Lee Pearson: the one where we took it gently

Unfortunately this lesson has been written up some time after the event, so I’m a bit blurry on some of it now. Sorry. Life got in the way. Nor is it particularly well written. My brain got in the way.

I have never yet managed to avoid being apprehensive on the morning of a lesson with Lee Pearson. This one was no exception. My energy levels were varying so much from day to day that I didn’t know what I would have to work with.

Much as I usually like being first lesson of the day, this time I was glad to go second; I would have plenty of time for the energy-saving version of getting ready for a lesson, which involves having a nice sit down between grooming and tacking up. And if necessary between stages of grooming. It was also an energy-saving groom, I have to admit. The horse-boy was not as shiny as I would have liked and he was well overdue for a mane pulling. But to make up for it I’d made an effort on the bits that didn’t cost me any energy, and we had our white-for-best saddle pad, best lambskin girth cover and my good boots. I did consider the white breeches but didn’t think I was physically capable of managing the pre lesson prep without either sitting on the ground or leaning against something dirty so I went with my smartest black breeches and a white polo shirt.  Also the saddle was not clean. While etiquette demanded I clean it, handling the weight of the saddle with limited energy has been so difficult for me that it just got a quick swipe over. So we were pretty dressed up for us, but not show standard.

We went in and I got hooked up with the earpiece to hear Lee before I mounted. We had a quick chat about my health and riding and we set to it.

After the initial warmup (during which Lee lets you do whatever you usually do and watches eagle-eyed) we went into a series of walk halt transitions. He suggested that they’re a great way to remind your horse whose in charge and especially useful when you have a horse who doesn’t want to listen but you don’t have the physical capacity to fight them. D was pretty good about it and wasn’t difficult to deter from trying his repertoire of halt evasions (rein-back, turn on the forehand, ploughing on regardless) which was pleasing and showed we’re getting better there. It felt good to be back in a Lee lesson knowing how restricted my riding had been since I last saw him, but being able to show progress anyway. Also, he made a positive comment about my dressage whites, despite the absence of white breeches, which he did not mention. I was pleased to have the effort made recognised. As someone who really cares very little for appearances, I had made the effort for him and he had not only appreciated it but appreciated it aloud.*

Part of Lee’s mission for the session, I think, was to give me ways of working the horse that aren’t too taxing for the rider, and while we did trot work and had a little canter, the main focus of the lesson was in walk.

When Lee said we were going to look at lateral work I was delighted. For years I’ve been reading how lateral work is so important for the horse, and wondering when I was going to get a chance to get my teeth into it. One way or another we’ve never got to a place where I felt I could say to an instructor “I want to learn about lateral work.” We had so long where cantering was such a big focus for all of our lessons, then we had the brief jumping phase, then not long after that our respective health issues meant we didn’t really have any lessons for a very long time. Also as I’ve changed instructors there was a lot to learn from Mr Higher-Expectations-Dressage-Instructor in the most familiar territory without asking for anything new. So I hadn’t got round to lateral work but I was more than happy to get introduced to it by Lee, who has a way of making things simple.

I think part of his technique of making things simple comes from rephrasing things. For example when someone tells you to half halt, it’s pretty easy to over think it, if you’re that way inclined. Core, seat, hands, shoulders, leg, brain, breath can all come into the right half halt for the moment, but you don’t have time to think about them all. Lee might tell you to “Get his nose back towards you,” bypassing all the mental clutter around half halt. You might still do the half halt, but you won’t get hung up on the process. Well that’s how it works for me, anyway.

So what did we do? We did leg yielding, shoulder fore and turn on the haunches. I’m afraid I can’t remember if that was the order we worked them in, but those were the thing we learned. I got more pleasure from the second two, which suggests to me that we found them easier and were more successful at them, but obviously they’ll all need work!

It was not exactly a surprise to me that each movement was much easier in one direction than in the other (apart from leg yield which felt equally impossible from both sides) but it wasn’t always the way I expected. On the right rein Drifter prefers to overbend to the inside, so I expected shoulder fore to be easy on that rein, but somehow it was easier on the other rein.

