It’s Not About The Dirt Pile

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The Relatable Rider

A few months ago, things were going well with riding my mare, Fire. I felt we were making progress, and everything wasn’t so very hard. I was able to add in some lateral work, and feeling pretty accomplished. And then a pile of dirt showed up outside the ring - even worse, it was outside the scary door of the ring. My mare does not like change (not sure where she gets that from!) and the appearance of this dirt pile proved to be no exception. It catapulted us into weeks and even months of struggle. I had help from gracious people in the barn, but I could never quite get back to where we were pre-dirt pile.

I wracked my brain. I had done all these things to ensure Fire was happy and healthy: new barn, new saddle, and  had her scoped to make sure she didn’t have ulcers. I continued to do the best I could, so why on earth couldn’t she just go around the ring? This narrative repeated in my head multiple times… there may have even been some tears.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and looking back I can see that it was never about the dirt pile. It never is.

I had a clinic scheduled with instructor and trainer Henk Gljin, with whom I have ridden many times over the last couple of years. And having had such a terrible ride the night before, I was apprehensive. When he arrived, I explained to him what had been happening, what I had tried, and what hadn’t worked. After listening, he asked me to carry on as I normally would in my warm-up. And I did. We didn’t make it even halfway around the ring. He stopped me and told me what the issue was. And for the next 40 minutes he worked with me to get Fire around the ring and going well.

Want to know what worked? It wasn’t a training aid, a new bit, or a whip. I simply needed to sit up. Heads or tails — anyone who has ridden with Henk knows he has some great ways of explaining things and often uses fantastic metaphors — and he said I had to keep my head closer to her tail. All I had to do was sit up, which in all honesty felt like I was nearly laying on her back. Watching the video, it turns out that is what it needs to feel like for me to just be sitting up straight. By doing so, I gave Fire the confidence and balance to easily work her way around the ring.

To be honest, we still sometimes have issues or small spooks at that side of the ring, or at a bird, or at something completely imaginary as far as I can tell. But after those two lessons with Henk correcting my position, we are finally making more progress again. And it feels great!    

"There is so much to be gained by keeping it simple." Richard Branson