As I sat and watched the polo team get ready for their match tonight, it struck me just how young they all are. Vacillating between silly and serious depending on the moment. Laughter comes so easily as they chide each other. I spent the evening watching them, and directing them. Most were just freshman, figuring out a new sport. Polo is extremely difficult, a fact that becomes all too apparent when you watch first year players. They are all over the place. Occasionally you see hints of what they may become with the proper discipline and guidance. This all happened quite by accident, I didn’t set out to coach a polo team. I was just covering. As the evening went along, I quickly slid into my teaching self. A persona created by years of working and teaching people to ride. It is such a departure from my usual self. In fact, it usually surprises me. I am listening to myself teach and wonder where that came from. It comes easily to me. If I just let it happen. So, I stood there watching and advising. Alternating between encouragement and instruction. Often times yelling to be heard and to make my point. Riding instruction involves yelling, not angry yelling, just raising the voice. It is quite hard to hear when cantering along. Especially when moving quickly. Also most people don’t listen, especially when concentrating hard. They tend to zone out, it also happens when they get fearful. so yelling keeps them focused on their instructor. Over the years most teaches find their “voice” and figure out the most effective way to maintain contact with the student. I try to end up with a fairly strong voice. I also move quite a bit when teaching, I want to keep myself within a certain distance of the rider. As the students figure me out, they know I will actually lower my voice considerably as they “get it”. It is similar to that shift in voice both Virgil and Beatrice do when they really key into something. The momentary shift in tone gives the student time to connect with themselves and the horse in the absence of the teacher’s voice. Riding is about mindful connection with self and the horse, unless they have that moment to sense correctness, they will continue to struggle. I have spent most of my life being yelled at by various instructors. Many just shrieked. It was awful. I couldn’t stand it, and the horses didn’t like it either. Others were so soft-spoken, it was hard to hear them. But interestingly enough, I learned more from them. It is possible it was the need to concentrate so hard to hear them. I try to use the less is more. If a student is really tuning out, I can yell with the best of them, but that isn’t what I like. I use a bit of all the things that were useful to me learning. Some work, others don’t. Each person learns differently. They all have different hurdles they need to get past. Some are fearful, and timid. Others lack athletic ability. I often wonder why they torture themselves attempting to get their body to master such a difficult feat. It is a combination of balance using both muscle relaxation and contraction, often times both at the same time. To remain upright, a rider must engage their core and lift themselves from their pelvis. At the same moment they need to relax their seat and follow the motion of the animal. If they tense and contract all their muscles they are unable to follow the motion of the horse.To teach someone these key aspects of riding is complicated and difficult. Just as some people can sing, and others fail to even whistle, some people are able to ride with connection. Sadly, the vast majority of people who sit on a horse never come close to figuring it out. It is so important to learn as a youngster. Learning as an adult brings in more hurdles- stiffness, lack of flexibility, anxiety and fear all tend to derail most adult’s efforts to learn. It can be done, but it is a tough process. Kids are resilient and easy to teach. they are like molding silly putty. Few of them have the fear that adults have. They may have some fear, but it is quite different. Adults fear getting hurt, falling off, not doing it right. A kid’s fear is different. Often they worry about the size of the horse, or the speed they are going, but not usually getting hurt. Even after they fall off (and they all do, or shall I say we all do.). They also seem to bounce far better than adults. I think it mainly has to do with their relaxation, as opposed to the adults that are stiff already. Adults come off and brace themselves for impact. That means broken wrists, hands and collar bones. Kids tend to roll and hop up looking for more. Gotta love that about them. Needless to say, I far prefer to work with adults. It is a more challenging process, since it has so many more obstacles. There is much more psychology. In particular overcoming the fear and anxiety. Playing polo takes all the skills involved in effective riding and combines them with hitting a ball. This is done at speed. There is an enormous amount of different pieces that need to come together. Teaching polo is quite different from teaching riding.
Tonight was actually quite enjoyable, albeit frustrating at times. I had this sense of what if. Not that I really have the time to coach these kids. Despite that fact, I did offer to come help them at practice two nights a week. I guess it will give me something different to do. I’m willing to give it a try, and these players need all the help they can get.
Driving back to the farm my head was filled with all the various drills I could use to get them to understand the concepts they needed to know. With all the crap on my plate right now, here I was, off on a tangent. Distracted completely. Is it so bad to try for distraction? Especially with everything that is going on. I should be 100% focused on the farm right now, but I want desperately to find an escape. Maybe these kids can be that escape, just a few nights a week. I’m going to give it a try. See where it goes.