Lessons are a vital part of any riders life. This applies to everyone regardless of level, from beginners to Olympic riders. This is a truth I've been aware of since my first trainer had me on the lunge line at 5 years of age on my first pony, Bluey. Since then I've had many lessons varying in consistency and quality. Initially the goal was to keep me from falling off my pony. That achieved, we moved onto rising trot. At this point my ultimate goal was to be able to canter and perhaps compete in the Grand National just like in National Velvet. So I started cantering. Bluey then understood my Grand National goals and took it into her owns hands/hooves to teach me the gallop we would need if I were to win whilst competing against the 17hh monster thoroughbreds on my little 12.2hh Welsh Pony mare. She did this by bolting from the bottom of the paddock back to the house. I thought this was wonderful, the adults did not. SO annoying. Back on the lunge we went, for what seemed like ETERNITY. It was probably only a few weeks or a few days, but when you're five that amount of time is actually quite long in relation to the amount of time you've been alive! I think it was at this point I started to see lessons as a necessary evil, something that must be done in order to improve but not to be enjoyed. Now, 20 something years later, I'm just starting to see differently.
Even through Pony Club I saw my lessons as the evil one must do in order to prove you have enough control of your pony to be allowed to jump or do games. It didn't help that my second pony, Princess, was very inappropriately named. She-Devil or Killer would have been more suitable names. The pony club trainers viewed us as a lost cause and often treated us as such, basically if I didn't fall off I was allowed to go and jump with the other kids. I was even allowed on the odd occasion to go thru the 'jump lane'! This involved taking away our stirrups and reins, lining our ponies up in chute, smacking them on the bottom and yelling 'heels down', 'eyes up' while we galloped uncontrollably thru a line of jumps. This is actually one of my favourite memories! A little while later I graduated to a bigger, faster horse called Apollo. With him I developed a love for going even faster, now adding in cows (we loved campdrafting) and xc jumps. All of my training at this point had been thru the pony club. By now my parents saw I wasn't going to stop riding so they got me some lessons privately. Money was in VERY short supply in my house so I'm eternally grateful to them for doing this. I like to think they did it to give me some education, however I think they actually did it as a form of health insurance. Particularly after I built a xc course in the paddock and timed myself to see how fast I could do it. Then devoted several weeks to beating each 'record' I set.
By now I had given up on my Grand National aspirations, who was I kidding that I would be able to do that? Plus the movie International Velvet had just made it to TV and I'd decided on a different career path, international eventer! I renamed Apollo, he became Pie (anyone who's seen the movie will understand) and we practiced our winning xc round over and over and over again. At some point I realised dressage was a part of eventing, I also realised I wasn't very good at xc and realised the showjump rails weren't going to keep themselves up. So I got a job (I was 13 now, perfectly legal in Australia) and started investing in more lessons.
This brings me back to the point of the story: I've had many lessons from many trainers. Some great eg: Heath Ryan (inspiration, builder of careers), Rozzie Ryan (dressage extraordinaire and most patient woman in the world), Vicki Roycroft (just the one but boy did it stick!), Wayne Roycroft (I've never felt so small and big at the same time), Prue Barrett (just the one but genius), Craig Barrett (genius also), Martina Hannover-Sternberg (o to ride like her), Boyd Martin (whom I worked for, learnt a lot about riding and a LOT about life!), Phillip Dutton (still working with as often as money allows), Marilyn Meredith-Little (taught me how to jump BIG jumps). There are other trainers who I learnt good and bad things from but the thing that I had never acheived in a lesson was enjoyment or pleasure. Not once was I happy with a lesson, not once have I looked forward to one, not once did I look back on one thinking it was successful. I saw them as a time where I was being judged and told what I was bad at. I know that's the point of a lesson but I saw that as failing. And each time I went to a lesson I would be failing at something. Just recently something weird happened. I was on my way to a lesson with Phillip (it's a two hour drive, great thinking time) and found myself looking forward to it. So I went with it and told myself how much fun it would be. Lo and behold I've never learnt so much in one go! And afterwards more of the lesson sank in. On the way home I made a mental note to myself to remember that. Then at my next lesson I went in with the same view. I think I've now started to enjoy learning and am not ashamed that I don't have ALL the answers. One small step for me, one giant leap for learning!
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