Think Forward: Life Lessons from the Dressage Arena

Blogger Pam Stone shares observations on the parallels between challenges in riding technique and personal life.

In this blog I wanted to peel away from my journey with Lucas for a moment and focus on one of my students, Jessica, because her story isn’t an isolated one. I’ve seen other women have these moments of astonishing clarity when emerging from life changing events and thought her story was too special not to share.

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I’ve worked with Jessica and Locano, whom you might remember was the subject of a past blog—the lovely 9-year-old Arabian she’s had for years, who came to me for a couple of months of full training—to get him straight and ‘through’ into his connection.

“Loco” is like driving a go-cart. He is incredibly sensitive, can be spooky and hot, but is wonderfully tuned into his rider’s seat. To canter forward, you simply “think” forward with your seat. To bring him back, you simply lighten your seat. In two months we were easily schooling shoulder-in, haunches-in and half passes. I loved him, even though I needed roller skates to ride him.

Jessica, however, came from a saddle seat and hunter background and never had the opportunity to sit deeply while riding a horse forward into a supple connection. Because Loco could be hot—especially when  he was crooked, he would begin to rush—Jessica found it to be a challenge to trust in her ability to be able to put a leg on him and not hold. Her hands, especially her inside rein, was perpetually coming backward, as I barked all through each lesson: “Inside rein for flexion and direction ONLY. Push it FORWARD. No, you’re blocking him—he can’t canter because you’ve got a death grip on that inside rein.”

Because we’re also friends, Jessica freely admits that she hated those early lessons. It wasn’t easy for her to watch other students seemingly have no difficulty riding with forward-thinking hands. She left lessons feeling dejected. And what I didn’t realize is that she returned home to a marriage, without giving too much detail, that was beginning to unravel in a breathtaking tale of infidelity. Everything she had taken for granted to be true, wasn’t. Everything she had trusted was ripped out beneath her. It seemed that Jessica was holding her horse as much as she was trying to hold her life together.

And then the most extraordinary thing happened, seemingly overnight, as she began to emerge from the ruins of her marriage, embracing the truly good and decent person she was. Anyone who has been through divorce can attest to it being gutting, and as Jessica began to reclaim her own identity and “let go,” so did she in the saddle.

Jessica knows she needs to sit back more. She knows she holds residual tension in her shoulders, yet this woman’s confidence is now allowing her to ride with truly forward-thinking hands. She actually has the guts to release the rein in both trot and canter to test that she has Loco bent around her leg. Before, the “old” Jessica would have felt that if she put her leg on him, he would take off.

What a lovely pair they’ve grown into—a true partnership. As a result, Loco’s spookiness has nearly disappeared. He trusts his rider. He trusts her hands, he trusts her confidence, he trusts that she will keep him secure in his balance and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. And what a wonderful analogy to begin this new chapter in her life: thinking forward.






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