“Practice until you cannot do it wrong.” (Cathy Keeton)
Cathy Keeton is a phenomenal dressage instructor here in East Tennessee. She’s mostly retired these days, but on occasion I can still persuade her to coach me.
“Practice until you cannot do it wrong” does NOT mean wear your horse (or you!) OUT!
Practice until you cannot do it wrong is another way of saying, “practice does not make perfect; PERFECT practice makes perfect.”
Practice until you cannot do it wrong is another way of saying slow down, relax, and enjoy the journey.
Practice until you cannot do it wrong is another way of saying appreciate and celebrate every tiny improvement.
Celebrate. Every. Tiny. Improvement.
In riding, that means reward your horse for every “try.” (It may be helpful to also consider “try” as a noun, as many western trainers do when they talk about how much “try” a horse has.) Our reward is typically some form of release – either through the reins, our seat/leg aids, or a combination.
In eating, “practice until you cannot do it wrong” means being mindful of every tiny improvement in your eating habits. Celebrate every tiny improvement.
Here are some ways I’ve been “practicing” better eating habits.
Did you add candles to your table? YAY, YOU!
This bit of elegance helps remind me to appreciate the food I have available in abundance, to savor each flavor, to relax and focus on the meal at hand, and to regard eating as an occasion to dine and relax for a few moments, as opposed to merely chowing down to fuel myself.
Did you opt to serve your food on a luncheon-sized plate instead of a large dinner plate? YAY, YOU!
The visual of having a smaller plate that is full of food is much more positive than having a large dinner plate that looks only half-full – yet has the very same amount of food.
Did you choose to take half the serving size your “old self” would? YAY, YOU!
As I get reacquainted with my 5’2” frame and what a “normal” weight would be, I am recalibrating my notions of how much food I actually need. I do not need the same size serving as a man. I do not need the same size serving as a much larger woman. I need the size serving that is appropriate for me. I have a medium-sized frame, so I just don’t need much fuel. (read: Easy Keeper Red Mustang Mare.)
Did you choose to leave the last three bites on your plate? YAY, YOU!
I know, I know – wasting food is a horrible thing to do. But, if I’ve slipped up and put too much food on my plate, it is important that my second line of defense against overeating comes into play, which is: stop eating when you’re full, no matter what food remains on the plate. Better to “waste” it than “waist” it!
Why is it so important to celebrate every tiny improvement?
Because it is those tiny changes that all add up to the BIG WIN!!!
I didn’t get myself fat with one two-week vacay filled with seven meals a day plus snacks and all of it rich, calorie-laden delicacies, folks.
I got myself fat one tiny negative change, one tiny negative choice, at a time. The extra handful of chips. The stress-induced, “I just do NOT have time to cook tonight, so fast-food burger and fries, here I come. Might as well add a milkshake since I’m already indulging.” The second cookie. The donut at the office meeting. Over time, all those negative choices add up.
In the same way, all the new positive choices I am making are starting to add up to an entirely new way of thinking about food, selecting food, and consuming food.
Parallel to this, my work with Kaliwohi under saddle is also about making tiny corrections and celebrating tiny improvements.
Recently, I asked Cathy to coach us on bending. The entire lesson was at the walk (those of you who have studied under “old school” type dressage instructors understand how taxing a “walk lesson” can be!) But Kaliwohi’s improvement on nose-to-tail flexion through the circle was incredible!
Tiny improvements in his shoulders tracking properly and neither pushing through his outside shoulder nor falling in on the circle. Tiny improvements in his relaxation so he doesn’t use “speed evasions” – either speeding up or stopping altogether – to avoid stretching his stiff side.
There are tiny improvements in my own seat and leg cues, as well. As I learn about my young mustang, and where he presently feels less confident or coordinated, I now understand that I need to give him plenty of support with my legs at whatever spot he starts to veer out or in with his shoulders in an effort to avoid bending through his barrel. As we repeat a circle, I learn to give him that extra bit of support just before he starts to lose his bend, and this helps him be successful throughout the entire circle. With the next repeated circle, I give him a little less support and see if he can maintain bend on his own; if he starts to fall out or in, I give him support and guidance until he resumes his bend. With each circle, his understanding grows, his balance and bend improves, and he begins to maintain bend on his own.
Practice until you cannot do it wrong.