I've been thinking a lot in the off-season about posture and attitude.
Posture is something our society as a whole has let slip. I sit at a desk all day and slump, slouch, and hunch my way through the day. These positions are comfortable (for now), and relaxed. They are easy.
But attitude is conveyed through posture as well. When I slouch, slump, and hunch, I am conveying that I am tired, bored, or irritated. Maybe I am, maybe I am not, but that is the message I am giving the rest of the world.
Riders as a group are much more interested in our posture, and in improving it, than general society. We know that good physical posture can improve our riding skills, particularly on the flat. We know that good posture helps the horse to move correctly and freely. We also know that posture conveys a certain picture for the judge.
If we slouch, slump, or contort our bodies in an effort to get the horse to do what we want, we are telling the judge that we think dressage is difficult, that we must push our bodies to the limits to get the horse to go correctly. On the other hand, the rider with upright chest, proud shoulders, and quiet hands conveys harmony and confidence in training aids.
The posture conveys the attitude and the attitude fuels the posture.
For me, this has always been easier said than done. I understand the concept, but to get my body to not contort in an effort to perform a movement correctly is difficult. As a result, I see photos and video of my shoulders rounding, my hips uneven, and I think, 'I look uncomfortable, dressage must be difficult for me.' By thinking that, it becomes so, and so I push harder in an effort to make it better, which further contorts my body.
Here's the funny thing; Dante and I are actually quite capable at dressage.
In fact, Dante and I are quite capable of being great at dressage.
We often have excellent dressage schoolings at home and in lessons. At clinics, he is impressive and I am at my best. At schooling shows, he shows potential. He has won the warm-up at shows.
And yet, over the years, I have slowly convinced myself that we are both nervous and tense in dressage. We start circling the ring and bam! I've lost the lovely trot I had all through warm-up and my hands are slowly drawing a chokehold on the reins. Surprise! We end up in last place in a huge division.
And then I slink back to the barn and tell my barnmates exactly what both they and I are expecting to hear.
"We're just not good at dressage."
"It's not our thing."
"Thank goodness that phase is over with."
"We both get nervous."
Over the years, these things have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We get a bad score, I say it happened because we are nervous, and the next time, we are even more nervous.
From here on out, I am going to have swagger. I am going to be overconfident, brazen, and even a bit self-delusional about how we are cool, confident, and excited to be in that sand ring. All of that is true at home, it will be true at the show. Eventually, I am going to convince myself how good we are at dressage so instead of false confidence, it's legitimate claims.
Behold the swagger. Watch out, 2014.