The Age Impaired Rider: Lifelong learning

Dia Moya is back with brand new column about one of the greatest challenges she’s faced as an older rider–setting aside her pride in order to keep her mind wide open.

From Dia:

As we all know, being an age challenged rider presents certain difficulties that younger riders do not have. Usually they have to do with fear, fitness, time constraints and diminishing physical prowess. Yada, yada, yada–we all know that and deal with them every time we get on a horse.

Last week a new challenge smacked me up the side of my head. It was one that in most circumstances would be a positive trait and I never dreamed it could be a detriment.

I was at dressage clinic put on by our local horsemasters group and was riding with a new instructor. I was excited about this, but as soon as I completed the warm up the clinic quickly went south.

Usually clinicians ask a bit about what you have done and where you would like to be with your riding, at least at the ones I have been to. Granted I have never ridden with George Morris or one of the evil German dressage masters who believe that a good lesson is one that ends with the pupil in tears, so I don’t know what they do.  The clinicians I have ridden with all ask, so I guess I have only cliniced with kinder, gentler instructors.

Well, with this lady there was none of those pleasantries. She just went right into what was wrong with me and my fine mare.  OK, (before you jump all over me) I realize that the instructor can only judge and work on the horse he or she sees that day. If I say my horse is going second level, but I am having trouble trotting a round circle, there is no way second level movements can be worked on that day. Also nobody was forcing me to be there; my money was paid voluntarily. By plunking down the cash I was asking for her help–it’s not like this woman wondered in off the road and said “you and your horse are going terribly and you both need my help”.

I was cranked off because she (correctly) let me know that my mare (1), does not accept contact consistently, (2) needs to be rounder and stretchier in the back and (3) my shoulders were too far forward.

Duh, duh and more duh!

My husband can tell me all that and his observations are free. But at least my husband knows where I started and how much improvement I have made. The clinician did not know and did not care. But I did. I really wanted her to know I was not a moron who just dropped down on the back of a horse. I wanted her to know I had life experience; the level I was currently riding at was not the best I had done.

I wanted her to know that I may ride like an old person but I am not totally inept. I have life experience, I have ridden well. I’ve done a lot of things. I have even won a bit along the way.

Life experience–yup, that was my pride talking. My sin that was about to render this clinic a total bust.

Usually us vintage folks use life experience as one of our strengths. Knowledge acquired through the school of hard knocks helps us sort our way out of difficult and stressful situations. Usually it keeps us cool, calm and rational and here it was turning me into massive diva. So huge a diva that I was about ready to chuck an afternoon of time and the fee I had paid and tune out this lesson.

Luckily some common sense intervened. So I sucked it up, listened to the clinician and by the end of the session my horse was going well.  The mare’s transitions were better and she was super loose through the back. Plus I had a new set of tools to use in future schoolings.

The biggest lesson that day was a mental one. I learned that that “life experience” is a double edged sword.  Benefit or detriment–It all depends on how you use it.

I have always thought of myself as being a humble person, but as I get older, I guess I felt like I am owed a certain amount of respect. And maybe I am, but I should never, ever let the pride of my life experiences get in the way of knowledge.

The best riders, heck, the best human beings are the ones that keep learning for a lifetime. And as age challenged riders we should want to be one of them and not one of the set in their ways old people who yell at the kids to get off their lawn.

About Dia: I have ridden competitively since I was in grade school. Given my upbringing (also my current location) in Manhattan, Kansas, I consider it very lucky that I learned to ride English.  At that stage I didn’t care what saddle I was in as long as I was on the back of a horse. I went my first event when I was in college, and have evented off and on (sometimes seriously) ever since. I have competed to the preliminary level on my game old mare Flint Hills Floozie and have returned to the sport in the last year or two. In between I have competed at Quarter Horse Shows and done area hunter jumper stuff. I have team roped and volunteered with our local Pony Club.

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