Back To Kindergarten

TLDR: Saddle seat deteriorating. Trying to fix.

Saddle Seat Wednesday
Back where I belong.
Photo by Courtney Huguley

Confidence is not doing well when things go right, or it is not just that. Confidence is knowing you’ve got it covered when things go wrong. I have this with Sam. I never managed to get there with Desi or Mr. Whizbang. Which is a long way of saying that I am back riding Sam [Sultan’s Miracle Man].

How do I feel about the demotion? First off, it is a demotion. Sam is a beginner’s horse. If I have any hope of saddle seat progress, I need to ride other ASBs better than I have been lately [Graduating From Sam]. Which leads to, secondly, the demotion is legitimate. I’ve been a hot mess for a while. The shows were simply the culmination [Report Pro-Am, Report Dixie Cup]. So, third, if you have a problem, go back to the point that you know it was working and go forward from there.

How was the first ride back on Sam? Awesome. The beginning was weird. It was as if I had never ridden saddle seat. I automatically slid to the middle of the saddle and put my put my leg on. When I sat back on the cantle and put my knee in, my entire body screamed ‘Why? Why are you doing this? It is so wrong.’

Since I was on Sam, I felt able to experiment. Legs were out as an anchor point. So, I put a hunter curve in my back for stability. This had the added advantage of bringing my shoulders back. I had let the reins, and therefore the horse, get long. Not long as in on the buckle, or even long for hunters/dressage. More of a working trot length. However, that is still too long for saddle seat. They want a short, short rein with a soft, light hand. AFAIK.

I shortened my reins, asked Sam to be more compact, and everything snapped together. Suddenly I remembered how to saddle seat. A few of our passes were the best I am capable of. Seriously. As good as anything I have done.

I’m going with the conflict of styles theory. The better Rodney goes, the worse my saddle seat has gotten. The more I ride hunter/jumper/dressage, the more that feels familiar. At the moment, I can’t cope with changing from one to the other on a new-to-me horse.

In Lads Before the Wind, Karen Pryor calls the problem the New Tank Syndrome. When adding a new feature (Rodney), the solution is to relax the other variables (saddle seat) for a while.

I called this “going back to kindergarten,” and it became an accepted practice in all our training. When a new and difficult criterion was introduced–working in a strange tank, for example–all the rules about perfection that had been established would have to be set aside temporarily (perhaps for a day or two, perhaps for no more than half a training session) while the animal learned to accommodate to the new circumstances.

The strict trainer who cannot tolerate “going back to kindergarten” simply wastes time and causes stress, trying to force perfection from the beginning in a new circumstance when it will come back anyway once the new circumstance has been accepted. I have seen this happen dozens of times in a human situation. Here’s an example: singers and musicians who perform splendidly in a rehearsal room then get yelled at for making gross errors with the music in the first on-stage rehearsals; yet they may be, for the first time, scattered in new groupings, standing on ladders; wearing huge costumes, and staring into spotlights. People or porpoises, it’s the same problem. It’s the “new tank syndrome,” and you can lick it by relaxing criteria temporarily, by “going back to kindergarten,” In the long run it is not time wasted, but time saved.

Pryor quoted in Stale Cheerios: Going Back to Kindergarten

Sam is my back-to-kindergarten. Of course, Pryor also says that it should be a short period. I am ignoring that part. Perhaps my summer will be comfort rides on Sam until I get used to swimming in the hunter/jumper/dressage tank again.

Eventually, I think I will be able to ride Rodney and stay with saddle seat. Eventually being the key word here. There is no logical reason why I can’t ride both ways. I’m not asking to be Michael Jung and ride at the highest levels of three Olympic equestrian sports. I’m looking for some jumping, a little eventing, the occasional spin around an Academy class.

The two styles may even complement each other. During my lesson, I widened my hands – a Mr. E maneuver [Dressage Lesson] – for a moment to smooth out Sam’s shoulder around a circle.

New outlook. This it is not a conflict. It is an opportunity to look at the same activity from two perspectives.

Then there is Coach Courtney’s summation of the situation, “You’re a head case and we love you for it.”

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

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