I found turn on the haunches pretty taxing mentally and also in terms of trying to catch the difference in feel between when he did it correctly and when incorrectly. Quite why I found mentally taxing I don’t know. Left leg and left hand to bring him round to the right- what’s mentally tough about that? Maybe because turning from the outside rein is still newish to me. On a previous time when we saw Lee we were still at an “inside rein to turn” place, particularly in canter on the right rein where hauling his head round with the inside rein was at times the only way to avoid hitting the walls of the school! Despite the mental challenges in turn on the haunches I also found it the most fun.

After trying shoulder fore in walk we also had a go in trot. My main challenge there is that Drifter rushes to avoid hard things, so maintaining the collection needed is more difficult.

I was delighted to show off our canter to Lee. Two directions, correct legs, transitions when I asked for them, not looking like an out of control giraffe – I was a proud pony-mama. I gave much credit to the horse. Lee gave some of it back to me, which was nice. He also pointed out that I was asking for canter transitions from my seat not my leg and I need to stop doing that. That’s a work in progress.

We didn’t go to the full lesson length, but stopped before I ran out of energy. This was a good and positive thing, keeping spoons in the drawer for later use. Drifter on the other hand, had spent a lot of energy, and was extremely sweaty, not having been asked for so many challenging things on one day since early summer last year! So Lee had managed to wear out the horse without wearing out the rider. Nicely done!

It was a really good lesson and we came away with loads to work on and once more having had a great experience. There was a small and unexpected disappointment to realise that when you’re the one having the lesson you have less time to appreciate it compared to when you’re sitting out watching someone else. You can’t actually appreciate all the principles behind why he’s asking for what he’s asking for and when he asks for it when you’re the one trying to coordinate body parts, understand new ideas and pass the challenges on to the pony underneath you. So it would be best to either get someone to record your lessons** (difficult to get a person willing, equipped and skilled for the job) or to both have a lesson and watch others as well. So the target now is that next time Lee comes, I have to have practiced my lateral work, stopped getting canter with a seat aid, and develop my stamina to the point that I can not only have a full length, full on lesson of my own, but also manage to watch someone else’s lesson on the same day. Hmm. Maybe not feasible for next time. But maybe sometime after that, who knows.

——

 

*Coming from a music background, it would never have occurred to me to dress up for a masterclass with a small audience, let alone a private lesson, whoever it was with. Anything more formal than jeans would count as dressy for a musician, but it seems that in the equestrian world doing the equivalent of turning up for your lesson in full concert dress is not weird. Interesting. I have had lessons from musicians no less world-renowned in their fields than Lee. Is it the horse people or the music people who are weird? Both I suspect, but in really different ways. Also, I paid the same price for my baroque violin and my horse which feels like it should have some bearing on the matter although I’m not sure what. Maintenance costs are not equivalent though!

** When I last had private music lessons I used to mini-disc them for later use. But then I was having 4-6 hours long lessons*** once every few months and it is much easier to audio record a lesson where you stay in one place compared to videoing horse and rider whizzing round while getting Lee’s directions on the audio as well.

***I had an unusual deal with my teacher. I’d travel to his for the day and he’d charge me full price for the first three hours of his time (at a rate close to Lee Pearson’s, coincidentally). Then he’d carry on for free for as long as I could manage to remain receptive and “fun to teach.” We did have a lunch break, but otherwise we worked solidly. And then when we finished I’d listen to the recording on the long train journey home again, able to analyse my own performance and understand his comments better from the external perspective.

It’s the little things

I started drafting this when I felt pretty good. Since then I’ve caught a cold and been set back again. So I’m scheduling the post to go out at a time when I expect to feel better again. Confused? Me too. I’m documenting this stuff for myself, so I apologise if you find it boring.

I now semi-officially have a diagnosis of “Probably-Post-Viral-Indeterminate-Crap”. Which to be honest is exactly what I thought back in last summer. Meh. But along the way I picked up a clean bill of health for my heart, which “PPVIC” had been messing with big time, and there is a lot to be said for passing all the cardiac tests with flying colours when your GP thought there was going to be something wrong there. Also I met lots of lovely medical people, including the cardiologist whose letter to my GP begins “Thank you for referring this pleasant 33 year old lady whom I reviewed in clinic this morning.” How nice is that?! And I made a deaf old lady’s day in a waiting room – she had the air of a woman who had no idea she was talking to her husband so loudly everyone could hear her admiring my crocheting as we waited. Apparently she hadn’t seen anyone crochet for so long and was just delighted to see it being carried on for the next generation. Anyway, enough digression.

