Life-Steering Lessons from a Riding Coach

Steering is a tricky business in riding, and the same is true in life.

It’s a chill Saturday morning in early December. My daughter and I, and two other riders, are saddled up in the indoor riding arena to spend two hours with Cathy, a visiting riding coach.  For our first jumping exercise, we ride the periphery to one end of the arena, around the corner and over two jumps, about five horse-paces apart. As the first rider in the group trots along the short end-wall, Cathy focuses carefully on how well the rider is setting herself for the jump from half an arena away: her balance, her pace, her focus.

“Don’t turn your head too early,” Cathy says, as the rider approaches the final turn. “If you do, you’ll  cut the corner.” If she cuts the corner, she’ll have a harder time getting straight to the jump.

This is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, a rider has to look for the jump early, so that she– and her horse – know exactly where they’re going. On the other hand, if she dwells too intently on that jump, it can pull her shoulders toward the inside, and the horse, sensing the shift in focus and weight will drift right along with the rider. Though the rider needs to mark the path ahead mentally, she also needs to execute that path as it’s unfolding, keeping in mind that even a subtle shift of her weight or focus may be sensed by the horse. If she gets too far ahead of herself, she’ll blow the job at hand.

“Look to the outside wall,” Cathy says, in order to offset that tendency to drift from the path. “Twist your body to the outside.”

It’s harder than it sounds, to move your body deliberately against that drift in attention, because the rider’s eyes and body want to be looking at that jump, preparing for it. But you can’t prepare 100% and execute 100% at the same time, not well.

Sounds like life, doesn’t it? Keeping your goal firmly in mind, but in your peripheral view, while your focus, and your action, is here in the present, this step right here and what do I need to be doing?  If you dwell too much on what’s ahead, you won’t be able to pay enough attention to what’s in the moment, and that is where the power is. Right here. Right now.

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