When we learn anything new, especially like dressage, there is language that must be learned as well. We learn the vocabulary and the speech patterns necessary to participate in the learned activity. Often times, the activity has a language of it's own. If you don't golf, try participating in a conversation with an avid golfer; it will sound like Greek. It is no different with dressage.
Even though we all speak English, many of us, in all honesty it's probably most of us, are not yet fluent in the language of dressage. During my studies of language acquisition (I hold a B.A. with an emphasis in language acquisition), we learned that it takes at least six years to become completely proficient at a language, even our own first language. Have you ever noticed that it's much easier to speak to a six year old than a four year old?
Is it no surprise then that it takes years and years to become proficient at dressage? It's not simply making your body respond in a certain way, it's also about learning the language in order to effectively communicate with your horse, other riders, your trainer, and the judge. The USDF handbook actually has a glossary of Judging Terms.
Stephen Krashen, a noted linguist, developed the Input Hypothesis in the 1970s and 1980s. The Input Hypothesis is actually a series of five hypotheses that describe the process of acquisition of a second language. Stay with me here, there is a dressage connection. The fifth hypothesis, the affective filter, is that one that holds most adults back from learning.
While I understand the affective filter, I am going to let Wikipedia explain it for me. Wikipedia?
The affective filter is an impediment to learning or acquisition caused by negative emotional ("affective") responses to one's environment. It is a hypothesis of second-language acquisition theory, and a field of interest in educational psychology.
According to the affective filter hypothesis, certain emotions, such as anxiety, self-doubt, and mere boredom interfere with the process of acquiring a second language. They function as a filter between the speaker and the listener that reduces the amount of language input the listener is able to understand. These negative emotions prevent efficient processing of the language input. The hypothesis further states that the blockage can be reduced by sparking interest, providing low anxiety environments and bolstering the learner's self-esteem.
According to Krashen (1982), there are two prime issues that prevent the lowering of the affective filter. The first is not allowing for a silent period (expecting the student to speak before they have received an adequate amount of comprehensible input according to their individual needs). The second is correcting their errors too early-on in the process.
I was feeling a lot of anxiety (negative emotions) about learning in front of other people. I was afraid of being laughed at and made to feel foolish or out of place. I was particularly worried because I knew Christian might ask me to do exercises that I didn't know how to do, which is exactly what happened.
Christian asked for a change of direction. Now remember, I work in a ring filled with jumps. There is no crossing the diagonal. When JL asks for a change of direction, I pick the first available space and do a small figure eight, changing the bed on the one or two straight strides that I get. So that's what I did during the clinic. Christian's comment rang a bit sarcastic (to my anxiety-ridden ears), and the auditors laughed.
I felt my face flush, and tears threatened. I was humiliated. How dare they laugh at someone who had ADMITTED to being a lower level rider without a dressage instructor. I took a deep breath and pressed on. Not long after, Christian asked me to do a leg yield which I was unable to do. I simply didn't understand the exercise, which was to come up centerline, leg yield left to the rail, turn back down centerline, and leg yield left again. It sounds so obvious now, but when I got to the rail, I didn't know I was to turn down centerline again. Even after getting there, I kept getting confused about which way I was to leg yield.
Finally, I simply halted and verbalized that I didn't understand what was expected. Christian's comment had something to do with what kind of endurance rider must I have been to not know my left from my right. The auditors again broke into laughter. Right on the spot, I had to make a decision: was I going to cry and walk away, or was I going to stiffen my back bone and show them what I was made of?
Of course I toughened up, but it was a close call. Once the decision was made, I decided that I needed to get the upper hand (according to Krashen, build self-esteem). I may not be fluent in the language of dressage, but I do have a vast skill set. I am not stupid (as many second language learners are perceived to be) so I fought back.
I completed every exercise with zero complaint, and I did everything the instant he asked for it. While I had watched the other ladies ride, I noticed that most of them asked for a walk break at some point in the lesson. I knew that I wouldn't need a break, and so I decided to let that be my little success in school that day. I can work very hard.
As Speedy and I trot around, I let fly a little comment like, oh, and by the way, I can do this all day. Bring it on! Christian doesn't speak English as his first language so some of my quips had to be explained to him. He asked what I meant, and the auditors told him that I just thrown out a challenge. In reply, he told me to cross my stirrups over my saddle. The spectators laughed again, but this time it wasn't at me, but with me.
I confidently crossed my stirrups and went on at the sitting trot. It was ugly, of course, but very quickly, the ladies started offering me margaritas after the lesson. I gaily laughed that I wanted three! I also started to hear lots of positive comments coming from the auditors. Hearing me laugh, Christian told me to switch to the rising trot which I did with no problem.
I don't know for how long I rode with no stirrups, but I didn't ask for a walk break, and I just kept on going. Before long, I could feel that the ladies were rooting for me and so was Christian. At some point, Christian of course called the lesson to an end, and I let Speedy amble over to him for some final words. I was no longer embarrassed or angry. And I realized that no one meant any harm in their laughter.
When our "affective filter" is raised high, we are not able to learn as the filter blocks any input. Once I realized that I was not in a learning frame of mind (by being embarrassed), I decided to tear down the filter by demonstrating what I am good at. I empowered myself which restored my self-confidence and helped me to get what I needed from the lesson.
I had a fantastic time at dinner and even sat beside Christian. No one knew that the initial laughter had embarrassed me and nearly brought me to tears, (although they do now!). But it's okay. It wasn't personal; it was simply how I perceived it.
Jen, the clinic organizer, kindly pulled me aside on the first day and explained the rule about crossing the diagonal to change direction. And during the second day's lesson, Christian pointed out that he wanted me to change my posting diagonal closer to the letter. Somewhere I had read that when crossing the diagonal, it should be done at X. From Christian's comment forward, I changed my posting, and the bend, just before reaching the letter. I am a quick learner.
I had a wonderful time at the clinic and came back with a lot of information. Much of it will no doubt need time to be absorbed and fully understood. You know that I am always honest here. The honesty is to myself first. If I had let my own insecurities rule my day, I would have simply wasted hundreds of dollars and come home empty handed. Be honest with yourself, let go of your fear and anxiety, and ride your horse!
Bring it on I say; I can trot forever!