Refusing to jump – reflections

Picture credit: Tom von Kap-herr, of backhomeinbromont.com

While watching a couple videos from 2012 London Olympics, specifically the ones of the riding part of Pentathlon, I saw several horses refusing jumps, many more than it happens in dedicated jumping competitions. Why so? The horses themselves were experienced jumpers or eventers and the difficulty of the jumps in that competition was reduced. The differences are two: first, the rider is an athlete that only dedicates part of his/her time to horses and riding, and second, he/she meets the horse only around half an hour before the competition.

The result is that the horse and the rider could not have enough time to adapt to each other, and the horse is more often required to mask the rider’s insecurities or mistakes, or even abort a jump if it doesn’t feel it will be able to clear it safely. I can very well imagine that it’s rarely a matter of disobedience, more often a lack of coordination. On the other hand, it was amazing to see how some horses decided how to approach the jumps, independently from the riders’ advice, sometimes carrying the rider along without paying much attention.

Then I noticed how differently the riders reacted when their horses refused to jump a given obstacle. Some of them tried again with a better preparation and balance, others hit the horse, or at least clearly wanted the horse to obey. Not all riders thanked the horse after the end of their run. I find hard not to disapprove the lack of closeness between rider and horse, but at this level of competition there is so much stress and tension that I can understand why that happens.

That made me think about  leaders in general. I witnessed a wide range of reactions when their team is not willing to go on, or would prefer to avoid an obstacle. If there is pressure of various origins, there is probably no time to understand why the team is not complying. Still, I would suggest to check how crucial is the goal in question, if it is worth to push the people through at any cost, or not. If it is not, cancel the jump yourself, don’t let the team struggle. I have been myself in the position of not having the possibility to refuse to jump and I have very few other memories of such an acute mental pain. Seeing the refusal coming is a big help. Learn to see worried faces, well before anyone talks to you, that would likely be too late anyway to abort the jump. Praise the team afterwards, especially if it has costed much in terms of stress and energy. And for next jump, improve the approach and the balance.

 

 

 

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On leadership mindset

Love Bite -- by Chad Hanson

Lately I collected many hints on how a good leader should be: at my kindergarten, at riding lessons and by music rehearsals. At the same time I thought about how it takes to be a good team member.

In the past I had my strong opinions on some topics and would not accept any other, even from people who expected me to conform. I used to fight back, first with explicit force, then more softly but still very firmly. I was not especially good at leading because I was not so good at presenting my ideas and getting feedback from others, on any level. I was sometimes a difficult musician in my orchestra: the more I was pushed to play in a way I didn’t like, the more unmanageable I became.

Since then I understood many signs, or maybe, I got older and I don’t cling that desperately to my opinions anymore. It was an interesting lesson with the horse I ride: I have to communicate clearly and show a calm, focused mind, in order to be accepted as leader by an animal that is many times bigger, heavier, faster than me. I can occasionally bluff and play calm, even if I am not, as it is usually a safe thing to do – opposed to be scared by default, scare the horse and create an actual dangerous situation.

It is almost the same with children. They have marked personalities and clear ideas on what they want, but also rely on adults for guidance and exploration of the unknown world. When I feel that I am teaching something new to them, I am like a mountain guide, walking in front, showing where I put my feet, leaving the freedom to walk in another path when I consider it safe too; I check often with them to see if the way is manageable for them, if they are tired, happy, scared,curious. I learned in these last months how to pay attention to small signs that help me understand how another person feels, even if his/her words say otherwise. It happened too often that people answered “No thanks, how nice of you that you offer help, but I don’t need it now” and I saw on their faces that they needed that help so badly. Then it’s another diplomatic game to play, how to help them without patronisation.

And on this fine tuning, I exercise my leadership skills and my team member skills, usually by trial and error in real world situations. Sometimes I manage to make my tests with people who have much to teach me on this field: it is a real enjoyment to know that I can practice with the confidence that I am in a playpen, in a sandbox where I don’t have to worry that I could hurt somebody in order to learn my lessons.