Here’s a list of a few of the things I can do again now which are wonderful:

  • Enjoy a shower rather than enduring it and needing a lie down afterwards
  • Wash my hair without needing days to recover
  • Brush my hair multiple times a day, because my arms are so light and obedient
  • Enjoy a reasonably hot bath without feeling sick or dizzy
  • Lift D’s saddle wherever I want to
  • Clean his saddle (still a challenge but I can do it)
  • Rug D in his heaviest turnout
  • Trot and canter D and get out of breath in a normal (albeit very unfit) sort of way
  • Give D a thorough groom and ride on the same day
  • Move between a hot room and the cold or via versa without shutting down
  • Go to the toilet without begrudging the steps it takes to walk there
  • Certain yoga poses
  • Be a useful member of the team at work
  • Hang washing up to dry
  • Have a conversation while standing up
  • Read actual print books (they were too heavy for me to hold before)

On the other hand, while a positive sign, it’s rather irritating that suddenly my fingernails and body hair grow so fast. How’s that for a first world problem?! While I was ill, in the unlikely event that I decided to spend some energy trimming unwanted keratin from my person, at least the effect lasted for ages. Now I feel like I must have hallucinated cutting my nails last week because they’re so long again this week. I really hadn’t noticed that nothing was growing at its usual rates, which is good in that if I’d noticed I’d have worried about it, but bad in that I didn’t appreciate the convenience of it!

New hat

wpid-20150308_171826.jpg

I improvised. And when I got bored with one stitch pattern I did something else. It’s not perfect but I think it worked rather well. It is also extremely soft and comfortable, but that’s more about the (sadly discontinued) yarn than anything else.

On being clever

I am clever.

What a socially unacceptable thing to say.

And how can I be clever if it took me 33 years to actually work out that I’m clever?

How come I didn’t notice sooner? Well I think every child assumes the inside of everyone else’s head is the same as the inside of theirs. If they consider it at all. It certainly never occurred to me that some people were clever than others until I was in my 20s. (I just thought some people didn’t apply themselves.) And while I’m pretty sure both parents mentioned my cleverness to me, once you start to grow up even a little bit you realise that the one thing your parents aren’t is impartial about their children’s abilities, so you have to take it with a pinch of salt. Also, adults can easily outsmart children, so again I assumed it didn’t mean much because I demonstrably wasn’t as clever as an adult.

I was also held back from believing that I was clever by really struggling with numbers. I can deal with them if I can pin them down on a piece of paper – hold them in place with their tricky columns of hundreds, tens and units. Unless we get into tens or hundreds of thousands in which case all the paper in the word will not save me from bewilderment. But try to get me to hold and manipulate even small numbers in my head? FAIL. This is what goes on inside my head:

11 plus 88. On paper I can look at the numbers and tell you the answer in a fairly normal timeframe. But ask me verbally to do that very uncomplicated sum and you’ll hit a serious time lag while I try to work out what the sounds mean I have to do. I’ll get to the right answer, but there’ll be a delay that most people can’t understand before I get there.

OK, so what about something a little harder?

23 plus 49. I know that I’ve been given a number with a 9 in it so I can treat it like a round number and then do something to compensate for that adjustment. But what was the first digit of the number with the 9? And where do I give back the imaginary 1 to round it up. By now I’ve completely forgotten the first number and have to abandon it as impossible. Or I could try it another way and add 20 plus 40 plus 3 plus 9, but that would mean holding more numbers in my head so of course I can’t remember any of them and can’t come to the right conclusion.

Tell me to read out 24370 and I’ll have to put my fingers over digits to work out whether it’s 24 thousand or 240 thousand.

I didn’t find out about the existence of dyscalculia until a few years ago, when a book aimed at diagnosing it in 7 year olds passed through my hands; that was a real light bulb moment. I came from a family who could make numbers behave and I, shamefully, couldn’t. I was drilled on my times tables in many child-friendly ways before I even started school, but the main thing I remember from it was the smiley face stickers from the times tables book. My mother uses numbers as tools to make things – accurate carpentry, tiling or dress making for example. My brother certainly gives the impression of one who could dance with numbers should he so desire and my father always appeared to delight in making them jump through hoops. Certainly he enthusiastically tried to teach me a love of numbers, of which the only thing that stuck really was a theoretical fondness for binary because I approved of any way that meant numbers could exist without the evilness of 7 and 8.

