If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Badly

In which we get goofily serious.

My brain on dressage:

I get it.  Theoretically.

One of the most encouraging things an instructor ever said to me (when I asked for homework) was “Do it badly”.  I think dressage is complicated,  which, in turn, makes it…complicated.

Her words came back to me yesterday. If I strike the three times I just got on and walked around, I haven’t ridden in nearly 6 weeks.  I mounted with some relief, knowing I was likely to ride badly. No lofty goal.  Ride, stay centered, enjoy.

Best dressage ride I’ve had in a loooong time.

Hudson was full of himself: it’s cool, and he’s been tuned up by Alice and Bella.  He was convinced he could ease into the canter from a big collected trot without my noticing. This made me laugh, so I let him. Amazing dressage canter: enormous energy, impulsion to the moon, not speedy.  He stretched up about a foot, and compacted his entire length while lifting his back.  He thought he might be getting away with something, so tried to keep himself nonchalant, when really he wanted to tear up some footing.  Huge energy, huge control, huge self-carriage.  I turned my brain off, and danced.  We connected with that electrical ping.

Suddenly, I got it. He was having FUN.  I thought he hated dressage.  There may be parts he dislikes, but now I think what he hated was my eternal thinking about dressage (and trying to do it right), instead of feeling the ride we were in.  I had not been having fun, so why would he?

It wasn’t a perfect ride technically, by any stretch, but we had a blast doing it imperfectly: enjoying each other’s presence.  I rewarded us both by letting him go, letting him leave blistering tracks in the footing.  In turn, he graced me with a gynormous ground-eating trot.  It felt like a “thank you”.

I thought I’d been showing up, and I had been: in my head.  My body was on autopilot. Hudson can only show up right here, right now, in our shared physical world.  Much to his surprise, I was fully present.

Today’s assignment: ride badly, to the best of my ability.



27 thoughts on “If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Badly

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  14. dressage rider

    Oh, that’s so me. Recently, while trying to conquer the sitting trot I was told “I don’t care if it’s ugly.” Ugly gives me a lot of leeway. I was able to relax and I did a decent job. (Sigh of relief.)

    Great way to start the New Year.

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  16. goamwat

    You so perfectly capture that Moment. The Moment we all sweat, bleed, break, and ride for. Makes me want to hop on my Beastie right now and just ride, smile, and turn off my brain.

  17. Carol

    This had me almost teary eyed 🙂 All my best riding moments come when I stop trying. I’ve made a much more concerted effort lately to make it more fun for my horse, and consequently he is performing better. I need some discipline though, so I can through it away and go with it!

  18. Marissa

    Oh I’m so happy to hear this! It’s so nice when we finally stop overanalyzing and obsessing and just ride. God I love when I can do that. When I was younger, I was once fretting about something way overly technical, sitting at the in gate about to go in the ring. My trainer, fed up with my neurosis, interrupted me and said “Oh for heavens sake just ride the dang horse!” I smiled and went in to have a wonderful round. I once talked to an animal communicator about Tucker (I know, I know), and she told me that he likes it better when I smile while I ride. Most of what she said wasn’t overly enlightening, but that was — whether or not she was channelling him or not. When things aren’t going well, I try to remember to smile a little. Sounds like you had a great ride, and I bet you were smiling! 🙂

  19. Erica Whitcombe

    I am so speechless. This is **IT** in a nutshell! Maybe it is just certain people this happens to, but it happens to me all the time, because I over-think everything. I also have found that if I only ride once a week, I ride much better than I usually do because I don’t expect myself to be perfect. Now to get to the point where I can ride more than once a week and still not think!! Thanks for a great post!

    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      I know some people need to be pushed with “we have to give our best” speeches, and that’s what works for them. Those people would be horrified by this approach.

      I’m a nitpicking, over-thinking, perfectionist. I need permission to do it badly, so I’ll relax, not get caught up in the little stuff, and go at it with fun and curiosity. It’s worth doing badly, for sure!

  20. Sandy

    I was just working on a still life painting. It’s looking bad, but I had fun. And I too need to get back on my non-metaphorical horse. BTW, I always have my best rides when I’m not trying — and no one is watching. “Really, I got the ‘woohoo’ canter and he was butter in my hands.”

  21. Kimberly

    There’s a metaphor for me in here somewhere. But my brain is not working at full speed right now. Something about writing, and writing badly. And man, I need to get myself back on the non-metaphorical horse, too.


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