USDF/FEI Trainers' Conference, Day Two

Jan 22, 2013 - 3:54 PM
Photo by Sara Lieser.

My mother has spent the last few years exploring meditation as a means of relaxing her wound-tight mind. Mrs. Sprieser is an incredible, fierce and brilliant woman who has achieved much in her career by possessing, among other things, a tremendous type-A personality, by which I come honestly. I’ve never been a good sleeper. As a result, she’s been on my case to try to get into meditation as well lately.

One of the techniques she’s working on is something called Mindfulness, which, according to Wikipedia, is “an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment.)” When it comes to meditation, I am lost. But this concept of Mindfulness came to mind during my session with Steffen today, the final day of the USDF/FEI Trainers’ Conference, as he got on my case about being very aware of the consequences of every single thing I tell my horse.

This is, like most things, something I am constantly on my students about, but I have (clearly) not yet mastered myself. (Note to my students: This is one of the many Do-As-I-Say,-Not-As-I-Do things. Stop reading right now and go back to thinking I am perfect. Thanks.) When I use my leg, do I get an immediate answer? Have I been suckered into using my left leg more than my right, every time? Am I still stuck in thinking that Fender needs a big, obvious, frying pan to the head aid for the flying change, like a baby horse?

It was really a fabulous zen kick in the pants.

I know how to ride. There are always things that I could get better at, new tricks to put into my toolbox (poignant example – spent a lot of time this week studying YouTube videos of Steffen on Ravel trying to figure out how he does this incredibly quick staccato kick-kick-kick thing in the piaffe; my ankles just can’t move that fast, and I end up shoving both my Grand Prix horses out of rhythm. Whoops.). But I know how to ride, leg to hand, half-halt. I get it all.

As I develop FEI horses that will, I hope, be competitive at the international level, it’s about this tiny level of nuance, not letting one thing go unnoticed and uncorrected, and then making sure I can repeat everything without the correction. It was a really intense half-hour, but not because I was galloping around like a nut; in fact, I felt this incredible swingy loft from my wonderful Fender that I’d never been able to sustain for very long before, probably because I’d never thought to ask it of him. It was one of the deepest rides I’ve ever had, the closest I’ve ever felt to what I would imagine meditation would feel like, the most silent my brain has ever been. Very, very cool.

And Fender, my darling boy. What a try-er! Scott, in his post-session debrief, nailed it; Fender just gives and gives and gives. He’s been waiting for me to realize that he’s grown up, and I can start seeing him as this wonderful developing FEI horse, not the doofus baby horse who could not necessarily coordinate his front and hind legs simultaneously in the same direction. He is so much smarter, so much keener, so much better than I even knew. How splendid.

So tomorrow, on him and on the redheads, I will attempt the seventh element of the noble eightfold path, to be conscious of everything I do and of everything that happens, or doesn’t, as a result. Or something like that. (No guarantees, Mom, sorry!)


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