One thing you might find interesting is that I still got an A in GCSE maths. How? Because calculators (and lots of paper) were allowed in the exams and because very little of it actually relies on numbers. If you work the algebra correctly, which I’m fine with, and don’t add any confusing numbers until the last possible minute, checking everything three times with a calculator when you do, you can fake it ’til you make it. Most of GCSE maths was a case of 1) remember a process and understand when to apply it 2) follow logic, be diligent and check repeatedly for mistakes. That was fine. And I LOVE the concept of algebra because you get to substitute friendly letters for evil numbers. Were the exams broken or was I just very good at working around my issues? Discuss.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when I realised struggling with numbers didn’t make me stupid any more than dyslexia makes a person stupid when they struggle with words. Also I took great comfort from a few sentences from Margaret Atwood’s Crake and Oryx: “It was because they were numbers people, not word people … Jimmy already knew that he himself was not a numbers person.” Like Jimmy I was not a numbers person, but seeing this made me see that like Jimmy (and Margaret Atwood) I am a word person. I can’t make numbers dance and jump through hoops and do tricks, but I can do all that with words, when the mood takes me. And I’m married to a numbers person. I can’t follow him when he talks his numbers, but that’s OK; I can edit the hell out of anything he writes, and he can help when I’m in a mathematical tangle.

So I established that I wasn’t stupid, which was rather nice. But I still hadn’t realised I was actually clever. Mr S helped with that a bit, as did a friend who (incorrectly) assumed I’d got a first for my degree based of her assessment of my academic intellect. There was probably a steady drip of things.

But it wasn’t until the last few years when I got to enjoy being clever. Various things at work meant that I got public opportunity to be slightly brilliant. I was in the right place at the right time to show off my strengths and I glowed and shone in the spotlight. I came to realise that yes, I am clever, and that I enjoy being clever and being seen to be clever. I realised that I actually was often several steps ahead of the game which is invaluable in project work where time is always against everyone and there’s no time to head off down blind alleys. I made things better by being me. Instead of keeping my mouth shut because it wasn’t my place, I used my words to make people see what I saw as being important. If you’re clever and you know it clap your hands! And everyone else was clapping too. It was heady stuff.

And then my health started to falter. When I have a cold I can’t think. I can’t evaluate and make decisions. So when the series of colds that heralded the beginning of this recent period of ill-health came along I was so frustrated. I can’t be the clever me when my brain has a lurgy lurking. At the time I expected to be back to normal in a week or so, but things only got worse. One of the most frightening things while I was ill was losing my cleverness. I enjoy the words “cog fog” and I think they can probably be correctly applied to what I was feeling, albeit mostly in a very mild way.

I didn’t get bored. I wasn’t well enough to be bored. I could probably have spent the day staring at a blank wall without it bothering me. There wasn’t enough processing power running in my head to feel like it needed to do anything. In doctor’s waiting rooms I took a book with me from habit, but it never came out of my bag because there was no need to distract myself. My brain was blank. Instead of the chattering stream of consciousness, the nag of things to plan, analysis of surroundings, etc., it was empty. I watched television and did things when I had energy to do them because I felt I ought to. In a way it was a blessing that while my body was incapacitated my brain wasn’t screaming to be busy. I was aware it was wrong and weird, but I didn’t have the brain power to worry.

The worst mental symptom was much worse, but still I didn’t really have the brain power to worry about it. In fact, once the direct moment had passed I found it funny. It was a time when I hadn’t worked out how ill I was, and that I needed to approach life differently, so I reasoned that not feeling well enough to drive to the doctors I could walk there. As long as I took it slowly that would be fine, right? Wrong. Although it all turned out fine in the end.

