Tilt-A-World

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Learning is not always linear. If at times it feels like a straight path where approaching lessons come into focus quickly and we can almost anticipate our next step, then we must remember it is fleeting. Soon enough we’ll be thrown in a new direction, perhaps even feeling lost, uncomfortable, and afraid. Sometimes this step in the whole process of learning is a good thing. Maybe we need to be challenged because the straight path we are on isn’t really going anywhere. Maybe spiraling off from what is familiar to us will help us find the knowledge needed to fill gaps in our learning–gaps that we did not know existed. And so we spend time spinning. Spinning. Spinning. Spinning. Not unlike a passenger on Tilt-A-World, we grab a little tighter as we feel surges of new information send our minds in motion. But there’s real movement and implusion to our learning now. We can feel ourselves being lifted to a new level as we make sense of everything that is new and negotiate its placement within schemata of old knowledge. Time in this spiral is necessary–no matter what the lesson. It breds maturity, stamina, and ultimate character.

I am on the Tilt-A-World with Ngugi right now.

Just last week I decided to have her hauled to a farm much closer to me. I felt as though we were on a bit of a straight path lately–kind of stuck and not really making any headway. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, he argues that mastery of a skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. Presuming he is not completely off base, I would never reach my goals with Ngugi riding her only 2-3 times per week. I need more hours in the saddle to feel completely confident with her. She needs more hours with me as her rider to feel completely confident with me.

At Shadowood Farm I can make this happen, plus offer Ngugi this: (At 0:49 I swear she looked back at me and said, “Don’t you ever take this freedom away from me!”)

It certainly wasn’t easy finding a new home for Ngugi. To my friends with kids, I told them it’s like finding the right daycare. I needed to find a farm within 45 minutes of my home to allow me to ride at least 5 times a week, but most importantly, I needed to find a patient trainer experienced in working with difficult horses (and sensitive riders like me). It is only week two at Shadowood, but I know I made the right decision.

In trainer Laura’s program, I take 3-4 lessons per week right now. I say that I am on the Tilt-A-World with Ngugi because switching trainers (especially to one with dressage background) automatically sets you into a spiraling motion. Horse trainers have different ways of explaining things, different philosophies, and, of course, different experiences with horses that help to shape their pedagogy. After a few training rides and an evaluation on Ngugi, Laura’s program will entail extensive work on building Ngugi’s balance. She hasn’t been using her back and hind end properly, which I’ve learned can result in unwanted, but self-created lameness.

So this week’s lessons began with teaching me how to lunge with a purpose. No longer will I be using lunging as a way to let her “get her energy out” because that just perpetuates bad habits in the way she uses her body (i.e. head up, hollow back, feet scrambling below her). Lunging is now done with side-reins to help her learn to accept contact and stretch her head down and out, resulting in a more rounded and powerful back. And transitions, transitions, transitions have been our focus. Then, depending on the day, either Laura gets on first to warm her up and demonstrate techniques for me to practice next, or I get on first so that Laura can end the session pushing Ngugi beyond her comfort zone. Either way, we have focused mostly on walk-trot transitions with Laura trying a bit of the canter.

Here’s a clip from Laura’s 2nd ride after we switched to a three-piece loose ring snaffle bit:

And so I end this 2nd week of training happily on the Tilt-A-World–wide-eyed and grinning like a kid nonetheless. I have a lot of new theories to work out in my mind and then put into practice during my rides, but I’m already seeing major improvements in Ngugi’s acceptance of contact and efforts to round her back. Enjoy the freedoms of the field this weekend, Gugs!

*I am consciously using Ngugi (as opposed to Gugi) more to remind me of why I picked her name in the first place. Maybe somewhere on this straight path I’ve forgotten to listen to Ngugi’s Word. *

Community

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Most educators would agree that building a sense of community in a classroom is essential.  As much as we cater to our students as individuals with varying needs, abilities, learning styles, talents, interests, etc., we must also be aware of what we are doing to bring the group together. 

We must ask ourselves: To what degree are my students connected to other learners sharing their space?  Do they believe they have something to teach and learn from others?  How sensitive and compassionate are they to others?  Am I creating a space where respectful social interactions are modeled, practiced, and then maintained?  Does every individual in the classroom believe, to some degree, that he/she has a responsibility to the well-being of the group, the whole, the community?

These questions are at the forefront of my mind each year I teach a new set of students.  But it’s interesting how community has been on my mind lately.

Just last week I spoke about community while welcoming an audience to my piano students’ summer recital.  In the weeks leading up to the recital, I had thought a lot about how different of an experience it is teaching private piano lessons as opposed to teaching writing to a classroom full of 13 and 14-year-olds.  In the private piano studio, my students miss what I find to be so profound and invigorating in the classroom.  They miss this sense of belonging to something larger.  Even the instrument in discussion here, the piano, has a reputation of being played as a solo instrument (perhaps in someone’s living room). I know for me, studying piano taught me how to be content in a solitary space–a space where I might spend an hour analyzing and correcting the arch in my hand until my glissando really did sound like a waterfall. Unlike a classroom setting, I never wrote a reflection or shared my discoveries with peers. I simply waited until my next lesson to show off my newly-developed technique to my teacher. Again, very private. So hosting a recital for my students broke the solitary nature of studying piano. For that night, as fleeting as it may have been, I know they felt connected to others, to a school of learners.

Community hasn’t just been on my mind because of the recital. I’ve also thought a lot about community as it relates to blogging. Sure, we as bloggers write to inform, reflect, negotiate new ideas, entertain, and learn, but the rather unexpected reward that I’ve found in blogging is the sense of community. When I first started writing about my experience re-training Gugi, I felt like I was, more or less, writing in a vacuum. Perhaps the vacuum being my own mind. I didn’t have any horse-loving followers, nor had I started following any other riders’ quests with their horses. But lately I’ve found myself hooked on reading both the posts complete strangers write on their own horse blogs and the comments they leave on my blog. Link to my last post Liebster Award to see some of my top reads. Ngugi’s Word is starting to actually be read by people–people I may never meet–and this feeling of being connected with others who can relate to my experiences and emotions is something quite powerful. The networking and overall support is something I certainly would be deprived of had I started writing Ngugi’s Word in a journal, or never at all.

And so I close tonight with a short excerpt from a comment I received on Peaks and Valleys. It’s the type of comment that speaks to my post on community and belonging to something larger. Exechorseluver wrote,

Trust in yourself-you are a competent rider with a solid seat and hands. Accidents will happen, do not over anaylze. Even if you never canter this horse again, or it takes five years, enjoy her trots. Do what you are confident in instead of worrying about what you are afraid of. Be successful at the trot. It will breed confidence.

Given my struggles with confidence lately, Exechorseluver‘s comment could not have come at a better time. It’s true. I need to focus more on what I CAN do, rather than what I CAN’T do YET. Thank you, WordPress community. I feel ya’!