The other day during my yoga practice, I realized that one of the standing asanas has become easier for me; I can lift my leg a little higher and hold it up a little longer. It was not a major change – I could not suddenly put my leg behind my head or hold a handstand for twenty minutes – but it was an improvement. I have noticed over the past couple of years that flexibility and balance improvements happen slowly and are often very subtle. Then one day I will attempt an asana that I have never been capable of, and I can suddenly do it. For the small, subtle changes create big ones. I think that same thing happens in riding and training horses. Small improvements pave the way for change.
One of my favorite things about training a young horse is noticing small signs that they are learning. When one day, they move off of my leg ever so slightly or get on the bit for a split second. Or when they are a little less wild and a little more focused. I absolutely love feeling a horse slowly change, and understand his or her job.
I also experience the same thing in my own riding. I remember working on distances over and over and over again. My eye was never natural. Day after day, I focused on counting strides, feeling my horse’s rhythm, and finding the jump. I slowly got it. I began to be able to tell whether I would be too deep or long, so I could at least make it look like I meant it to be so. I began to find the distance further and further out so that I could manipulate our pace to make it work. Then all of the sudden I could find my spots when I turned the corner to the jump, and I did not have to think so hard about it. And now, I rarely miss.
Chance has come very far since I have had him. He listens. In the past, after having time off of work, coming back to jumping was very difficult. He would be absolutely wild, and I felt like we would have to start from scratch. Last week was his first time jumping more than tiny trot jumps in a couple of months; even when he was better the arena was too wet to set all of the jumps up. By last weekend, we were jumping short courses. Although we had to stop and re-group after about three jumps because he got a little too quick, he was great. Then yesterday, we made it around a small course without having to stop. He backed off when I asked him to, without any problem. That may seem like a small feat, but it is a big improvement!
Much like in yoga, improvement in equestrian is a very slow process. Sometimes seemingly too slow. Oftentimes I feel as if I am frozen in both disciplines. Yet, when I really think about where I was two years ago, or even two months ago, I see how far I really have come. Just the same, when I think back to how Chance used to be I am in awe of how greatly he has improved. Even though the changes in him were very subtle and slow, they happened. So many times I wondered if I should simply give up on him but, looking back, I am so glad I never did.