I was fine walking slowly … except where the path inclined slightly upwards. I won’t call them hills because in normal health you wouldn’t even notice the road rising. The first time I had to walk ever so slightly uphill was on a long straight road. So when I forgot where I was going and why, it was easy just to keep going in the same direction and the road levelled out and I then I knew where I was going again and it was fine and didn’t even register. I had a sit down on the bench at the end of the road and carried on. It happened again slightly a bit further on, but again resolved itself before I needed to make any turnings so I didn’t really think anything of it. But when it happened in the town centre I was in trouble. I could remember that I was trying to walk to the doctors, and what the doctors looked like, and I knew where I was, but as far as my brain was concerned the roads and footpaths between the two did not exist. There was only a blank when I needed to decide which way to turn. For want of a better plan I turned left. Was this my subconscious remembering that in computer game dungeons I always take the left turn ahead of other choices? Who knows. It was wrong. I carried on, assuming that at some point something right would happen. And at some point it did. I’d been heading in the wrong direction for some time, but by luck the path was going ever so slightly downhill, which took enough strain off the system for my brain to work out where I should be and get me back on track. Because I’d left ages to get to the appointment I still managed to get there just in time.

So that was the lowest point, but everything did get better. One day I realised I was bored. I hadn’t been bored for so many months. It was the most fabulous feeling, to have the capacity for boredom. Unfortunately hot on its heels came anxiety, which I also hadn’t felt for months, but then I remembered some coping mechanisms and put anxiety back in its place. When I first tried going back to work the mental disparity between what I had been and what I had become was massive. I couldn’t take things in, couldn’t make connections, couldn’t do my job. Each thing I achieved was massive and exhausting … and then I’d realise I was supposed to do it again and again, and faster. Despite that, slowly but surely I think I have come back to being clever again. I’m still finding some things more taxing than others. I find it very hard to remember what happened when – was that last week or this week? Today or yesterday? But somehow, in between the last of the fog and interrogating people about which day it is, I am occasionally brilliant at work again. So that has to be a good thing.

Having a manager: with brief reference to natural horsemanship, the Dog Whisperer and Thorin Oakenshield

The team in which I work has been without a manager for something in the region of eight months. This was not supposed to happen. But it did. And in some ways, as the previous manager detached from us, we did not have a manager for about a year.

As my regular readers will be aware, I have been ill to varying degrees since July. Not having a direct manager is less than ideal when you need lot of care and support with the transition back to work. Of course other managers had to help out. I told manager A I needed to leave work on the day I officially threw my hands up and said I’m going to be off work now please and I suspect I won’t be back for a while. Manager B kept track of me and my sick notes while I was off and officiated over my return to work meetings and Manager C was given my bi-monthly regular “touch base” meetings. Continuity of care? Nope. Each of them did their best but I needed one person who I could go to. When I tried full time and didn’t cope I didn’t know who to talk to.

Aside from the illness aspect, there was no one who could make decisions for our department because there was no one with the relevant hierarchical position as well as the technical/professional knowledge, so we stagnated massively. We were already a bit behind the rest of the community in picking up the new data standards, but now we’re an extra year behind. The departments alongside us have been moving on and we haven’t. We haven’t even always heard what was going on because without a manager to tell us the news we missed out on things. There is a lot of change going on around us but we couldn’t change anything in our team.

Of course in some ways we acted up to fill the gap. Several of us were ushered onto committees in place of our missing manager. We got pretty adept at managing  small day to day issues between us and it improved our cohesion as a team … mostly.

When the job was finally advertised I was not well enough to apply. But of course it caused tensions in the team because people were eyeing each other wondering if they’d be competing for the post and any opportunities to shine as potential management candidates were fiercely fought over.

Eventually the post was filled by an external candidate and we waited as the new manager worked her notice on her old job. Personally I was frustrated that the first thing this manager would see of me was not me at my best, but a weak feeble version who could only manage a few hours at work each day. I wasn’t looking forwards to it.

But now we have a manager. And I’m shocked at how much of a relief it is – how much I needed there to be a manager.

Suddenly I remember phrases I’ve heard or read from natural horsemanship trainers and from the Dog Whisperer.

Your horse wants you to be the leader.

If there’s no pack leader the dog will have to be the boss because you’re not doing that job for him.

Without an alpha mare our office herd have been … managing. Although I wasn’t there all the time this year I feel a lot of the weight of needing to be a pack leader fell on me when I was there. I know it fell on the others in different ways too. Now we have an alpha mare. Now our pack has a leader. And I find it wonderful.

