At Your Own Pace

I’ve written in previous blogs about the variety of project horses I’m riding this winter while my own horses take time off in the field (one recently retired and the other growing into his four-year-old year – and please know that I emphasize the word growing where my youngster is concerned).

Two of the horses I’m currently riding are similar in many ways – both are warmbloods and relatively young (eight and eleven) and both are learning dressage as part of a career change. Both also share the same favorite method of evading the aids (yanking the rider over the outside shoulder), though to be fair, the gelding prefers his right shoulder and the mare prefers her left.

To each their own and all that.

The gelding had a more solid dressage foundation to start with, so for the last several weeks, he came along more quickly than the mare. His major issue when I started working with him was quite simply that he had been too much horse for his previous owner and she’d created a lot of backward tendencies in his way of going – e.g. the halt was his favorite gait (!). Thus, my early work with him back in the fall was a lot of lunging and groundwork to unlock his hind feet and a lot (a lot!) of wide open canter that bordered on galloping to remind him that he is not only allowed to go forward, but also that it’s highly encouraged in dressage horses!

The mare is a former show jumper who is very emotionally sensitive and possesses that wonderful combination of contradictory characteristics unique to warmbloods – which is to say she’s the type we refer to as “lazy hot.” The first week of rides on her was quite literally me sitting as heavily and quietly on her as possible and encouraging her to slow down and relax. (In fact, I think I actually spoke the words “slow down and relax” as part of an ongoing mantra.) But because she’s on the lazy side, as long as no one fires her up or buys into her emotional outbursts, she’s fairly straightforward to ride once she relaxes and I’ve recently been able to begin to install some more dressage-specific buttons on her as a result.

But as I said, for a while, the gelding was improving by leaps and bounds and the mare was making only incremental progress in her new career. Yet over the last week or so, their roles have very nearly reversed – he’s plateaued for the time being (we’re currently having a conversation about how doing something correctly is an “every time we ride” thing, not a “just whenever you feel like it” thing). Meanwhile, the mare is suddenly coming on like gangbusters – in the past two rides, her shoulder in has solidified (in both directions) and she’s learned the basic mechanics of lengthening and shortening her stride in trot and canter from seat and leg aids without leaning on my hands. (She’s also doing it with minimal fluster, which is likewise a big deal.)

Reader note: Congratulations on the horses, Randi, but what the heck does this have to do with college?!

I’m glad you asked, my dear readers, because the short answer is: EVERYTHING.

Horses always develop at their own pace, no matter how much we want them to improve and learn faster to fit whatever preconceived notions we have of their abilities. Not surprisingly, humans are the same way. (The exceptions are, of course, young children and young horses who always seem to learn things super quick – though usually not the things we want them to!) But because of these individual discrepancies when it comes to the learning and maturation process, it’s not even remotely fair for me to compare the mare and gelding that I’m riding, despite whatever similarities they may have on the surface. Likewise, it’s not worth the time to wonder why one is at a plateau and the other is now succeeding rapidly. They’re each simply developing in their own way and time.

High school students going through the college search process are exactly the same – one student may hit the ground running and have an entire list of colleges to apply to next fall in just a few weeks, while another may need more time to really figure out what type of school and academic programming is the right fit in order to build an accurate list. That process could take six months or more.

Parents, teachers, and even educational consultants like myself can’t rush students through the process either – or at least, we can’t if we want it to turn out the right way in the end. Nor can we compare them to their peers with any real sense of accuracy – while Jane may be really involved with her college search right now, her classmate Joan may be tied up with other commitments that prevent that sort of attention to the search. Joan’s search will start later, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be worse or that Joan is behind – all it means is that Jane is working at her pace and Joan is working at hers. Apples and oranges; mares and geldings.

Moreover, change can come in an instant with both students and horses. I can’t predict what’s going to happen with either the gelding or mare I’m riding when I get back on them this week. Maybe he’ll have decided that he’s finally ready to be a big boy dressage horse and come out ready to master the very same left shoulder in that he fell out of yesterday. Or maybe she’ll suddenly conclude that dressage is dumb and revert to her counter-flexed show jumper ways the next time I ask her to canter, setting us back a bit. Whatever happens is part of the journey – both the advances and the setbacks – and my job simply is to be a consistent guide to help both of them acquire the skills they’ll need to make them successful in their new dressage careers.

My work with students is the same.

No matter how quickly they engage in the college search or application process or how long they take to determine the path that makes the most sense for them, my job is to be calm, consistent, and provide both the guidance and the occasional (gentle but firm) kick to get them to continue to propel forward, no matter how slowly or quickly they do it. And in the end, they’ll get to where they’re supposed to be.

Everyone will just get there at their own pace.

(Need help getting started working at your own pace? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to help guide you.)

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