Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What I Learned From Mary King by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is from Bristol, Tennessee. She is a novelist and training level adult rider who is lucky enough to train with the wonderful Cathy Wieschhoff and the CW Event Team. Photo courtesy of Katie Bradley.

Wow!  After meeting Mary King, that was just about all I could say.  Wow!
     Other than my 13-year-old daughter, Katie, who rides Beginner Novice, I’m the only event rider in Sullivan County, Tennessee.  Along about the middle of January I usually start feeling like the only event rider in the entire world.  So when Cathy Wieschhoff posted on Facebook that she’d invited Mary King to speak at the Area 8 annual meeting, I grabbed Katie and went.  (Katie was a little doubtful.  Sure, after Rolex last year and the WEGs the previous autumn, she knew about and admired Mary King.  But sitting in a conference room for 10 hours listening to her?   Really, Mom?)

     Really.  Several times throughout both days, Katie and I poked each other—pay attention here, she’s talking to YOU.  You do that with your hands, Mom.  That’s what I’m trying to tell you about your leg position, Kate.  Etc.  We took notes, and on the way home we discussed changes we were going to make in our riding, starting the very next day.

     Here’s what I learned from Mary King:
1.  Expect at least as much from yourself as you do from your horse.  Her training philosophy is ridiculously simple.  Tell the horse exactly what you want it to do, then don’t accept anything less.  If you ask it to walk, be sure it walks straight, round (as round as it is capable of), and forward.  Don’t accept less.  Ever.  What this requires is discipline—self-discipline. 
2.  Be honest with yourself.  Understand not only your goals, but what is preventing you from achieving them.  If your dressage is bad, why is it bad?  The answer is not, “Because I’m bad at dressage,” but it may be, “Because I consistently fail to keep my horse in front of my leg.”  The second answer—the honest one—lets you move toward a solution.  Videotaping can help you understand exactly what is going wrong.
3.  When things go wrong, find reasons, not excuses.  Mary King has always watched video of her falls.  She figures out where she screwed up (she says that it is almost always the rider’s fault, not the horse’s) and plans how she will ride similar fences differently in the future.  Instead of saying, “Oh, now I’m afraid of Normandy banks,” she says, “I can’t wait until my next Normandy bank, so I can get it right this time!”
4.  Understand that things will go wrong.  Eventing is not a sport for pansies.  Every one of us at some time will face a difficult situation.  Move on.
5.  Decide what matters most to you, then make those things your priorities.  This is something I’ve read before, but Mary seems to live it:  not taking students so she has more time for her family; having only 6 competition horses so she can train them all herself. 
6.  Dream hard; work harder.  How many of today’s young riders dream of the Olympics?  And how many would be willing to scrub toilets for two years in order to afford to keep two young horses, that they might someday be able to sell so that they could buy better horses, that might someday—might—be able to go advanced?  Yep.  If you really truly want to do something, don’t just sit on the couch and think about it.

A fair bit of learning, that.  I got home late Sunday night; on Monday morning it was time to put it into practice.  I had writing deadlines, a business luncheon requiring dressy clothes, no clean dressy clothes, dirty laundry up to my hips, no groceries, and a Christmas tree forlornly shedding needles in the corner.  The dogs were at the kennel and it was pouring rain.
What Would Mary King Do?  Put a load of dressy clothes in the washer, get the dogs, wrestle the tree onto the porch.  Notice that the rain is stopping.  Make plans to write at the coffee shop after the dressy luncheon, but before picking my daughter up from school; pack laptop accordingly.  Dressy clothes into dryer.  Horse in from field.  Dressage saddle; arena soggy but safe. 

Walk.   Horse lifts head.  Halt, re-establish contact.  Walk.  Horse lifts head.  Halt, re-establish contact.  Walk.  Horse goes forward on bit.  Halt.  Horse lifts head.  Re-establish contact, walk, halt.
Twenty minutes later, horse (an opinionated but established training-level eventer) throws a hissy fit.  Wait.  Re-establish contact.  Walk.
Twenty minutes later, horse is doing pretty damn good dressage.  Because I accepted nothing less.  Hmmm.  Interesting. 
Forty minutes later, wearing clean dressy clothes, I head for my lunch.  I spend the afternoon writing hard.  When I pick my daughter up from school, she asks if I’ll videotape her riding.  Sure, I say.  As soon as we pick up some groceries.

Thank you, Mary King.

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