Last week, WBBF and I went to see astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak at DAR Constitution Hall. You wouldn’t really think that this would have a whole lot to do with riding, but the more it’s rattled around in my head, the more that what I took away wasn’t so much about outer space but about the value of learning about outer space, and science generally. His takeaway wasn’t about Pluto’s non-planetary status, or Mars rovers, or the upcoming exploration of Ceres; it was the fact that over the history of scientific discovery, it’s been nations and cultures that have valued exploration and discovery that have succeeded at it. Cultures that put less value on knowing math, or physics, or biology, don’t succeed at it. “We succeed at what we value.”
That idea has been stuck in my brain, because obviously, it’s not true just about science; it’s true of everything, and while WBBF and I talked about it in the context of arts education as we walked to get drinks after the talk, but it works in other contexts as well.
As riders, we have to decide what training to value, and where to put our emphasis, especially those of us who are working amateurs with only so many hours each week available for riding, and only so much budget available for lessons and showing. We have to decide what we value, and where we put our efforts, to maximize our success. And I don’t mean that in the sense of ribbons–though obviously that can be one payoff, and I do treasure those I’ve earned, like the one that arrived this week for our USHJA Outreach Thoroughbred Hunter Award–but in the happiness, soundness, and rideability of the horse, and the progress you make with them.
That’s why, despite my “big goal” for the year being to do the Adult Amateur hunters, I decided to focus on our dressage work. I value our flatwork as the foundation for everything else we do, and without that strong base, we’re not going to succeed over fences without it. And we’ll be better off for focusing on it, because she’ll be more adjustable down the lines and to the fences, and move fancier on the flat in the hack class. While having a year-end prize in the Adults is a goal it’s not my measure of success; success there is us going around at a responsive and adjustable pace, with a horse listening to me, and me not riding like a drunken monkey. And by putting my focus on dressage for the winter, we’ll build those skills, and have them in our toolbox as we start getting tuned up for show season.
NDT is awesome, by the way. If you ever get a chance to go see him, do it!