The Learning Curve

Last Wednesday when I picked Henry up from camp, Trainer hopped on him first to show me what she’s been doing with him and talk me through what I need to work on. On one hand I love watching her ride him, because she gets better results than I do. On the other hand, when I watch her ride him I can’t help but think “The odds of me reproducing this at home are slim to none”. Especially with the dressage work.

Dressage is obviously not my forte – I come from a hunter/jumper background, one filled with green horse after green horse. We’re officially at the point in Henry’s flatwork education where I’m floundering a bit… his level of education has caught up to mine. And, as Trainer noted, he’s really good at convincing me to take the pressure off of him, which means we’ve plateaued a bit. He’s improved so much, and he’s to the point where he can take some pressure, work through it, and come out the other side having learned something instead of just shutting down. I have to figure out how to ride this particular horse I’ve got at the moment.

Sitting there watching her do canter/walk transitions and counter canter loops (neither of which he knew how to do when I dropped him off a week and a half prior) I felt 51% determination and 49% dejection. The learning curve for dressage is so steep for me, at times it feels almost hopeless, and I get frustrated. I’m not a quitter, but this… this is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling defeated. Sometimes I long for the days in Jumperland where the flatwork part of the job was so much simpler.


Then Trainer reminded me how much better and stronger Henry has gotten. In my head he’s still the mess of a horse I got two and a half years ago, or the powder keg I was sitting on last year that I couldn’t canter in dressage warm-up. There was a time when any little bit of contact made him put his nose on his chest. Or when just breathing a little too hard sent him spurting into canter. We started out with a big deficit, so it’s gonna take longer and be harder to climb our way out of it. There’s a lot I don’t know and there’s a lot I’m not good at. But day by day, ride by ride, we’re gonna keep trying, even if I feel like screaming on the inside. I know there’s a decent dressage horse lurking in there, and I feel like I owe it to him to cultivate that.

At least until they give us a form of eventing where dressage is optional…

19 thoughts on “The Learning Curve

  1. I love his little snorts each stride! He looks great and you are so smart to have your trainer teach him what is out of your comfort zone. He is being developed gymnastically and you will learn with lessons how to push the installed buttons.


  2. he looks fantastic! but yea. dressage is hard yo 😦 it was a blast to learn and play with on isabel, who could take endless pressure despite being otherwise somewhat hot and sensitive. but it’s easy to see how it might be different with other horses.


    1. It’s hard to feel perpetually out of your element. I know he’s way better now, but it was almost easier back in the days where it took us 45 minutes to get any hint of contact lol. At least I knew how to ride that. Now I’m like “well shit, I have no idea wtf is happening here”.


  3. lol, breathing too hard. I feel that in my soul.
    I second Alli’s comment. Dis shit is hard and you guys are learning together. Plus, I feel like you’re the type of person to attack something when its a bit more challenging.


  4. You two have come SO FAR! You should be proud you’ve literally taught Henry everything you know. Now you can both move on together with the help of your trainer to keep learning as a pair. Riding is so challenging, but when you come out on the other side of all the new things, it feels amazing! Keep on keeping on, and it will all come together.


  5. Ooooh, THAT CANTER MAN! He’s SO balanced and SO light… I bet that is super dreamy to sit! You know the cool part is that you’re at a place where you can actually start doing cool things in dressage, like all the laterals and simple changes and counter-canter and stuff. It really does get fun, I promise! Especially when you have a horse with a canter like that!


  6. I love dressage but I struggle too. I feel like I’m at the same point as you are right now where I no longer know more than my horse so she’s able to convince me to change how I’m asking for things. It really does make it difficult.


  7. He looks great! And your trainer is obviously a great rider- I don’t think there’s any shame in not being able to replicate a professional’s work instantaneously. She probably couldn’t walk into your office and replicate your work, either. But you should be proud of the horse you created that can obviously learn so quickly and pull off his new dressage tricks with such talent- all of that wouldn’t happen without the foundation you provided!


  8. Girrrrrl, dressage is hard. That feeling you’re feeling…I have felt that so many times. Second guessing myself. Doubting everything. I try to make those moments of discouragement serve to motivate me to work harder, rather than let them beat me down, but it’s hard.

    The maddening thing about riding–and especially dressage–is that just as soon as you’ve climbed one particular hill, you realize that there are six more up ahead still to scale. But we have to do our best to relish the journey and the process, the summiting of each hill. I am lucky enough to have my dream horse and I am having so much fun with him. Yes, we’re moving slowly and yes there are days when it feels like we’ve taken a step back rather than forward, and yes I wish I was one of those riders that can take a green horse up through the levels quickly and brilliantly. But at the end of the day I am doing what I love with my favorite horse ever, we’re learning together, and I’m pretty sure I’m not messing him up too badly. Someday when our journey together is over, I will wish I was still back at 2nd level with him, fumbling with shoulder-in.

    Finding a balance between making progress/reaching goals, and not being so overly results-focused that it stops being fun…that’s the sweet spot.


  9. I hear you Dressage is a strange beast. The more you know the worse you think you ride at times 🙂

    My dressage coach sister (who also is an amazing rider) posted this and I remind myself that it feels weird hard overwhelming before it get better.
    The five Stages of mastery:

    #1 Unconsciously Incompetent.
    “you don’t know what you don’t know” which can be a blessing
    #2 Consciously Incompetent.
    you are becoming aware of how you know- but be determined, you can get thru this uncomfortable and sometimes intimidating stage (ugh I know I need bend. is this enough bend…. or am i now just crooked? more forward but am I running? HELP!!! are my thoughts at this stage)
    #3 Consciously Competent
    you are becoming more skilled and can now execute the various exercises by consciously and systematically working through the steps. your ability is still influenced by the horse you are riding and it is a challenge to take your new skill from one horse to another
    #4 Unconsciously Competent
    you can now execute “in the moment”. You no longer have to think about how you do the exercise or the corrections. you know own the new skill and can begin to execute it on different horses.
    #5 your have a finely honed feel for the horse and what is happening underneath you . you have the ability to school and gymnastically improve the horse. You intuitively see and understand things that you haven’t been taught. the piece de resistance is your ability to improve each horse your ride without stepping back to stage three

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And the hard part about the consciously competent stage is that you are extremely self-conscious and feel like a phony – that *everyone knows* that you aren’t *really* a rider, you’re just faking it and it’s written in letters of fire right over your head! But then one day – you realize you just pulled off some difficult move *without* even thinking about it, and viola! You’re unconsciously competent! :oD


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s