We have all talked about “epiphany” or maybe its phrased a “lightbulb moment”. Either way, I usually use it to describe that look of enlightenment on my student’s face as they suddenly grasp the idea of what I’ve been preaching for the last 30 lessons. It is an exciting thing, and as a rider, I can fully appreciate just how exciting it is when you get one. You suddenly take a leap on to a whole new understanding of how to ride your horse. Personally, my last lightbulb moment occurred at Inavale Horse Trials.
I was warming Archie up for his dressage test and I had hoped to have Leslie Chapman be there to help me. I have been struggling with Archie’s tension in the tests, and I was sure having someone on the ground would improve my scores. At home I feel just what an amazingly supple and responsive horse he is, but at the shows he seemed to be stuck in the upper 30s for points. I can appreciate that it’s hard for a judge to give higher than a 6 for a horse who is holding tension in his body. And at Aspen he whinnied 8 times in the test…. I call that tension. So, I have been disappointed with 31 – 39 scores but hopeful that I can improve them soon!
I checked my watch and I only had 10 minutes to my test. Oh well, I guess she is not going to come. Sigh, back to business as usual. But Leslie DID arrive with 9 minutes until my test and she managed to give me a lightbulb moment in that very short time! I was so enthralled with the feeling in my hands and my focus that I went off course! But, if I had ridden my test accurately, we would have gotten a 29 at preliminary and won the divison. More importantly, I felt all the supple, soft focus that I know Archie is capable of. My hat is off to Leslie for being incredibly concise to get it done in 9 minutes! She is THAT good!
But, that little parable is not exactly why I’m writing this blog. My point to the story above was just how important it is for the rider to have an enlightening lesson. But I think that it is not spoken enough just how fun it is for the instructor to GIVE that lightbulb moment. Case in point:
My student, Rebecca, is a model amateur. She lives far away from the city in order to keep her horses at home. She then commutes hours every day through hell traffic to her banking job in Seattle. She then works the usual 40+ week and in her spare time, and tries desperately to find happy riding times with her horse in a peaceful, zen-like state. And of course, her horse, Belle, is a veritable mood ring. If you even remotely hold stress in your body, she will help you find a way to bring it to a screamy climax. The mare could be renamed Marehammed Ali, she loves to fight. Yet, if you have buttery soft elbows, the mare will reward you with the best ride of your life. It’s both fun and infuriating to ride Belle on a daily basis, and as an instructor you feel the same swings. I want every lesson to be fun and productive, yet, life is just not all the bed of roses that you see in the movies.
But the last lesson I had with Rebecca was one of the most exciting lightbulb moments that I’ve ever had. I’ve ridden Belle enough to know just how difficult she is. I ride for a living, and still I find her a serious challenge! So, my heart goes out to Rebecca when she gets frustrated. My last ride on Belle was on cross country two weeks ago. Rebecca was having stops at silly, small jumps. I got on to feel what color the mood ring was that day. As I was cantering to a log, I could feel the whole situation unfold and I knew exactly how to describe it to Rebecca (here comes the lightbulb moment part). Belle operates like that little dial on a fire extinguisher. She has a green zone that she is happy jumping and being ridden in if you do it right. If you ride Belle with a soft hand, you stay in the green zone. If you attempt to steer or half halt with any severity, you immediately enter the red zone. If you forget to put on your leg, you are in the other side of the red zone and she then blames Rebecca for the awkward distance. Or if you over drive her to a jump, you are so buried deep into the red zone. That green zone can get paper thin in a matter of a few jumps!
Here is where the analogy has gone since then: the green zone can either grow or shrink. If Rebecca at all starts thinking that a jump is tricky, she will overuse the reins, and the mare will stop. If she feels Belle spook a little, she might over drive her forwards, and Belle will stop. But, if she rides the canter with her legs and trusts in the balance… the green zone grows and Belle jumps from anywhere. And what I mean by the green zone expanding is that they can have a long or short distance and it does not matter. Our goal is to have the green zone huge and there are tiny little slivers of red zones on either side.
Any lightbulb moment can come in so many different forms. Each one is ephemeral and exciting at the time, it also might be highly dependent on the communication between the rider and the instructor on that particular day. But what I can tell you is that it is exciting on both sides. I can’t wait for the next student to help me be creative and we share the excitement together.