When I first started to teach Merc shoulder in, it was a massive suck fest. There were literally stops and starts, overshooting the lines of travel, too much bends and too little bends. Such was the comedy of the situation that I could almost see the thought bubble floating above us, the cartoon cut out of Merc’s brain, saying out loud, what the hell is she asking? Do legs actually move like that?
My husband, who was standing at the side of the arena asked me kindly, do you want me to record this? To which I hurriedly replied, no! These most definitely weren’t the moments I wanted captured on film.
In hindsight, I regret my no’s. I wish that my husband HAD filmed the process because it seemed as if by magic not-that-long after that limbs were coordinating to the point where the beginning of shoulder in results in an explosion of yawns on Merc’s part.
I regret saying no when he asked the same thing in the early days when it felt like I was trotting faster than Merc in an attempt to encourage forward, even though I was the one in the saddle.
I regret saying no when all he wanted for 4 months was to take the left lead, and our canter felt like the opposite of the dictionary definition if you looked up the word “pleasurable”.
I regret it because I wish I had more of the suck to show.
Because when you get to the other side of it, it’s cool to look back and celebrate the process that allowed you to move out of that place.
Freedom to suck is a necessary part of learning. In fact, one could argue, that when it comes to sucking, there really is no such thing.
If you pulled your brain out (alert: do not recommend) and asked it, what do you think about sucking? It would look quizzically back at you and reply, I’m sorry (brains are quite polite like that), I don’t understand the question?
The reason for this is that what you and I consider the suck is nothing but experimentation. Your brain, if given a clear directive, understands the intention and then observes the results of our action to see how far the outcome strayed from it.
When it does this, it doesn’t say to itself, wow! Jane, you really suck! Wot a loser! You should quit now!
No. Our REAL brain, the one that sits underneath the often present Itty Bitty Shitty Committee (the little negative voices inside your head) actually says, great! Useful to know! Let’s do that again and see if we can shoot the ball closer next time.
A question I ask myself now if I find myself getting all wound up about nothing (nothing meaning sucking at something) is, should I throw this in the swimming pool? The idea for throwing it in the swimming pool comes from this quote by singer songwriter, Joan Baez, who incidentally in this interview was talking about her drawing.
“If I really don’t like what’s happening, I drop the drawing in the swimming pool. If I’ve gotten too precise about it, the imperfection brings it to life. One of my friends said, “Tell me just one thing that will last. Make as many mistakes as you can.” When you’re trying to make it perfect, trying to make it exactly what you want it to be, then it’s time to drop it into the pool.”
In the privileged position I am to hear the stories of literally hundreds of riders on the daily, let me tell you, I could count on one hand the amount of times I hear people hung up on ideas of perfectionism. That is, if my one hand had a trillion fingers. Which is to say, almost everyone.
To throw another creative genius at you, I not only want you to throw your ideas of perfect in the pool, but now I also want you to listen to two radios at the same time. I present you now with Tom Waits:
“I like turning on two radios at the same time and listening to them. I like hearing things incorrectly. I think that’s how I get a lot of ideas is by mishearing something.”
Thank you Tom.
Not only is Freedom to Suck necessary to get to the place of Not Sucking Quite So Much, but it can also create situations where you discover things about you and your horse that you wouldn’t know without it. Sucking is actually creative. It’s inspired. And it’s necessary.
A point of clarification: Freedom to Suck is not the same as Freedom to Be A Bit Of An Arse or Freedom to Make Unfair Requests of Your Horse (or yourself).
It’s Freedom to Learn. Because learning, my very lovely friend, always, always, always, involves sucking.
Photo is of Tommy and Merc on the inlet thinking strongly about how they don’t suck, and are actually rather lovely.