I have absolutely no doubt that the novelty of having a manager again will wear off, but I feel a great weight off me now that we have a manager again. Earlier this week I had a problem requiring a solution from outside the department. Could I have sent off a barrage of emails and dealt with it alone? No doubt. But how much better it was to take her the problem and have her offer to deal with it and to come up with a policy in case it happens again.

And while it’s extremely early days in our working relationship and the new broom sweeps cleanest, I feel hopeful that in this time of change she will be a strong leader, fighting for the things that our team does and the things we would like to do. I feel a little like Balin from the Hobbit, speaking of Thorin Oakenshield:

There is one I could follow. There is one I could call Manager.”

I don’t find that funny and I don’t think your horse does either

I admire the array of humorous equine themed hoodies. Although I try not to ride in anything I can’t take off easily without removing my helmet l have thought it would be nice to have the ”Keep calm and trot on” (or similar variants for other gaits), and as my horse and I are both “Built for comfort not speed” I’d wear that one too (even though he’s bloody fast for a native breed!)

I would never dream of wearing “My horse is ream! Bet you’re well jel.” But I have no issue with you wearing it, if it amuses you. However I’ve seen one lately that I do object to: “Ride it like you stole it.”

At first glance it’s not that offensive, but what does it mean? To my mind it means the wearer thinks it’s funny to ride a horse with no respect for anyone around them and even less for the horse itself. Who cares if someone gets injured because of you? Or if the horse is injured or miserable? Ride it like you stole it.

Perhaps people will think I’ve had a sense of humour bypass and gone off on a rant and maybe there would be some truth un that, but surely there are enough thoughtless riders already without glorifying recklessness.

Please don’t ride it like you stole it. Ride it like you love it. Sometimes it has to be tough love but please, ride it like a friend and not like a criminal.

——

Thought that post wasn’t up to my usual standards? Don’t mind me, I got out of the wrong side of the bed this weekend. It started when I found out that Leonard Nimoy died by seeing a picture of a crocheted Spock with RIP written under it. Crochet blogs are a weird medium to hear news through and I’m not sure what it says about my life. Or is it because there’s a fair bit going on in my head at the moment and I might be overreacting to the little things. Hmm. I’m sure normal service will be resumed at some point.

Spoons

As I get better, a lot of the posts I would have posted had I had the energy are going to come out. A lot of them were drafted weeks before they will be polished and published. This one I probably should have just published when I wrote it, but here it is.

l recommend reading the Spoon Theory in the words of its creator, here, but for those who like a blog post to be more self contained I’ll summarise it. Healthy people have energy in large quantities to get them through the day, so they don’t need to be aware of how much they spend. People with limiting health conditions have to budget and ration and be aware of every energy expenditure. Spoons are a metaphor for units of energy. Once you’ve spent all your spoons for the day you’d better lie down until tomorrow because you just can’t achieve any more.

Did you brush your hair today? You spent 1 spoon on that. Had a shower? That was another spoon gone. Unless you shaved your legs and / or washed your hair which each cost at least 1 more spoon. Just getting through a normal morning routine consumes whole handfuls of spoons. If you’re healthy enough that spoons are easy come, easy go, then that’s a small drop in your shiny spoon ocean. But what if you only had 16 spoons to last the day? You know you’ll need to spend spoons on feeding yourself later. On fetching drinks and going to the toilet. Those are pretty essential. Some people wake up with even fewer spoons than 16 (a number l picked at random). Sometimes things you can’t control will demand your spoons. Things like bad news, a spilt glass of water that must be mopped before it gets to the electrical socket or interpersonal conflict steal the spoons right out of your hands.

I wish I’d been aware of spoon theory a few months ago. I was living with so few spoons then. Now I have more. Still few enough that I can’t spend prolifigately but enough to have had reasonably clean, brushed hair everyday for weeks now. Enough to get through most days without reaching for a spoon that I don’t have. Maybe one day I’ll be a spoon millionaire again but right now it feels great to realise how much richer in spoons I have become. I can look at today and marvel at how many spoons l spent without running out. As I get fitter I have stopped worrying about the energy spend for every little routine thing I do but as a side effect I’ve stopped noticing how much I’m achieving each day. Being mindful of my spoons will help me see I am making progress and make me grateful for all the things I can do.