- It takes hours of practice
Just like getting skilled at Columns (I once got to level 150, it took about five hours and I could no longer see straight), dressage takes hours and hours doing the same exercises and movements, developing the right muscles and hoping for the penny to drop in the horse and riders head and for the co-ordination to kick in so that you get the right result.
- You have to learn to push the right buttons
Before I got lessons in dressage, I didn’t have too many buttons on my horse to press, we had reins and leg that was about it. Eventually I learned that there are extra buttons I just never knew they were there or how to press them. We now have forwards driving leg aid, sideways leg aid, weight aid etc. This reminded me a lot of the many months I spent in the 90s playing Street Fighter II with my brother. At the start, no one cared about the characters special moves. Fighting basically meant mashing your fingers rapidly against the controller buttons and hoping for the best. Eventually though my bro learned how to do Ken and Ryu’s Hadoken move and I got my ass kicked a lot. At this point I bothered to read the manual (yeah a printed one, before Google, mind blowing) and learned how to do Chun Li’s epic Spinning Bird Kick which was worth learning the right buttons for.
- There is always that one character you want to beat
No matter how much you improve at dressage and how much better your scores and percentages are, there will always be that one consistently winning character in your level that you have in your sights and that you know that one day on a good day, all going well you can win against. These horses and riders are brilliant as they set the standard to beat and really give you a bench mark on progress. In Street Fighter II, for me this was always Blanka in the final level. I beat a good few of the other characters in the final battle but this guy always beat me down. It took a long time to finally make that well-earned final battle win against him. In ‘Streets of Rage’ this character was always the ‘big boss’. You would clear a level, think you were a rock star and then realise that these bad boys were lying in wait for you and it was only after defeating them that you could move on.
- Sometimes you just can’t get the co-ordination right.
Anyone who has spent hours trying to get Lara Croft to stop posing and climb out of the water onto the damn ledge in the cave will understand the frustration of those no co-ordination days. These are the days where your leg won’t go on and stay on, the horse appears to have forgotten everything you learned last month and your brain and hand are just not communicating.
- Sometimes you just get stuck on a level
At the start, many things I asked the horse to do were met with tension and hollowing. This took a while to work through and now, anything we have fully learned is a relaxed and controlled experience. At this stage though I know that new exercises and new concepts will cause an eruption of hollow tense giraffe impressions and it will take a while to work through. Learning to canter more slowly took two weeks and once we got past the ‘fast and hollow’ phase and past the ‘f**k it I will trot instead’ phase and continued through the ‘I’ll go slowly but snatch the bit every so often’ phase, we had a slower canter. We are now working through the latest level that I have gotten stuck on which is the ‘leg yield slowly without hollowing’ level. I’ve likened this to getting stuck on a level in a game and you have to repeat it over and over making subtle differences to try and finally get the end result. It takes time and patience and often you feel like you will never get there or you must be mad but you know you have to get past this to get any further. I once spent many hours trying to get Sonic to get through the water complex without drowning and trying to get through the mountain volcano without burning his little feet off every five minutes. We got there in the end.
- There is no last level
People used to have a theory of a last level in Columns and Tetris. I once played 5+ hours of columns. I felt like I was in the matrix. My eyes were skew ways and my brain and hand were as one. I had only intended to play for a while but I kept going and soon I had to keep going purely to see how far I could go. There was no last level though, it just got faster and faster until you simply couldn’t keep up and then it was game over. When I started taking dressage lessons, I just wanted to be less bad at it than I was. I wanted to be in the top three in my grade instead of in the bottom three. The trainer asked if I wanted to learn the likes of half pass and I laughed. Since then we made it to the top three in our old grade, upgraded and were in the top three in that grade. Now I want to do more, learn more and push for more. I have no delusions about my ability to go up to the next level – it is going to take a long time and lot of hard work on my part and even more on the horses part but I am delighted that the glass ceiling I gave myself has been removed.
This is not the last level.
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