Thursday, April 21, 2022

Dependent vs. independent

  • Independence - Complete independence resists all support, preferring to cope with needs alone or even ignore them entirely
  • Dependence - You rely on your (trainer) to meet nearly all needs. When you experience distress, you might look to them immediately before trying to manage your emotions yourself. 

The above definitions are edited from a healthline article on Emotional Dependency. In my non-horsey life, I'm a small animal ER veterinarian. I am the adult in the room the majority of the time. Yet I am struggling with putting this same feeling in to practice with LH (and Yoshi a bit before him). Which is strange, because with Zinger, for the majority of his life, I did exactly what he and I felt like doing that day. We jumped, we dressaged, we hacked. And I stayed static at the skill level I had when I moved to college and left behind the days of consistent instruction. Complete independence clearly having its downsides. And maybe I'm remembering the start of that independence with rose colored glasses since it has been ::cough:: 15 years ::cough:: since I moved away to college with him in tow. Maybe I had these same worries and concerns as we left the realm of my childhood riding instructor's tutelage and moved out into the world but those concerns have now faded from my memory. Or maybe the bravado of an 18 year old with a nice horse meant that I didn't worry even when I should have. 

Under JT's training, my riding has come a million miles from where it started. Clearly there are a million miles + to go, as there always will be, but I am a much more skilled, educated rider than I was last June. But I have also developed a hesitation to jump or sometimes even really ask for more in dressage on my own. I've fallen into complacency and complete dependence on her training. 

JT is an awesome, amazing, compassionate, thorough, educated trainer. Her instruction even contains simple mantras that are nearly always true and in need of following like "stretch up, hands towards the jump, both legs both hands". I actually have not gone wrong repeating that to myself out on courses. I just want to make clear that she has not created what I'm about to discuss. It is not something her other students seem to struggle with, it seems a problem unique to me, therefore created by some internal factor, not by her. 

With Yoshi the hesitation to jump on my own truly made sense. I had not brought along a green horse since doing bits and pieces as a teenager, sometimes with more or less success. Every time we jumped, Yoshi was learning something. Under her guidance those were the right things. He would have been an easy horse to screw up because he learned so quickly and was so willing. If he thought that he was doing the right thing by rushing and flailing that would have become our de facto way of existence. Instead we carefully progressed and he learned how to use his body properly over fences, something I would not have been able to teach on my own. 

I know, this is an old picture, but I will never stop loving it and being so proud of the horse there

LH is a slightly different story though. Dude is educated. He's also been doing the thing for a solid 7 years over fences in the ring if you are counting his prior hunter training. The likelihood of me making or breaking the horse in one jump school is about zilch. 

"As long as you compensate me with carrots after you F up, I hold no grudges" 

Yet last week when my jump lesson with JT got rained out, and I set out to jump on my own the next day, I was chock full of anxiety. Where did this come from? Who was this person who couldn't hop a trained horse around a course without a trainer holding my hand? I got through it, in part due to LH's generosity in one line that I really botched, but I've been trying to figure out what's going on in my brain. 

Going back to the work environment, while I am perfectly capable of being the adult in the room, I'm also perfectly content to acquiesce that responsibility to someone else. I think this is what has happened with jumping in the past 6 months. I have acquiesced decision making responsibility to someone else and then stopped paying attention  to how those decisions are made. The initial part of my anxiety on Friday came from doing something foreign. I haven't jumped LH on my own, so it was a new thing. Okay, NBD to overcome that one. But the mechanics of executing a jump school on our own... Yeah, that's where I need to pay much more attention to what JT is setting up, doing, teaching. The order things happen in. How to school a spooky jump on its own and then as part of a line. 

So on Friday after I got over the tacking up in jump tack and heading out to the jump field, there were a lot of pause points. First, figure out what we were going to jump. There are always new and different courses set, so I didn't even have to move jumps, just pick a height to jump and an order to jump them in. Uhm. Cue internal panic. "What height do I jump? What does that even look like from the ground? Where does that come up to on my leg? Where's her stick to measure with? But do I start at novice height? Sometimes we jump higher, should I do that for a few? Or should they be relatively uniform like a course at the show?" Okay... I muddled around with jumps for a bit, moved a few up to what I thought was novice height, chickened out on making anything much bigger except one swedish oxer that I'm pretty sure I left at training+ height. Wasn't sure on that one till I rode to it and it definitely looked big and LH definitely jumped it big. When JT schooled someone else a few days later most of the jumps were left at the height I'd set, but the oxer was put down. Oops. Anyways, jumps are set, now get on horse. Warm up. Start over cross rail. "Got it, we go back and forth over that until we're getting a nice jump from a steady pace. Check."

Then there was picking a course to ride. "There are bending line options, there's a straight hunter course option, there's a combination of those two things, wtf do I do? I also want to jump the skinny gate. But I should definitely start with that on its own so I can get a good confident ride to it. Phew, that went well, okay now I have to pick a course again."

And so on... once we'd done two courses relatively successfully, I quit. I have learned the lesson of quitting while you're ahead, thanks age and a tiny smidge of wisdom and life experience for that one. 

How do I fix this dependency? Where is the perfect middle ground between dependent and independent? I have some thoughts, but am curious if anyone else out there reading has struggled with this or something similar. If you have what techniques have helped you deal? Both mechanics of the schooling itself as well as those thoughts and emotions. 


  1. Much like you, my reticence toward anything horse related without my trainer is now due to the fear of f-ing things up. However, particularly since I've gotten D, I've realized that I've been selling my abilities short. And maybe that was the tiniest boost of confidence I needed to know that I could do things. NBD if there are things that go wrong, we'll fix them. The horses don't hold a grudge or overthink things and I should leave it at that

  2. tbh i don't think a "perfect middle ground" exists.... i've been what you might consider 'independent' and self-directed in my riding for something like 2 years at this point, but i still kinda struggle to make it all happen. sometimes it's bc when i'm on my own working on a jump school, maybe i'm likelier to be a bit complacent or wait until i've made a big-ish mistake to "get serious." obvi that approach ends up being somewhat self-fulfilling and my horse will often respond in kind by being a bit uninspired by the work. so... basically, i have to be serious with myself. if i'm gonna set up a jump school, i should take it as seriously AS IF my trainer would there. meaning -- set the jumps up the way i want them. and start riding at jump 1 the same as i would in a lesson or at a show. which i guess is kinda a mental tactic. in terms of exercises, i like to set up stuff i *know* we are good at -- like always having a 1-stride grid somewhere in the mix, then a couple singles that can work together in various ways.

    1. I agree with this. I vacillate between being really serious in my schooling rides and really taking it easy. But, I also recognize that even rides where I'm taking it easy are building the relationship between me and my horse AND still training my horse. If I'm going to just dink around on a loose rein, then I can't expect my next loose rein adventure to look much different than dinking. So I try to keep the dinking to dinking within the confines of ways I'm con

      I'm in more weekly lessons than I've ever had in my life right now, and that gives me a lot more freedom to be dependent on my trainer and not think as much about my schooling rides. But I still have a long list of things I want to work on and improve in my own rides, usually informed by what I was working on and struggling with in lessons. For me, I try to focus on re-finding a feeling or improving a feeling once or twice in a schooling ride and then letting it go and moving on. That way I don't accidentally get off track searching for something "more" that I'm not certain I can actually feel, and I stay well within the bounds of what I'm comfortable pushing for.

      I try to have something in mind to school when I get on to ride alone, but I also know that every ride has to be informed by where Speedy and I meet that day.