I've been thinking a lot lately about accountability.
Earlier this month, I rode in a clinic. It was wonderful and so helpful. I was able to get the horse I was riding to perform at a higher level of responsiveness and with better balance. He felt great!
After a clinic, people always ask me what the clinician said and/or what my takeaways were. I often have a hard time coming up with a good answer... and I don't in any way mean this to be a negative reflection on the clinicians that I ride with. Ultimately I could write a whole article about the exercises that this most recent clinician used for me and my horse and the reasons that those exercises helped. She had a lot of great ones! However, at the end of the day, I often find that my "key takeaways" sound kind of boring and are nothing earth-shatteringly new. The horse needs to be more forward and quicker off of my leg. He needs to bend better around my inside leg and connect to my outside rein. I know these things. I've been hearing them for decades. I tell my students the same things. I've heard them about this specific horse before. And countless other horses. There's certainly something to be said for having eyes on the ground to say how MUCH more forward and how MUCH bend... but also, I can usually feel the change when it happens.
So then, what is the magic of a clinic or a lesson? Why do our horses often seem to simply perform better when our trainer is standing in the arena? I think ultimately a big part of the magic of a clinic or a lesson is accountability and holding ourselves to a higher standard when our trainer is watching than we do when we're on our own.
If I'm riding on my own it's much easier to make compromises and excuses for myself and/or for the horse. I might ask him to go forward and feel that he made some good effort and call it good enough... after all, he was distracted by the car outside, so really it was nice of him to try at all... And who knows what he might have done if I insisted that he go REALLY forward while he was thinking about the car... When my trainer is there, I know she's not going to allow for the excuse of the car outside. And she's going to want to see him really GO. Consequently I raise my own expectations for the exercise to something that she'll be satisfied with.
I see this with my students too. Just the other day I showed up to teach a student and watched her warming up, and the horse was counter-bending and looking all around. I walked up, and the first thing I said was "bend!". Immediately, she fixed it and bent the horse perfectly on her circle. Clearly, she knew how to do it. And she knows that she should. She just wasn't holding herself to that standard when she was riding on her own.
At my barn, we've been inspired by our recent clinic to work on improving our own accountability when we're riding on our own outside of lessons. We measured our arena and put markers on the walls that we can use to check that our circles are really round and placed where they should be.
Hypno-Ride's Confidence-Building recording can also be a helpful tool, because when we visualize ourselves riding the way we aspire to, we're able to recreate some of that clinic "magic". We can hold ourselves to a higher standard of accountability in our visualizations, eliminating the excuses we come up with when we're actually on top of the horse, like the distracting car outside. Our mind learns from this visualization and strengthens the pathways that it takes to ride that way, helping us to achieve it the next time we're in the saddle.
And, the next time you're riding, try to pretend your trainer is watching. Would they have been happy with that circle? With that transition? With your position? Try to be accountable and hold yourself and your horse to a higher standard, and who knows what you might be able to achieve!