's App invention ;)

Couple of my favourite photos of my niece and nephew - their faces are priceless :-D

Christmas cheers everyone!
Until tomorrow ;)


Thursday 24 December 2015

355-358: Merry Christmas! Almost time to say goodbye...

Last hack before Christmas :) 

Almost time to say goodbye to this 365 posts a day in 2015. I will not be continuing to write frequently on here next year because of many other plans I have for 2016 but I will try to pop in with updates now and then.

And so it's Christmas ;) Another year has gone.

Due to personal matters, it has been the hardest one I have ever experienced regardless any other years where I may have thought the challenge was on. I have not and will not mix personal posts with my teaching diary posts and even though I prefer to say my thank yous in person it would seem bizarre to look back at these pages and not mention someone who has always been at the end of the phone for me. 

Thank you Suzanne. It was great to see you yesterday. There just aren't the right words to describe how grateful I am for your support (neither there are the right words to describe our fashion sense). Look forward to 2016! 

With Suzanne at Windsor Horse Show several years back ;)

A shock of a year it has been on one hand, it brought me some amazing experiences on the other hand. With all the disappointments, it also brought me the kind of people I would want to always have around. With all the anxiety, it brought me resilience I never thought I had.

Merry Christmas dear readers, riders, horse owners. Keep smiling. Keep trying. Keep failing. It works ;)

Best wishes,


Sunday 20 December 2015

Day 352 - 354: A page from the past and a page from current life

A page from the past...

Marks & Spencer in Winchester does the best evening food sale. I know this because when you arrive back from a year away sacrificing everything to ride the life out of your breeches, you have £18 to last you a month, nowhere to live, your clients have moved on and your debts eat on your conscious, you simply know those things. 
I am waiting for Pip to pick me up and I keep everything crossed she can make it because if she doesn't I won't get to run my clinic which is supposed to pay for some sort of a room for a few weeks. The room I have not yet found mind you, because of course in this day and age you need a month and a half deposit and I have less than twenty pounds to last for discounted Marks and Spencer's sandwiches. 

As I wait I am vaguely aware of craziness of this situation and it makes me laugh how some think that any kind of success (maybe except of a lottery win but is that a success?) comes easily. All I have really is this idea of what I want to re-build. 

Your brain is always sharper when you're hungry. I don't know for sure (could Google I suppose but will let it be) but maybe there is some sort of specialisation of species that alerts our senses in a moment of struggle. Pip turns up. The clinic goes very well, we get back and I have a few more lessons to do in a nearby town. Everybody loves them which is lucky for me because it means food and a room for a month. Few weeks to plan the next step. 
Teaching full - time again feels good, I realise that even though I loved every moment of my intensive training, riding for myself doesn't float my boat. I find no real fulfilment nor purpose in working solely as a rider. 
Re-building the Academy is stressful, it's scary and yet I don't want to do anything else. I have so many doubts it feels like there is no space left for any other thought. But I truly learnt a real meaning of a few good lessons while away. If you want to do something nobody else did or is preparing to do, you must do what you and others are scared of. 
You must trust yourself or nobody else will. You must be patient and persistent. And you must have people around you who you can count on. 

So I keep scaring myself and keep going and with help from a couple of my friends, several weeks later I sign a contract for a room on the high street and do a damn massive, non-discounted M&S shop and eat myself silly. 

The above is a fragment of the first draft of my book. I am not in a rush to publish anything but I do keep at it a little bit at a time.
I share this little part today because the contrast in between then and now strikes me. There are times when we make choices hoping things will work out but we have no real means of knowing so.
There are times when it seems so easy to give up and do something "secure".

Fast forward to now, I am most grateful for the people I get to teach and work with each day. They make this whole project come to life and nothing would be the same without them. If I had to do the last 2 years again to end up where I am now, I would do it in all in a heart beat.

[I would just have to make sure the Winchester M&S still does their ridiculously amazing evening food sales ;) ]

Overwhelmingly generous Christmas gift from my riders. Look forward to making the most of it next year! :) 


Friday 18 December 2015

Day 327-351 Another of them long catch ups ;)

Today is Thursday 17th of December and although I have enjoyed trying (and failing) to do a post-a-day this year, I am looking forward to the end of this challenge ;) But hey, I am trying to keep going with some more honest insights from this teaching life of mine so grab some beverage as usual and let's go :)

After weeks of planning and organising, on 6-7 December we've done the 2nd Aspire Training Camp at Brackenhill Stud.
These intensive lessons are a great challenge for all my riders and they sure are for myself too. You know, I think it's relatively "easy" to walk into an arena and run a few good lessons. When I don't stop for 12 hours, issues that barely matter when I take breaks, become difficult to deal with when my brain is in overdrive non stop. And while I notice a shift in my perception, quickness of thought (or lack of it), patience level etc somehow I do enjoy being put on that spot so I can figure out how to get better.
It teaches me not to involve myself in rider's problem (which is what I often tell them about their horse's problem ;) ) but to be able to stand aside and help constructively.

Learning is a funny thing. We are used to learning new things as children but the older we get we tend to think we learn slower/worse/are unable to learn. As children, we tend to be creative and experiment with things, movements, actions. As adults, we look for perfection and ideal execution...from the word go...

One thing that I have learnt and the knowledge of which I probably appreciate the most is to never aim for perfection...Yes it's a controversial thought in a world of sport in general but that's a subject for another post.

“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” Brené Brown

Some courage is always needed in order to learn. Having taught hundreds of riders I do believe that it is that courage to "have a beginner's mind" is what separates those who continue to improve from those who never do.

“Healthy striving is self-focused: "How can I improve?" Perfectionism is other-focused: "What will they think?” ― Brené Brown,

Some riders like the idea of improvement but for whatever reason are not prepared to put the effort in. Some put so much effort in they burn out.

It is believed that riding and training horses builds ones character. I do think this is true but only if, again, we are open to learn new things, new feels and new solutions. In the same way as our posture is defined by our every day life and we can't just amend it for an hour on a horse, it seems to me that it's the same with the rest of the shebang...

If we are impatient, easily frustrated, lacking empathy, have a need to control everything in every day life, those tendencies won't disappear just because we sat in the saddle...If we work on the "whole picture" then the horse goes better too. In that respect I do think training can make someone a better version of oneself.

When I teach or ride, I like to look at that whole picture. Try to figure out how much to push a rider/horse without them losing too much confidence, how much to ask for a bit better version without destroying the good version.

The skill is like a muscle tissue. You have to destroy the current one a little bit before it can regenerate and build a new, better one. That's where some riders struggle the most because being in the stage where nothing seems to get better, everything is hard and falls apart, is not easy. But that's where I think the courage lies - you got to have it to endure the plateau...

It's the same for me when I teach. Sometimes everything works. I look at horse and rider walk into the arena and I *know* what to do and how to change things in a similar way as you might see fridge full of ingredients and know what you might cook ;)

Sometimes I look but all I can see is a lot of puzzles all with the same image of sky and hell knows how they will slot together. This is especially so with more experienced riders where I don't want to destroy their riding feel and style. I start trying to slot something here and there and that's when my own learning happens.

I might say to the rider "I don't know how we are going to correct this yet, but I will know"  - there is never a "no way" as long as you are prepared not to try to be perfect straight away.

You've got to be brave and ask questions - of yourself, of your horse. I feel that those intensive sessions do create a bit of a whirl for everyone, myself included, and one day it might be hard and stressful just to become manageable the next day.

The most rewarding of all for me is watching the riders go through those stages and keep going. Nothing substitutes experience :)


Until next time :)

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