The Scream Trot
One of my favorite things about teaching is watching a student get really excited as they feel something for the first time. Once we've ridden in our chosen disciple for a while, we've felt most of the "things" that there are to feel. For me my chosen discipline is dressage. I've felt horses be round over their back. I've felt connection, collection, half passes, tempi changes, pirouette, piaffe, passage, etc. Of course, I still love the challenge of improving these movements and teaching them to new horses. There's definitely a lot of excitement that comes from helping a horse learn something new or helping him do something better than he ever has before. For me as a rider though, I've felt all of those things before, and in a lot of ways that makes me forget to appreciate just how cool it all is.
I often don't realize that I've forgotten this until I watch a student achieve a new movement or feeling for the first time and see their amazement. What happened with one of my students in a lesson last week definitely makes the cut as one of my top favorite teaching moments ever.
This student is a young adult rider and has ridden a bit on and off through her life, primarily western. She's new to dressage. In December she started leasing a horse and taking lessons with me. Also in December she learned how to post the trot. All of this dressage stuff is new to her. Contact is new. Having a horse stretch to the contact and work over its back was DEFINITELY new to her. That started happening last week. The first time she found the feeling in the trot where her horse reached down to the contact into a frame and started working over her back, she screamed. It was the most wonderful, joyful scream of pure amazement and happiness. It was an "omg we're doing it, this is so cool!" feeling, and it came out as a scream.
As always happens when we are first learning something, the magic was gone a few short strides later. A half circle later, she found the feeling again. She screamed in joyful exuberance again. I was smiling and laughing all at the same time, sharing her joy.
Yes... we did talk about how screaming might not be the best positive reinforcement in the world for your horse when it does something wonderful for you. She has taken that advice to heart, so sadly, the screaming is over, but it will remain a fond memory in my heart forever.
As instructors, we live for those moments when we can help a student find a new feeling for the first time. As riders we look for those moments when we can find a feeling that makes us want to scream in pure joy, and it is important to remember that the fact that we can get these giant creatures to do any of these things for us actually is REALLY COOL. Stumbling onto a new feeling for the first time is hard. Once we find it once, it gets easier to find it again. Our bodies and muscle memory begin to remember what it felt like and what it took to create it. That helps us achieve it again. Positive visualization can be a helpful tool to strengthen and enhance this process. Studies have shown that visualizing ourselves performing sports in a certain way while in a state of deep relaxation, like that induced by hypnosis, actually builds neural pathways in our bodies in ways akin to physically practicing those activities in that way. Thus, it can help us strengthen that memory in our body to help us achieve the feeling again, or maybe even for the first time. Right after having an epiphany of a new feeling is a great time to visualize, to help lock it into our bodies. After the "scream trot" lesson, I told my student she should go home and listen to the Hypno-Ride: Confidence Building for the Equestrian recording to visualize the feeling and help lock it into her body and mind. She's already finding the feeling more and more in her rides this week, and she's looking forward to her first schooling show!