Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reflections on language

In reflecting on my fabulous ride in my lesson this evening, I realize that the process of coaching a rider develops its own organic language to communicate concepts and ideas and directions, much like all the choreographers I've ever worked with use to explain rhythm and dance steps.

 I have long been used to hearing things like "Ah-ya-da-da, ya-da-da, one, two, turn, stomp" or "reach and... reach and... bum bum bum, kick step flick". In the studio, the rehearsal hall, on the stage in performance preparation, all dancers are familiar with the verbal salad that defines the choreography. So much so, that a specific combination of words and sounds will almost always result in the ability to execute the same set of dance steps, without music, at any time in the future.

 I remember the verbal-visual descriptions I heard throughout my dance training that were designed to help me refine steps or posture. Things like "lift your ribcage out of your hips", or "hold your arms up from your back, not your biceps", or "explode off the floor [in a leap]".

 Now, as a rider learning the ballet-like discipline of dressage, I hear similar types of coaching from my trainers. There's not as much word salad, thank goodness, but the visual descriptions are often so applicable that I can turn the words into action and into a betterment of my posture, riding technique, and Joe's way of going.

 For example, postural corrections I often hear these days include "no chicken wings!" when I need to keep my elbows close to my hips. Sometimes I just get chicken-clucking noises from my coach. I hear "slide your shoulder blades down your back", and "connect your shoulders to his hips", and "move his shoulders over with your knee".

 I also occasionally hear "steer with your boobs!", which is a correction to think of turning my upper body when I turn my horse. Shoulders like a queen, hips like....well, never mind.

 The concept of pushing the girth over with my leg, pushing his withers over, moving his shoulders over has been significantly helpful in getting the correct technique to keep Joe bending and turning through corners and on a circle.

 Tonight, the gem I really needed was " you're a soil scientist, studying the soil right in front of Joe's [inside] foot". It seems an exceedingly odd thing to say, but it made so much sense that whenever my instructor said "soil scientist" for the rest of the lesson, I knew exactly what to do to get Joe down and round and forward. And it worked, nearly every single time!

 And sometimes, I'd hear "lower his neck", and I could apply the half-halt I needed to get him to come more round.

 It was truly fun, physically and mentally demanding lesson. Lots of attention to detail, lots of minute-to-minute learning. I think we did a respectable job, and I feel like I have had a fantastic total-body workout. My brain is filing away all the phrases and concept for our next ride. The challenge is always to be able to repeat it all the next time I am in the saddle.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thoughts on transitions

At the beginning of September, 2016, I went back to work full time. I haven't had a full time, out-of-the-home job in just about ten years -- the entire length of my youngest child's life thus far. Up to that point, I had worked part time from home for a company I had been a part of for the entirety of my time here in Richmond. Fifteen years. But in 2016, due to the aging of the company's owners, and the volatile market for health care provider agencies, the company was sold. My work appealing denials of payment for therapy services was not required by the new company, and I was laid off. The first time ever in my life I was let go from a professional job. By the end of the summer, though, I had found a new job, and began that work with a little bit of trepidation. It was full time, outside of the home. The kids would need before-school care, and the ability to let themselves into the house after school. I would no longer be able to run errands for the family, make daytime appointments easily, take time off without too much consideration, and be able to go to the kids' school for awards ceremonies, lunches, or to pick up a sick kid without a re-arranging of my day. I'd have to switch my volunteer work schedule at the museum to all-evening or weekend work.

And I would no longer have the ability to ride in the mornings, to have most days be available to spend a couple hours at the barn after my work was done, riding, helping out, and frankly, being with my friends. I know that sounds like a total first-world problem, and it is. But it was a life I had finally been able to craft for myself, in which I contributed financially to the family, took care of the kids, some house stuff, and our animals, and left time for me to pursue interests that had been gnawing at me for years.

Now, it's not all bad, and I don't mean to complain too much. I mean to reflect a little, and try to make some decisions about how my life is going to go in this new reality in which most everyone else already participates. I like my job, it suits me, and I like my coworkers, even though I am struggling to learn a new and very complex role in which I am no longer the authority figure. It's a state job, so the benefits are fantastic, and I do have some flexibility for appointments, sick kids, and the like. Also -- state holidays!

I generally am not an afternoon or evening person, though, so it's been very difficult for me to remain motivated by the end of a long sedentary day to get my ass out to the barn. I struggle with guilt over leaving my family to fend for themselves in the evenings I ride, and for Travis to have to deal with kid drama as it arises, or the function as the inevitable kid shuttle service to activities.

I find myself struggling with guilt over work when I take a sick day to be home with a kid who needs me, and the guilt when I notice I am thinking if I can possibly schedule some riding time into the sick day without abandoning my kid. Good Parent Guilt never goes away, no matter how old your kids are.

I'm not riding well consistently enough, and show season is coming up in a month. Joe needs to work consistently in order for me to be able to overcome his innate inflexibility, and my general lack of technique. I have goals I want to achieve this year, as always, but finances are tight and time is even tighter. I'm cramming the same number of activities and obligations into MUCH less time, and frankly, I have not yet found a weekly rhythm that I am comfortable with. To top it all off, it's winter, which means my hibernation instincts are strong on grey days, my mental health takes a hit (seasonal, and because of my 'new' life), and the afternoon/evening post-work window for daylight riding is small.

Things will improve; the days will stay lighter longer soon, it won't always be cold and grey (soon I'll be bitching because it's too fucking hot to ride), my kids will grow and become more independent, obligations may change that will make schedules change, and this dressage journey I am on is a long-haul sort of thing. Having the faith that I just need to keep plugging away and do what I can do each day is tough for me, goal-directed and ambitious as I can be. Nobody's pushing me but me. Well, my trainers push me, and my friends encourage me, but nobody is *pressuring* me, I should say.

I hope I figure this thing out soon. I love my guy Joe, and I love to ride, and the best thing that has happened to me in the last four years outside of family stuff has been finding my tribe at Saddlebrook, along with "my" horse, trainers who suit me perfectly, and the atmosphere for myself and Wren to enjoy riding and learn at our pace. I just feel like most of the time I am giving not enough attention to everything. It's a hard place to be, and I dislike it.

If you've read this far, you're a saint. Mostly I'm talking to myself. It's Saturday, and there's nothing on the agenda, and my coffee cup is empty, so I think it's time to head out to the barn and refresh my soul, and get some air, and love on Joe.