I’ve always heard it said that it’s not the destination but the journey that provides so much fulfillment. I suppose this is the logic behind why I am always setting goals or making challenges for myself: always looking for something to work for, to anticipate. I do a lot of workout programs, a lot of those 90-day commitments or what not. What happens when they end? I find another. It’s not the endpoint that I like so much, it’s the in between.
Anticipation. Many equestrians hate it. Some realize its importance and use it to their advantage. As a mediocre pianist I know that anticipation, when well-timed, can work harmoniously in my favor. In horses, it can be crucial in a thoroughly rehearsed dressage test, as the horse anticipates the subtle cues necessary to provide fluid and flawless movement that is so desired in the ballet-like discipline. I can tell you from experience, this stoic position that a rider assumes during these displays is extremely difficult. The goal in dressage is to make you and your horse look like one unit, and the cues invisible. Any sign of resistance from the horse earns deductions. I guess this includes bucking… oops.
However, anticipation can also become an Achilles heel… quickly. Dakota is a shining example: once we start popping over fences in our riding routine she anticipates more fences and gets more excited with every stride. When approaching a line of fences, she sees what lies ahead, anticipates and starts to rush. Driving her through a line can feel like a short sprint with poorly-timed hurdles rather than a collected display of agility and grace. She is eager, excited and anticipates the jumps as as she literally runs to meet the obstacles head on. The positive? She doesn’t refuse. I can be confident that we’re going over all the fences… clearing them is another subject matter entirely. The negative? It’s a little more than slightly discomforting feeling the independently-thinking beast underneath you completely out of control and racing towards hurdles with the intent of soaring over them at warp speed. The only hope you have is to hang on for dear life and pray her mouth will soften to your futile pleas, pulling on her face to try to regain control. Anticipation, in this case, can be a very, very bad thing.
In horse terms, the racehorse out of a chute effect is also know as “rushing”. A horse sees the job it is being asked to do, anticipates, and bolts at it. It makes for a sloppy-looking ride on the ground and a very stiff ride. The rider quickly gets a sense of zero control and with Dakota this is accompanied by a hard, unyielding mouth. She literally snags the bit and runs where ever she thinks is the destination. When the rushing behavior is thwarted, horses will often head toss, prance, pull, kick out, and otherwise feel like a ticking time bomb underneath your seat. It does not make for a fun or pretty ride. Actually, fun is up for debate… A great example is a barrel horse: they know their job. They often are hopping in place before their run and as soon as they’re permitted, bolt like a bullet into the ring. It works in their favor. The downside? Try having a calm ride in the ring on one of those horses. Not. Going. To. Happen.
How do we break this cycle? We change the course. Often in Dakota’s training I will ask her to stop after fences. I will pick unusual lines to jump, bending often to throw her off-track and make her rely on my commands to know where to go. We will jump, practice dressage, and then jump again. I’ll place poles on the ground in front of or after fences, forcing her to think about where to place her feet. We change the normal routine. I have tried to stop her in between fence lines, definitely harder than it looks, but it works wonders on her responsiveness. We do something unusual.
…but how does this equine lesson of anticipation affect us?
Through my limited 24 years of life on this earth thus far I’ve learned a few things. A lot of those over-used and over-cited cliches are true. Attitude determines outcome, circumstances are subject to manipulation, expect the unexpected, and stuff happens. We futily try to predict things: weather (Blacksburg.. what a joke), health (pulled another muscle doing something stupid), traffic (people are dumb), finances (here’s a vet bill.. surprise!)…. good freaking luck. My philosophy?
Anticipate change. Be plastic, be adaptable. Just when you think that hurdle is your next obstacle, think again.