My in-laws are teaching my husband and I to play bridge. Learning new tasks and joining in community or family is supposed to be good for my aging brain
and, having lost both of my own parents early in life, I want to get to know my father in-law and his wife. “Memento mori”, remember, every day is a gift; we all will die.
“Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving as a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.”Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations, Book 5.9”
Upon that uplifting thought, I will continue; every Sunday evening, after a day of lessons where I am the All-Knowing Guru, we drive to my In-Law’s house to learn how to play a simple little card game. With cruel clarity, Bridge taught me that I am no intellectual giant. I have always excelled academically. I was one of those school nerds who loved class, loved learning, loved the life of a student. If I could afford it, I would remain a perpetual student. Actually, I guess I am a perpetual student, just not in a University! Point being, I’m a good and enthusiastic student. Hand me a sentence to diagram, a poem to unravel, or literature to tear into and I am in my comfort zone. Head of the class; give that girl an A.
Bridge is a different animal. My In-Laws have spent three weeks trying to explain bidding. I’m finally catching on. Three weeks and I can remember the strong suits. Three weeks and my palms still sweat trying to decide which card to play. Last night they started explaining scoring. Help me Baby Jesus, I cannot understand. I stink. My In laws have the patience of the Saints. They must surely wonder how their son married someone so dim. DeJa’Vu, several weeks ago I was questioned by a student, “Be honest, will I ever get this?” His parents claim that I am doing well. They are kind and they lie.
I love Sunday nights. I sit in their home and want to play hand after hand. Traditionally, I am the turd in the punch bowl, but on these occasions, my husband has to pull me out of their house so our elderly hosts can go to bed. I feel small and ignorant and I love it!
Why? Two reasons: with both my students and my horses, learning Bridge reminds me to remain empathetic, second, it reminds me to remain humble.
Riding Dressage And Bridge Both Require Empathy and to Remain Humble
Learning to ride Dressage is difficult. From the equine point of view, learning the complexities of balance and communication with your rider is another daunting task. For the students it usually boils down to being fit for the task. I wish that riding alone could make a rider fit enough to truly be effective, but it’s not. So, the commitment to be good at Dressage starts with demands on your time performing a task that you probably really don’t want to do. And, truth be told, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you are just tired. Sometimes you just don’t want to exercise. Me too. But, as Marcus admonished, don’t despair. Don’t give up. Set yourself fitness goals that you can attain. Just keep showing up to whatever form of exercise you enjoy. I personally advise starting to walk every day. It is good for both the mind and the body; it is a natural activity for the human animal, and it will improve your riding. Just show up and do it. When you don’t, stay positive. Recognize that you made a poor choice and change.
Becoming a Good Rider Requires You Stay Fit and Exercise
After the adult rider has started to commit some fitness time separate from riding, she still must ride. Again, in our busy schedules, sometimes riding time gets interrupted and inconsistent. Don’t be defeated! Ride as often as you can and when work, family, weather, etc. interrupt it, that’s ok, but when you can ride, SHOW UP. Show up mentally. Stop and focus on riding and communicating with your horse. Put every ounce of energy and focus into the short time you are with your horse. Really choose to be present.
When physical fitness is addressed, and lesson or riding time is scheduled, then you have to ride. Suddenly things that sound simple on paper: keep your butt down, hands low and wide, relax your legs, are impossible tasks and someone (your beloved trainer) is barking at you week after week. You’d think you could do THAT consistently. Nope! Don’t despair! It is the same for all of us. I am a competent professional and I will finish a clinic thinking of my one goal: I will not hear my trainer tell me one more time to shorten my reins. I will keep them short because I vow, I will not hear her have to tell me that again. Yes, I can focus on only one bad habit or one improvement at a time. Keep trying. You can do it! I have watched many riders go from this simple stage to then putting more complex tasks together: balancing the horse from the inside leg to the outside rein, paying attention to where the hind legs are, correctly riding them up through the wither. The only way you will fail is to quit trying.
Think About It From Your Horse’s Perspective
One word, think about it from your horse’s point of view. I have a student fairly new to Dressage and horses in general. Faith is a lovely woman, very accomplished in her field. She is smart and has tremendous desire to learn. I really enjoy Faith’s lessons, and, more importantly, I really like her horse. Her little mare is so generous. She is sharp and willing, and most importantly, willing to put up with Faith and the inevitable mistakes she makes while riding.
They are making super progress. Compared to where they started, Faith is 100% better. So, what’s the problem? Faith doesn’t believe me. By listening to the critical voice in her head, she is unable to recognize or celebrate her progress. I don’t think she’s a perfect rider. No one is, but her journey has been very fulfilling for me. Although she has a long, unbelievably long, way to go, she has made remarkable progress.
But the beginning of every lesson is fraught with her winding tighter and tighter as she over-analyzes her riding. The point I try to make with her, is that she had better be able to start celebrating the little steps, the journey, because a Dressage rider is never going to cross the finish line, if you are any good, you’ll keep learning forever, no one has “arrived”. Why must she stop? Because her lovely mare does not know with whom Faith is displeased.
When my husband gets moody, my first thought is, “Oh, is he mad at me?” Almost always, whatever has upset him has nothing to do with me. Think about your poor horse! Who are you unhappy with? Horses are very emotional, and they will pick up on your displeasure and think it’s aimed at them.
Your horse is attempting to master a new skill. You and I speak the same English and you have a hard time seeing the light. Imagine life from your poor horse’s perspective. They are trying really hard. So, don’t get down on your horse or yourself when you are having a bad day. Just keep a positive attitude and a little empathy. If my In Laws yell at me or even act disgusted while I am learning to play Bridge, I would quit. I wouldn’t want to show up and do it anymore. I would stop trying. So, be a kind liar to your horse. Tell him he’ll get it, that you have confidence in him, and he’ll keep trying for you.
Enjoy the Journey
We are merely human and our journey through Dressage is an unending one. Any of our goals is short term because none of us will arrive. All you can control is trying to ride well in the present moment. Embrace the process; celebrate your failures as well as your triumphs, avoid becoming exasperated because you and your horse will become defeated. Embrace your improvements, love the relationship that you are building with your horse because, ultimately, that is more important than mastering any task.
Visit the final chapter of the story with The Stoics, Pt. 3