It’s About The Journey

The banner quote on the Western Dressage Association of Colorado’s web page (WDACO) comes from Larry Mahan, eight-time World Champion Cowboy with six All-Around World Championships and two World Champion Bull Riding gold buckles. But what does that mean – It’s About The Journey?

George Leonard writes about the life-long journey of attainment in his book Mastery. He quotes an Aikido master who, when asked how long it would take to learn Aikido, answers, “How long do you plan to live?” In today’s goal-oriented, quick-fix society, where the role of apprenticeship has become a lost art, it’s all about “getting there”. But what if the true fun is really in the journey?

In Mr. Leonard’s journey of mastery, he stresses practice, both for the fun and love of it. How do you learn to love your practice? Let’s take the simple (not really) 20 meter circle. There are people who tell me that walking, jogging or even loping a horse mindlessly around and around in 20 meter circles is not useful and leaves both horse and rider bored. Even WDACO Clinican Cliff Swanson’s four-leaf clover of ten and twenty meter circle combinations, done without purpose, soon can leave one wondering what to have for dinner. Of course, that was not his intent!

But consider this –

How’s the geometry of your circle? Are you hitting each letter, arcing between them to form a perfectly round shape in the correct size? Or are you drawing an oval, perhaps staying straight on the wall for too long? Is your horse marching in a steady tempo covering ground, interested in where you’re going or slugging along without focus? Are you balanced, allowing your horse to bend and turn underneath you?

Can you easily perform a counted walk, then increase to a working walk, extended walk and bring back into a collected walk? What about transitions? Can you move willingly and smoothly into the jog with him swinging through his back, then easily back to the walk? Can you do this between all gaits, all tempos, smoothly, in rhythm and with purpose, all in that elusive perfect circle?

Suddenly, the 20m circle isn’t quite so mundane. You’re focused, your horse is focused and you’re both learning with purpose and intent. And, you realize that he forgot to spook at the flag in the corner of the arena. How about that 🙂

Time disappears and you move into the flow, what some call the “zone”, a sort of magical space you can return to for a source of comfort. And it’s fun! If the mysterious 20m circle can do that for you, imagine the high that’s possible, riding your entire test in that “zone” and with that clarity. Wow!

Now change your practice to going straight down the rail, in shoulder-fore, marching, in tempo, with intent and purpose – one, two, left, right. How many other maneuvers can you turn into your journey of practice?

Of course, the journey is not quite that simple. Just a few enigmas that creep in are your willingness to learn, your teachers, your clarity and commitment, physical ability (you and your horse), resistance (both of you), priorities (again, both), working on the “edge” and the inevitable pitfalls along the way which always seem to come back to bite us – and they will. But those stories are for another time……….

©Pat Van Buskirk 2017. This article originally appeared on the Western Dressage Association of Colorado’s web page. For reprint permission, please visit our contact page.

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