The bridge between goal setting and successful completion of your goal is built of discipline and effort. This is exactly how good riders get good -- They set goals, they work with the right professionals to devise a plan to achieve those goals, and then they put in the hard work necessary to get there.
Even riders with exceptional natural talent do not become great without hard work and discipline. They didn't skip working in 2-point or perfecting their flatwork because it was boring. They didn't skip working without stirrups because it was difficult. They put in the hard work necessary to get good.
Yes, riding should be fun. If you don't enjoy it, it simply isn't worth the time, effort, and expense. That said, to become a safe, effective rider, you have to spend a little time working on exercises that improve your strength, balance, and seat, whether or not you enjoy those particular exercises. The great Muhammad Ali once said, "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'" Now, I don't expect your experience to be quite so dramatic, and I certainly don't want you to hate every minute of riding. However, to become really good at something (like riding), you have to put in some hard work that you might not enjoy - like two point and working without stirrups. It doesn't matter if you hate it. It doesn't matter if you don't want to do it. If you want to get good, these are the things you need to do to get stronger, fitter, and better.
The 5-Minute Rule
I'm not asking you to spend an entire ride in two point or posting without stirrups or working on whatever exercise you really need to work on. I'm asking you to dedicate 5 minutes every time you ride to the exercise you most need to work on. You need to spend that whole 5 minutes concentrating on and giving your best effort to it, but then you can get on with your ride. These 5-minute sessions will really add up if you get in the habit of doing it every time you ride. If you ride 4 times per week and do 5 minutes of two-point every time you ride, that is 20 minutes of two-point per week. You will start to see results quickly this way.
The catch? You can't phone it in. You have to actually spend 5 minutes working on the exercise. If you trainer says you should be doing 5 minutes of no stirrup work, then you need to be working at your level without stirrups for 5 entire minutes. If you are a more advanced rider, that means those 5 minutes of no stirrup work should be at the trot (posting and sitting) and at the canter. It doesn't mean you cool down by walking without stirrups for 5 minutes. If your trainer says you should be working in two-point, that means you need to spend 5 minutes actually in two-point. Spending 5 minutes trotting around the ring and doing two-point only over a pole or two doesn't count. You need to spend 5 minutes in two-point. It is okay if you cannot hold two-point for 5 straight minutes at first. You can break it up into shorter sets throughout your lesson, but it has to add up to 5 minutes of two-point.
"But I hate it," you whine. Do it anyway. It's worth it. This is where discipline comes into play. Do the things you have to do not because you want to, but because you should do them. I promise, you will hate it a lot less two weeks from now when your strength, stamina, and balance are rapidly improving. You will hate it even less as it gets easier and easier for you to do. And, it's only 5 minutes of your ride. Just 5 minutes that will payoff tenfold.
I'm telling you that 5 minutes a ride can significantly improve your strength, stamina, and balance. You'd be crazy not to just try it for a few weeks! Start today and see results even sooner.
Do Your Homework
I used two-point and no stirrups work just as examples of the types of exercises your trainer may be suggesting you do to improve your riding. Your trainer may suggest any number of exercises on and off the horse to improve your riding. You may find some of these exercises boring or difficult, but trust that they will help you get to a higher level of riding.
If your trainer gives you homework, do it! It can only help you get better. We don't ask you to do these things for our own amusement. The exercises good trainers assign you can and will significantly improve your riding ability. If you just put in the time necessary (usually 5 minutes a ride) to practice correctly, you will start to see results quickly. Once you are feeling the results of your hard work, you will be even more motivated to do your riding homework and put in the time necessary to improve. Even if you don't have lofty competition goals, you should still strive to be the safest, most effective rider you can be. Put in the time and you will reap the rewards.
Remember, you can't phone it in and expect good results. You can't half-do something and expect good results. The only way you will see good results is by putting in your time every ride and giving your best every ride. Make every ride count.
Oh, and PS - I assure you I (and other trainers) can easily tell whether you have or haven't done your homework. The results (or lack thereof) will be obvious to us.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
I've said it before and I'll say it again - practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. This just means that practicing something incorrectly doesn't help you improve. This is one of the reasons why I don't advocate most riders spending long periods of time on one type of exercise like two-point. The longer you spend on an exercise that tires you or tries your patience, the more likely you are to get lazy about it and fall into bad habits to compensate for being tired. If you are practicing bad habits, then it will take even more work to break those bad habits.
So, while you spend your five minutes on your homework assignment (or on each assignment), concentrate. Be aware of your position, your balance. If you have an issue with keeping your heels down, be aware of what your feet and legs are doing throughout the exercise. Don't just go through the motions of the exercise. Pay attention and do the exercise correctly. If you have an issue leaning to the right when you canter to the right, spend your 5 minutes of no stirrup work being aware of your balance and trying to keep your weight properly distributed as you trot and canter both directions. Spend your 5 minutes really working on the issue you are trying to improve and you will see results even faster. As you see results, you will be even more motivated to stick with it.
Good Habits Make Great Riders
Experts say it takes an about 21 days to establish a new habit. I say give yourself 30 days to make sure the habit sticks. So, if you find it difficult or boring to do your homework (or get in your daily cardio exercise or get up earlier than usual to workout before work or school), just make yourself do it for a month. If you can do it for a month, it will soon just be a normal, tolerable part of your routine. If it is difficult in the beginning, keep reminding yourself that it will get easier. I promise you that it will, as long as you stick with it.
I'm sure every rider has heard all about their "bad" riding habits. Maybe you don't keep your fingers closed on the reins or duck to one side over the jumps. Just as "bad" habits can limit your riding, good habits can only help your riding improve. Start establishing healthy, good habits and watch your riding, your fitness, and your overall attitude improve dramatically.
The Best Riders Enjoy Riding
I can hear some of your groaning as I write this blog. Getting good at something requires a lot of hard work and that isn't usually easy. However, I assure you that I still want you to enjoy riding and life, have fun, and be happy. The best riders really love riding. We are most dedicated to the things we are passionate about in life. While you may go through some metaphorical growing pains as you start to establish good riding habits, you will wind up stronger and happier because of it. You will be able to enjoy riding even more because it will become easier. You will feel stronger, more balanced, and be able to enjoy your horse even more.
So, add a little discipline to your life. People cringe when they hear that word because it has a negative, unhappy connotation. Change the way you think about discipline. Think of it as something that will help you achieve your goals and help you be happier, healthier, and better. Discipline is your friend. If you are disciplined where it counts, your life can only improve. You can only become happier, healthier, and stronger.
And with that, I have to get out of this chair and go ride!