Books and Film

A Little Bit Better

Improve your patience by recognizing the “shades of gray”

©Flickr/groovenite

Training horses, learning how to ride them well, these pursuits can be an obsession. They can bankrupt us, disrupt other relationships, and generally make us crazy. And they can be painful.

Most of all, though, they take huge amounts of time. And the reality is, if we aren’t willing to commit, our riding goals will go unmet and our relationships with our horses will self-destruct. In her book It’s Not Just About the Ribbons, motivational speaker, dressage rider, and ballroom dancer Jane Savoie says time—being willing to spend it on our horses as freely as we spend our paychecks—is key.

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I’ve known a lot of incredibly talented riders who never seem to fulfill their potential to become great riders. On the other hand, I know even more riders who are less innately gifted but end up becoming very successful. What’s the difference?

In a nutshell, I’d have to say it’s patience and persistence.

I think one of the biggest factors contributing to a lack of patience is having expectations. The same dynamic occurs in many relationships. When we place our own expectations on another being—human or otherwise—we’re bound to get impatient from time to time.

We get impatient with our horses when we expect them to:

• act like machines
• think logically
• learn according to human timetables
• never voice an opinion through resistance or evasion
• always be cooperative
• never get distracted or nervous

If you lose your patience while riding, your impatience can escalate into anger, and when you get angry, everyone suffers. Your horse always suffers in the moment, and after the fact, you suffer by feeling guilty that you took your emotions out on your horse. If you really want your horse to be a happy, willing partner, and you want to give him the opportunity to blossom, you need to be endlessly patient.

Illustration by Beth Preston

One of the ways I’ve learned to become more patient is to learn how to recognize shades of gray. I’ve learned not to expect training to be black and white. Instead, I’m happy when I can make any little bit of progress. My guideline for recognizing these shades of gray is the phrase “a little bit better.” I’m satisfied anytime my horse can do anything just “a little bit better.”

To keep track of the shades of gray, I keep a journal of my rides. I ask myself, “Have things been a little bit better, not only within each ride, but also from day-to-day?” When you or your horse seem to be plateauing, you can look back in your book and see where you were last week, last month, or even last year. Your journal will help you keep things in perspective.

For example, maybe I get impatient because my horse doesn’t always stay on the bit during every canter depart. But if I look back at my journal, I see that two months ago, I was only getting 50 percent of the transitions on the bit. And, two months before that, not only was he coming off the bit, but he was racing off like a maniac when I asked for the canter.

Illustration by Beth Preston

By looking at my journal and seeing our progress, I can stay positive. I don’t have the expectation that everything has to be perfect right now. Instead, I’m content with shades of gray.


This excerpt from It’s Not Just About the Ribbons by Jane Savoie is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.