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. *

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