Let The Yeahbuts Live In The Forest

Aug 24, 2022 - 7:59 AM

Every teacher of riding lessons has A Thing that makes them nutsy. Maybe it’s people who want to fly up the levels and do tricks without a solid foundation. Maybe it’s students who talk all the time and don’t listen as well. Maybe it’s students who make the same mistake over and over again. For me, the thing is students who talk back, who tell me why the thing I’m suggesting to them won’t work, or why they can’t try it.

I presume that, when someone rides with me, whether it’s in a lesson, a clinic or in training at my home facility, they’ve chosen to do so because they value my professional opinion. They’ve done their homework on checking my resume, to make sure that I’m credentialed enough to know what I’m talking about; they’ve either listened to me teach before, or their regular coach has assured them that riding with me would be a good fit. And since they believe that I’m qualified to tell them what to do, they’re wiling to give me their money in order to be told what to do.

That’s the ballgame: They’re willing to experiment with my way of doing things, at least once; if they don’t like it, I assume they know they can take or leave my advice, but they’re willing to, for that 45 minutes, give it a shot.

So when someone comes to me and gives me the “yeah, but”s, I’m always confused.

Heather Richards Photo.

“Yeah, but,” they say. But my horse was diagnosed with a soundness problem that may—or, more likely, may not—be relevant. But I read on the internet that if my horse goes behind the vertical, the world explodes. But when I do that, the horse becomes imperfect in some other way. But that’s not what (insert famous, or infamous, person) says. But I think that piece of equipment is cruel. But I’m afraid/tired/sore.

I find these things unbelievably annoying. And for those who knew me as a teenaged equestrian, I’d like to officially apologize to anyone I rode with, because in the interest of full disclosure, I’m sure that I did this—and more—from time to time. (I call Lendon Gray about once a year to apologize to her for having to tolerate an 18-year-old me.) Certainly when I teach kids, I have to remind myself from time to time that, hey, they’re kids. They haven’t yet mastered how to learn. Just like young horses, sometimes they do dumb things, say dumb things, get frustrated, have too much ego.

With adults, however, I’m just so much less sympathetic. Adults know how to learn. Adults know how to regulate their own temperaments. Adults, equestrians and athletes in particular, know that the magic happens at the end of your comfort zone. And yes, adults are sometimes contrarians because they’re afraid. I have great respect for fear, I do. But I also think that the time and the place to push your comfort bubble is in the safety of a lesson, with supervision. Because how many of us are brave enough to poke that comfort bubble at home, alone? 

Yes, sometimes clinicians or instructors are wrong. Yes, sometimes you do know your horse better than the clinician. Sometimes we do need to know that they are just coming back into work, or need more frequent walk breaks, or that they know the saddle is quirky, or that the horse is seeing the vet to likely get his hocks done next week. But man oh man, it’s pretty hard to ruin your horse asking a bit too much, one time. A good trainer will identify whether that was the wrong answer, back you up, reinstall confidence, and try a different approach. Trainers are humans, for sure, and all humans are capable of mistakes. But horses are resilient. They just won’t come unglued from one funky lesson or from one poor idea. 

I don’t know when it became uncouth to trust your experts, because this is not a phenomenon unique to the horse world, but here we are. I expect it from the internet, where everyone is hidden behind the safety of a screen, but to tell me—face to face, in public—why I’m wrong, or why my expectations of the rider in front of me can’t be met—it’s my Crazy Thing. 

So when I have student who gives me the “yeah, but,” I think back to my high school driver’s ed class. My teacher used to say that “Yeahbuts,” rhyming loosely with “rabbits,” live in the forest. Please send them back there. Please be willing, in a lesson, to give it a shot, whatever “it” is: going more forward, or putting your leg on even if the horse feels nervous, or giving both reins even if you think it’s going to cause the horse to accelerate/fall on the forehand/come off the bit/whatever. The magic begins just outside your comfort zone, and you’ve worked too hard to let the Yeahbuts trip you up.

Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis and her own string of young horses with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


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