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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - Rider/Writer

It feels like a natural progression; at least, it does so in my mind. To go from a girl who told stories and pored over horse encyclopedias to a mostly-adult who peddles stories and trains horses. I don't do much training anymore, admittedly, but it's been a huge part of my life. Probably the biggest part. And I think those two vocations go hand-in-hand. After all, all I ever really needed to know about life I learned from horses, and writing isn't so different from life.

How dressage is like novel-writing:

1. It Consumes You
It isn't merely something to pass the time. It goes way beyond hobby. You wake up and you go to sleep envisioning what you need to do next, running through scenarios. It stalks your daydreams and occupies every thought, until conversation about mundane, regular things becomes taxing. You are your craft, and the craft begins to define you. Men think you ought to be concerned with the state of your nails and hair and an impending shopping spree, and your dedication to something outside yourself troubles them, and even repels them. Oh well. You'll worry about that later. Right now, it's all about the next ride, and the next page...

2. The Devil is in the Details
There's a judge sitting at the end of the arena, up at C. And there's a judge in every reader who cracks the cover of your book. The place you stand to lose them is in the details. You can execute the most stunning lengthened trot across the diagonal, and then rush through the corner afterward and ruin the whole thing. You can set up a crazy action sequence, and fail to flesh out your characters with any subtlety. You have to be cognizant of a thousand things at once, juggling every muscle...and every corner of your creative mind. You must make yourself a finely-honed tool, razor-sharp and precise in all things.

3. Flying Solo
You have instructors, clinicians, workshop speakers, and a wealth of books and passed-down tips from true-greats to educate you, but when it comes down to performing, this is a solo act. It's just you and the horse. You and your word processor. And education isn't a guarantor of implementation; it doesn't necessitate success. The magic is in your ability to put your education to use. Those in-the-moment decisions you must make. It's just you on that silent stage, and you hope you've packed your head and trained your muscles properly.

4. White Gloves, Deft Hands
In dressage, we wear white gloves. Black wool coat, black saddle, black reins in our hands, and usually a dark mane beneath our knuckles. But the gloves? Crisp white. So the judge can see how steady they are...or unsteady, if that be the case. The goal of dressage is absolute harmony with the horse, and so a well-executed test should give the appearance that the rider isn't giving the horse any cues. Hands steady, just above the pommel, demonstrating an elasticity to the connection in the reins, a softness of the contact. No tugging, no pulling, no harsh corrections. Just deft tightening and relaxing of curled fingers. It isn't that you are dominating the horse; you are so connected with the horse that it requires only minor direction from your hands.

Likewise, while writing, you don't want the characters to be puppets whose strings you yank and drag. You build them completely, connect with them, and then with light, deft hands you give them scenarios, and you watch them react. The audience should never see your hands move. They should never feel you are carrying them along; nothing but the harmonious, human-like reality of the characters should ever be visible. Subtlety separates the men from the boys.

5. Walking the Walk's What Matters
There's a group of girls standing at the entrance of the barn, in the shade it casts across the asphalt, and they've all got sodas and cellphones in hand, and they're laughing and giggling and snorting uproariously, and aren't they just cool, so cool. Because they wear flip-flops to walk around the barnyard and their phones are always ringing and the boys give them sultry looks and make them giggle some more. They're talking about their horses and the rides they're going to have, loud enough for everyone in this forty-acre radius to hear how awesome and special and talented they are. And, like, ugh, who cares about practicing anyway when their horses are just too awesome for the rest of the barn. And, like, who wants to clean stalls? Ew. No thank you, they've got dates and pep rallies and like, soooo much to say on Facebook.

There are walkers and there are talkers, in every "arena" of life. My arenas have been literal - and literary. The talkers want to talk, and the walkers work. Be a walker - stay late, put in the effort, do your homework, pick up the slack, be the kid everyone else sees busting her butt, and when an opportunity comes down the pipeline, be the one to say, "Yes, I'll take that job, I'll do that work." The talkers won't have any respect for you, because you don't play their games - but be a walker anyway.


  1. This is why I stuck with my steeplechase horses. All I had to do was get there first :-)

    1. Lol! I have such respect for jumpers of all kinds. I get nervous just going over crossrails; it's flat work all the way for me!