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September 22, 2011

Book Smarts

Photo by Sara Lieser.

"Hang on, Lauren, I'll be right back."

Midge and I have just finished a set of piaffe work, and we're on a walk break. Midge is wonderfully motivated in the piaffe, and I can make him quicker, or I can make him cover more ground. What I can't do is make him more active, more springy. I can't add volume to the piaffe.

The reason I can't do this is because I can't relax my leg and let it quietly and rhythmically bump him in the piaffe without also pulling on the reins. And I feel like a moron. It's like there's a string connecting the two. UGH.

I'm frustrated. But I'm trying to keep cool about it, and I'm recalling a concept from a book I just finished, The Talent Code. The author, Daniel Coyle, suggests that a piece of the puzzle of greatness is something called "deep practice," a concentrated strategy for practice where you focus on mistakes and improving them.

It made me recall my first lesson with Lendon, where I screwed up a line of fours, and then when I went to repeat them I screwed them up the same way again. She said, "I don't care if you make a million mistakes, just don't make the same mistake twice." 

So I said, ‘OK. I have this problem. I'm going to keep trying, keep making different mistakes, until it works.’

Michael was gone five minutes tops, but by the time he returned, I'd figured it out. That looseness I was trying to find has to come from my hip, not my calf. It feels like I have to lift my upper leg away from the saddle. I don't know if that's actually what's happening, but that's what it feels like, and it works. I cue the piaffe and do that lifting thing, and Midge makes 10, 15 steps of this unbelievable, lofty, engaged, sproingy piaffe. Then he runs out of strength. But I can recreate it, again and again. I own it. It's mine.

It's amazing. I'm grinning like a looney tune. Soon, Michael's grinning too. Who says you can't learn something from a book?

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