Thursday, 16 June 2011

As ever, it's been too long since my last post...
I was thrilled to meet someone during my last trip to the USA who read my previous post and was able to go away and make a significant difference to her 'dud leg' as well as her overall balance whilst riding. It always gives me a kick when someone really can take my words and turn them into the feelings/organisation within the body that change both your riding and your horse.
My most recent course back in the UK had a participant from South Africa, who had been working through the books in partnership with a friend, and together they had done a very good job on her baselines. Of course she was as thrilled to hear that as I was to tell her that - and her next step, determined perhaps by the horse she was riding, was to learn to 'slingshot'! (You will only understand the need to the exclamation mark if you have read the last few posts!)
In theory, these success stories should be more common than they are, and every book ever written on riding was written in the hope that its reader would ride better for reading it. Great idea, but I am not so sure how often it really happens! In truth, only a couple of the books I have read over many years have had that much influence on me. The rest were full of nice ideas.
I spent much of my early 20s, when I was working for my BHS exams, reading every book on riding that I could lay my hands on, telling myself again and again 'Perhaps I'll find the secret in this one....perhaps it will be in this one...' I met disappointment after disappointment, and realise now that those books were full of declarative knowledge, that tell us what horse and rider should look like, and how they should progress up through the grades of dressage. But that is presupposing the skillset which the book was supposedly going to help its reader to find!
The answer lies in procedural knowledge, which tells you HOW to do the skill in question. I like to think that I have written the books and articles that put that knowledge on paper, in an accessible, do-able form. When coaching coaches, I talk about learning needing to happen in 'bite size chunks', and no one - however talented they may be - can go straight from A to X.
I recently heard a wonderful phrase used by evolutionary biologists, which I think applies equally well to learning skills. It is 'the adjacent possible', and this is the best that any of us can possibly hope to achieve as the next step in the evolution of our riding skills. But as 'adjacent possible' leads to 'adjacent possible', you get to see miraculous changes, just as you do in evolution.
For a coach to recognise this in practice, she has to honour the pupil's starting point and proceed form there, in bite-size chunks that are each an 'adjacent possible'. This means that she (the coach) gets to cross the skill-gap between her and the pupil, instead of miraculously expecting the pupil to leap across that skill-gap herself. The coach does this whenever she uses the 'puppeteering' school of coaching, in which she attempts to 'ride through' the pupil as if she were a puppet. She also does it whenever she sees that her words do not elicit the response she expected, but she just keeps saying them... because if it were her up there, shoulder in really would work well and fix the problem if she only did it one more time...
Over the years have met at least ten people who have done a stunning job on their riding from the books and DVDs. That is not a very big number, but I am still really proud that those people have proved that it's humanly possible. Many more have made significant improvements from their starting point, and there would be may more still, I am sure, if it were not for the fact that however good a job I am able to do in my explanations, the books and DVDs cannot diagnose YOUR particular starting point.
After all, if you want to get to there, the only way you can possibly do it is by starting from here, and you have to locate that 'here' on the map before you can possibly know if you have to go North or South. Are you a round backed rider or a hollow backed rider? Do you tip forward or back? Do you make your horses too heavy in your hand or too light in your hand? Do they whizz off with you, or lack impulsion? Each of these requires a different direction of travel, requiring a diagnosis which a skilled coach will be able to do better than anyone else. But if you lack that, there are always mirrors, cameras, videos, good friends, and even, so I am told, (though this is undoubtedly on rare occasions), husbands!


DocHorseTales said...

or wives. Thank you for the rich explication of the issues of transfer, of embodied knowledge, of limits to mirrors, of the nature of coaching. My riding and of receiving lessons on riding offer the most profound insight into the affordances of teaching, particularly when working at the edge of consciousness, of trying to broker libido, life energy, the spirit of horses, horsemanship. Your writing plumbs this mystery very helpfully.

isabeauzs said...

I have occasionally gotten a lot from "horse books." Where I find the biggest gap is in the many magazine articles published in the USA. These articles explain how important it is to proceed slowly, stay balanced on the horse, half halt correctly and at the right time, 'bend' the horse properly, etc. But they almost never explain HOW to do these things.

I thought it pretty hysterical that a recent magazine article was focused on the Importance of staying balanced on the horse. Rather like saying that, when flying, it is important to stay 'balanced' in the sky and not come crashing down !!

But I am pretty sure I had never heard the term/concept 'procedural knowledge' before you, Mary. Sounds like a good topic for a Dressage Today article !!

Beautiful Wales said...

Can we look forward to your next book starting with common problems and describing what steps are needed to correct them? I hope so! My only problem is where some riders seem to stick like glue no matter what tantrum the horse has, I don't. If you can just fix that little problem hahahah

swill said...

Horse training in hand by Ellen Schuthof-Lesmeister and Kip Mistral is one of the truly useful books I have read.
Otherwise, I would have to say that Mary's books and DVD's are the only ones that make sense to some-one returning to riding after a long (25 years) break. With a much older body!