Dressage Ammies: Love Your Beginner’s Mind.

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Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.

Beginners Have the Most Fun!

by Sally O’Dwyer

If you are a lower level dressage amateur, you belong to an esteemed class of people eager to learn. While everyone starts as a beginner, the key to becoming a great student of dressage is to keep your beginner’s mind.  As beginners, we are thrilled with the magic of learning. We are made breathless by “aha” moments, grabbing fistfuls of knowledge. These are our formative years, and while we all want to be FEI riders, know that you may well just be having the time of your life.  

Shunryu Suzuki wrote extensively about the beginner mindset in his book, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.  Suzuki says beginners surrender to the learning process because beginners lack preconceived notions, stories, and baggage. Like kids, beginners are radically open to new ideas and discovery.

How to Stay a Beginner

Keep a “Don’t Know Attitude”: When taking a lesson, don’t think, “I already know this”. Instead, try “yes, no, maybe?” My instructor often tells me “don’t over think it”. Try riding without analyzing and figuring out the “why”.  Be okay with not having full clarity or “the answer” so that true learning can occur. When riding, stay relaxed and calm. Suzuki says that if you get too busy in your mind, you will forget and lose your way.

Check your ego. Beginners don’t worry that they might look stupid and they are not under pressure to perform. Beginners don’t expect to win.

Be a Good Ox Driver. Learning to be a great rider or training a horse cannot be rushed or forced. Suzuki tells the story of the “Good Ox Driver,” who knows exactly how much load the ox can carry and keeps the ox from being over loaded.

Seek Out People Riding at Your Level and Share. Blogger Sam Yang wrote about the camaraderie that occurs among people going through the learning curve together, a bond beyond mere companionship. He explained that there is a kinship in going through all the magic moments of the beginning. This bond is also experienced with people who have travelled the path before you.  

Don’t Be an Expert. Suzuki wrote that know-it-alls are like hard rocks and cannot absorb anything new. Stay a sponge, no matter what level you ride.

According to author James Clear, “There is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that disagrees with what we learned previously and yield to the information that confirms our current approach. We think we are learning, but in reality, we are steamrolling through information and conversations, waiting until we hear something that matches up with our current philosophy or previous experience.” 

Learning Dressage is a lifelong enterprise. There is always something new to learn. Enjoy the moment and the wonder.

About Me: I am a boomerang rider, like so many other amateurs. I began as a kid with backyard ponies and horses.  Then college, family, and career consumed me, and horses took a back seat in my life.  I attribute, or blame Megan, my youngest daughter, for getting me back into horses about ten years ago.  She expressed interest in riding, and I jumped all over it and leased a horse for her.  Turns out, she was a lot less interested in horses than I was.  But it got me going again and now I have two horses, an Off the Track Thoroughbred and a young Warmblood.  I am loving the journey, especially all the wonderful people I have met, and am currently working on earning my USDF silver medal. I call myself a dressage passionista and enjoy sharing with others what I have learned, offering encouragement and support to others.  Dressage can be intimidating, and we need to hold each other up and build a nurturing, supportive community.  We ARE good enough! I have started a new blog called getdressage.com


Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.

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