Liberal Arts & Horses – It’s the Same Thing!

While I was in Colorado Springs last week, I also paid a visit to Colorado College, a fantastic liberal arts school with a very neat approach to its learning model.  (I had previously blogged about this a bit prior to the trip.  More on that to come.)  But as I sat in on the admission presentation last Monday and thought about the liberal arts and riding, I realized how much alike the two really are.

Don’t believe me?  Think about it:

When training horses, the experts recommend that, no matter what your discipline, you make sure to cross-train so that you’re not always working the same muscle groups or drilling the same exercises over and over.  That means that, for hunter and jumper riders, you don’t jump every day.  (Some don’t even jump every week.)  Instead, you flat.  A lot.  You work on control, on suppling, and on your own form.  (Two words:  No.  Stirrups.  Who hasn’t been there and done that?)  Similarly, if you’re a dressage rider, you don’t school the very collected movements all the time; you intersperse long and low work with collection and maybe you even incorporate some jumping or cavaletti work, hacks, or groundwork into your training sessions.

By breaking up what you’re doing with your horse every day, you prevent overwork for muscles, ligaments, and tendons (including and especially anything related to repetitive motion) and you likewise prevent mental burnout from doing the same thing every day.  It helps to not only build a fitter, sounder horse, but one who is eager to get out and do his or her job every day.

I know from my own experience that my horse (who currently schools Fourth Level and some of the Prix St. George) cannot school in the arena more than three days per week.  (And he’ll tell you if you ask!)  So to keep him fresh, interested, and fit, we spend the three days hacking out, doing trot and canter sets in the lanes, or long-lining, another three days doing a more traditional schooling routine, and then he gets one day off per week.  And I generally find that I get my best, show-quality work from him on the day after he’s either rested or hacked – particularly if we struggled with a problem or issue in our last training session prior to the rest day.  It’s like the time away has shown him what he needs to do to get it right (and me too!), so with a little bit of cogitation and fresh muscles, it’s all right there.

Learning in a liberal arts setting is the same way.  No joke!

If you take classes in geology, history, English, and psychology in the same semester and it’s just like cross-training for your horse – studying the psychology text stretches your brain in a different direction than your geology lab does.  Same with English and history.  And even though they’re sometimes connected (the French Revolution no doubt influenced the literature of the time, don’t you think?), much of the time, the divergent subjects can enable you to stretch your mind in different directions so that you don’t get fatigued by constantly thinking in one direction all the time.

I remember in my own undergraduate experience that I took a Public Relations course and one in Persuasion in the same semester.  Admittedly, it didn’t help that both courses were taught by the same professor (and held in the same classroom – with only a one hour break in between).  That was the longest semester of my entire college career!  As much as I enjoyed studying communication theory, by the time I got to my later courses (one in Shakespeare and another in music), my brain was ready for a break.  I was much more successful in other semesters when I had a diversity of subjects on my plate.

Keep that in mind as you look at your college possibilities – both the academic and the riding side of things.  And if you want help negotiating the waters, let me know!


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