If you are a newcomer to classical dressage you will probably have what Zen Buddhism calls Beginner's Mind. I hope that those with more experience will also keep this attitude for as Shunryu Suzuki says:


In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.


It means the mind is open, willing to listen, learn and employ suggestions. Once you become an established rider, maybe someone who has ridden with show ring success for many years, it can be so difficult, when you've reached a certain level (ESP in your own mind) to go back and relearn the basics! You may realise that something isn't right in your riding, but putting your faith in another person's ability to diagnose the problem is a huge step. It can be extremely hard for a mature person to go back to being a beginner, in much the same way it is for a horse who's had years of incorrect training to accept the lightness of the aids that classical riding requires. I would no more expect a horse who has been ridden with forceful methods to grasp the principles of classical riding overnight than I would a rider who has deeply ingrained habits in their riding. It takes time. Time to rewire the neurological pathways, to get your brain to say:

Horse has done X, your normal action is to do Y, now you must use Z and to do it instinctively without the active thought process as here. For example, coming around a bend, you feel the horse's inside shoulder falling in, if you have to form all the thoughts on what you have to do to bring him back into balance, before actually doing it, that moment has already passed and he may well now be falling out through his outside shoulder!

In riding, the use of conscious thought to recall past experiences and translate to present movement is slow and cumbersome. This is because a conscious thought (i.e. the way we process language) is a left brain activity which is associated with linear or progressive thinking. We can only think of one thing at a time. Our right brain memories ( i.e. memory of feelings, movements, etc. ) operate holographically, which means we can process information on many levels at the same time.

Many riders are afraid to try because they are afraid of failing. Its perfectly all right to make mistakes. Horses are very forgiving creatures when you are genuinely trying to get something right as opposed to thinking you know what you're doing and forcing the horse to do something he can't, for one reason or another, comply with.

Older riders may not be comfortable with instructors much younger than themselves. Young riders often feel uncomfortable, and some older ones too ( too much like being at school?), when I tell them to question me if I've said something they don't quite understand. Some people question / discuss / dissect every new piece of info I give them - and I love this attitude! Some instructors positively hate being quizzed - is that because they aren't sure in their knowledge? Some instructors say that the pupil shouldn't question anything the teacher tells them, but I think this stems from having taught group lessons where it can take up too much time if everyone were to ask questions about everything - another reason I don't teach in groups. If you can't make sense of what you're being told how can you put it in to practice?

But taking that first step after recognising something isn't right is a huge one. Who do you turn to? Do you go to a ‘qualified' teacher,? A Big Name? A successful local competitor? How do you know if what you're being taught is correct?

I know from experience you can't learn to Ride Better just by reading from the majority of books on riding on the market (or the internet!). If you're not aware of what you're doing wrong in the first place how can you expect to improve ?

Most texts seem to rely on: put leg here; use hand thus and Hey Presto you'll be riding Half-pass in no time.

Thankfully books are starting to appear written by people who know about human and equine biomechanics. Also many of the old Classics are being reprinted. These books went into much more depth of how and what and turned out Thinking Riders. Now, modern texts show that far from doing things differently we should be going back to these, very correct basics.

As Mary Wanless said: In the process of discovering what looks and feels 'right' we are all struggling with:

What we think we do

What we actually do

What we know we ought to do

The corrections we think we ought to make & try to put into practice

The changes we actually need to make to bring our functioning into line with the most efficient classical way of riding (according to the ideals of whichever school we follow)."

Or as Frederick Alexander the founder of The Alexander Technique wonderfully put it:

"The right thing to do would be the last thing we should do, left to ourselves, because it would be the last thing we should think it would be the right thing to do. Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right. When people are wrong the thing that is right is bound to be wrong to them." (!!!)

Riding is concerned with Kinaesthetics (the senses through which we feel heat, cold, pressure and how our body is arranged). Whenever a muscle or joint moves an impulse is sent along a nerve to the brain and informs it of the limb's location in space and its relative position to other muscles, muscle groups and joints.

But this sense is sometimes faulty. In riding you may be convinced that you're sat in an upright, stable position when in fact onlookers can see you're clearly in a precarious forward or backward lean.

(As a quick experiment of this (sometimes) sensory failure: close your eyes & raise one arm through 45 whilst lowering the other arm through 45. Wait at least 10 seconds & bring your arms back to shoulder height. Open your eyes.)

When I arrive on the scene and start to reposition your body to the ideal shoulder / hip / heel alignment your brain won't react by saying: " Hey, this is great! Now you're sitting really well with your body nicely balanced ". It's much more likely to be saying " Whoaa, hang on a minute, you're going to fall off forwards / backwards any second now you're so far out of your normal position".

And that's the point the brain doesn't register right from wrong - it registers different.

Teachers also need to recognise that people learn in different ways too. Do you recognise the way you learn best?

Are you a :

Visual type: You need to see how something is done to understand it.

Aural type: You learn just by having something explained to you. A

Kinaesthetic type: You need to feel it, touch it, work it out for yourself.

Teaching & Learning


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