Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't Over-Estimate Your Own Abilities

Good morning, folks!  As I promised you yesterday, I'm going to talk about overestimating your abilities because you've been on a good trail horse.  Remember yesterday's entry was to help you appreciate trail horses.

So many people come to me for lessons because of the vacation trail riding industry.  That's great!  But, many of them assume they are "experienced" riders because they've had the experience of being on a horse.

The experience of being on a horse more than once does not make you an experienced rider.  Those are very different things.  Be glad I know this.  If I didn't, if I took your word for it, I might pop you up on Merry or Tar and you'd be scared out of your mind.

I'm not scared of them, but I am an experienced rider.  There is a difference between an experience and experienced.  Even as an experienced rider, I don't think of myself as an "expert" or "advanced" rider.  Maybe you do.  That's ok.  I'm more of an expert than the average person.  I'm a more of an advanced rider than the average person, too.

I have very high standards for myself.  I compare myself to my "experts" and my "advanced" riders.  I compare myself to RW in riding and knowledge.  I compare myself to my vets, Mack, Lucy, and Callie, in terms of medical knowledge and horse health.  I compare myself to some pretty awesome folks.  I do not consider myself in the same league with them by any stretch of the imagination!

If you want a more concrete example of ranking of rider skill, look at the American Pony Club standards for riders.  This is what I apply to my students.  I'm not a "pony clubber," but they've been at it a long time and have developed a good program and standards.  It gives me and my students something concrete to compare their skills to.  It brings a lot of my students down to earth.

They think they are "intermediate" riders because they were in an intermediate riding group at their last barn.  No, you were an "intermediate" rider compared to what they had to work with, not according to Pony Club standards.

People who walk in with their vacation trail riding experience have all sorts of wild over-estimations of their abilities.  If I just handed them Merry or Tar and said, "Have at it.  You're an experienced rider." or "You're an advanced rider, that's what you told me."  They would be dead.  Not because Tar and Merry are bad horses, but because they simply require more skill than these folks have.

I've only had one person come in and tell me he was an experienced rider and have that be an accurate assessment of his own skills.  After I assessed him on a moderately difficult beginner horse, and saw him ride that one like nobody's business, I finally let him ride my wonderful Merry.

This guy had been on his university equestrian team in Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis don't joke about horsemanship.  If you can be on a Saudi university equestrian team, you're good. Of course I didn't believe him until I saw him ride with my own eyes.  Then, I believed him.

You know what his assessment of my Merry was?  He said, "This one reminds you that you're riding," with great enthusiasm.  Merry was pretty excited, too.  She loves a good work out.

She thinks we spend much too much time plodding around with beginners.  Well, Merry, my dear, we have to pay the bills, sweetheart.  We can't go any faster than they can keep up.

What do my "experts" think of my abilities?  Well, I'll tell you with great humility.

Once I asked RW to ride my sweet Belle after I'd asked him to assess my abilities with her.  Belle is Merry's full blood sister.  She's gone on to her great reward now.  But, she was my teaching partner before Merry.  Belle was better than Merry.  Belle had more self-control.  Belle was hot--hot means fast in horse language.  Belle was precise.  Belle was wonderful.

I asked RW to ride her not because I doubted her or him.  I just love watching him ride.  It's a beautiful thing.  When he finished, he rode her up to me and said, "You ride this little mare as well as I do."  I kissed his ring like people do when they meet the Pope.  That is the single greatest compliment I've ever received on my riding abilities.

RW's wife and son were wowed that he said that to me.  RW doesn't blow sunshine up your skirt.  He doesn't give false flattery or unwarranted compliments.  He is slow to praise.  I think they were simply stunned that he'd go so far with his praise.  I was pretty knocked out, too.

When I asked if I could do anything better when I was riding Belle, you know what he did?  He adjusted my reins a 1/4 inch.  That ain't much improvement needed, folks.  I haven't stopped grinning about that one yet and it was more than four years ago.

Once Mack was telling me the sheriff's search and rescue posse he rides with asked him to be in charge of education for the group.  He said he told them he'd never had a riding lesson in his life.  What did they want him to teach?

We're going to take a detour for a few paragraphs here:  This is a truism about some wonderful horse people--we've never had a riding lesson.  Remember, real horse people are decided by God or genetics or something not human.  Lessons may help polish them, but a lot of them, like me, have mentors who do that polishing, not riding instructors.

A mentor will be much harder on you than a riding instructor.  Why? An instructor is paid to teach you, like me.  We have to earn a living.  You can't be brutal with people in these situations.  Brutal honesty is sometimes required to make someone a better rider.

A good mentor is hard to find.  A good mentor is hard to convince to take your worthless self on to mentor in the first place. Mentoring takes a lot of time and patience. I know, I am one.  I don't want to take on just anyone who asks.

I have one at a time and I chose who it is.  That's my barn baby.  Now it's Cowgirl Slim.  Yes, I am very hard on her.  But, she learns, she excels, and I'm pretty good to her 99% of the time.

Now, that 1% of the time, I kick her butt verbally.  Not abusively, no name calling, I kick her in the pants with honesty sometimes.  She needs it or I wouldn't do it.  It makes her better.

It made me better for my mentors along the way to do it with me.  It's made me better for my vets to do it too when necessary--when I'm feeling sorry for a horse and that's not helping anything, for example.

Ok, back to Mack's teaching dilemma.  So, he agreed to do it.  He said he started his first class with a test about the person's abilities.  It was a self-administered test.  He wanted to know where they thought they stood, so he'd know what to teach.  Uh-oh.

He said the best riders underestimated their experience.  He said the riders who needed the most help over-estimated their experience.  He told me this story after I told him how I ranked myself as a rider.

Do you think he was trying to tell me something, maybe?  He's seen me ride.  He's seen me ride Belle, as a matter of fact.  So, it was apples to apples comparison of what RW saw me do.

I'll take his little story and that look he gave me when I said I thought I ranked as a...rider....well, where I think I rank is below where people I admire think I rank, apparently.  So, I'm just going to keep that to myself.

You'd be better to keep your estimation of your abilities to yourself, too.  Anytime someone comes in and boasts about it, we know you're not a great rider and may in fact, be lucky to be alive.  I am not alone in this opinion.  Nearly every horse person in the business shares it with me.

So, do yourself a favor and don't boast to us about your abilities.  Show us.  Ask to learn.  A little less talk, a lot more action, baby--as Elvis would say.  I can't do better than the King of Rock and Roll, so I'll stop here.

Thanks for reading.  Go find that Elvis song and groove a little today!

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