A few years ago, I had a great opportunity to ride some nice horses for a couple months while the owner was out of town. One of the horses was a lovely, inordinately sweet 6-year-old dressage stallion. This horse already knew more about dressage at 6-years-old than I did as an adult two-star event rider. It was an utterly delightful and educational time.
Even being a very mellow stallion, if this guy didn’t do some proper work every once in a while he got a bit frisky. So one day, after warming him up long and low I thought, “Let’s pick this guy up and play a bit.” He was utterly bored with me practicing our trot half-pass. So, as we moved up into canter, I started working renvers on a circle transitioning into a half-pass on the long side … Now at some point I think I actually did the exercise correctly because that stallion’s hind end came powering up underneath him and OMG.
I’ve never felt anything like it, I had access to all the power of this horse at my fingertips. If I’d shifted my hips one way or the other he’d become more collected, or extended, or go left or right, or upside down, or teleport in space and time. It’s like he was just constantly asking me, “What do I do?” and any answer I gave was correct. It was a profound moment of harmony, and I finally understood how people only ride dressage day in and day out.
This story popped into my head the other day when I came across this tweet about the term angle of repose.
Words of the day: "angle of repose" – the maximum angle at which a slope of loose material stays stable, with the bonds of friction just exceeding the demands of gravity. Figuratively, of a human life or community, the tense point where hanging together still beats falling apart. pic.twitter.com/DugsKI1ZHS
— Robert Macfarlane (@RobGMacfarlane) November 29, 2018
Essentially the angle of repose is the steepest angle that a collection of loose materials can exist and still maintain stability in the face of a myriad of factors, like gravity, wanting to pull it down and cause chaos. Think of it like a pile of rocks that is fine until a pebble or a gust of wind hits it in just the right way triggers a rock slide.
I feel this is a perfect metaphor for competitors. The gravity and changing environmental factors is the competition trying to destabilize you (the pile of rocks) within the competition. Therefore, the friction binding you and your horses performance together is your training and preparation.
Progressing up the levels require you to build your rock pile higher. For example if you build your partnership to the Preliminary level and then move up to Intermediate, the new challenges are going to easily pull down your Preliminary level rock pile. You have to build up and put in more skills, muscle and training in order to fortify you from all the forces trying to push you over.
It’s hard to stay motivated when you are staring down the barrel of months of cold and mud. So in order to be productive this winter, I’m envisioning that every cold, gross day stuck in the indoor is an opportunity to strengthen my pile of skills for the spring and be able to come out and swing for the fences.
Because only in those boring days of endless transitions and no-stirrup work is how you go on to have the rides like I did on the dressage stallion. A ride where no external factor matters because you have built a rock solid foundation that opens up a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities.
For all those not in California, Ocala, and/or Aiken, stay warm and Go Eventing (in a couple months)!