Kirsten Farris Teaches You How to Master A New Class
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"Before embarking on your journey to mastering a new event you will need a road map to get you to your destination," Farris says. (Journal photo)

Try it, You’ll Like it!

Now that AQHA Leveling and the new Novice Rules are in place, you may find yourself in a position to try a new class or two. After all, learning new things can be fun and exciting, right? However, if you find yourself feeling like a dog stuck with the same old tricks, these tips will help straighten out your learning curve and have you loving your new event in no time.

1. Natural law of Progress

For some reason, we think that progress occurs in a straight upwardly trending line, when in fact it is more like a foxtrot, with two steps forward and one step back. Instead of trying to change reality, learn to accept it. That way, when you are on the back step you will know that forward progress is right around the corner.

2. Break it down

Before embarking on your journey to mastering a new event you will need a road map to get you to your destination. Make a list of all of the acceptable maneuvers for your event and then rate your current ability from 1 - 10 for each one. Then ask yourself, “What would it take to get me to a 10?” You have now identified your key improvement area. But you aren’t done yet. Go ahead and seal the deal by committing to a target date for getting there. Your list may look something like this: Armed with factual data, you can prioritize and work on things that you do well while you tackle the more challenging elements that you still have to master. That way, your confidence and sanity will be with you during this process, which makes things much easier in the long run.                                      

                                    Horsemanship Maneuvers Chart

Manuever Current Ability Get to a 10 By When?

Walk 8 crisper 27-Feb
Jog 8 more collection 15-Feb
Trot 7 body position 10-Mar
Extended Trot 7 body position 10-Mar
Lope 9 Straight transition 15-Feb
Extended Lope 7 Faster! 27-Feb
Simple Lead Change 6 One trot step 10-Feb
Lead Change 9 Timing 10-Mar
Lope on Straight Line 8 Focus on Target 10-Feb
Lope in Circle 6 Even Circles 12-Mar
1/4 Turn 7 No Overturns 12-Mar

3. Have a Confidence Sandwich

One of the ways to preserve your confidence is to have some every day, in the form of a sandwich. This is not something you can get at Subway as a 6’” on whole wheat, hold the mayo, it is something you will create when you are practicing. Think of the events that you are already confident and competitive in as the bread, and the things that you want to learn as the meat. Unless you are on some sort of carbohydrate restricted diet, most people enjoy their sandwiches when they are made with two pieces of bread, with the meaty stuff in the middle, and this is how you will structure your training sessions. Spend the first third of your session doing things you do well, then move on to your new event for the next third, starting and ending with things that you do well based on your chart. Then end with last third of your time in familiar territory. Trust me, your horse, trainer and family members will be grateful when you leave each session feeling good, full and satisfied.

4. Be Patient

When you are good at something, you are Unconsciously Competent, meaning you don’t have to think about doing something well, it happens automatically. On the flip-side, when you are learning new things, you are entering the land of Conscious Incompetence, where you are well aware of what you are not doing correctly. You may feel slow and clunky as you begin to learn how to do something new. Just know that with practice, you will build new associations in your brain, and before long, your new skills will become automatic as well.

5. Step-By-Step

When you decide to make your official show ring debut in your new class, just pick one thing that you would like to accomplish during your class. It may be to remember your trail pattern, or nail all of your markers. By choosing one performance goal that would mean you were successful in the class, you won’t be bogged down with trying to remember every little nuance that it takes to win. I encourage you to create your own "Maneuvers Chart" similar to the one above. As you progress, you can revisit your chart and keep it updated. There are always things to learn and improve on, but by taking it one step at a time, you won’t be biting off more than you can chew.

6. Lighten Up

When learning something new, don’t take yourself so seriously. Stuff happens, and instead of getting mad and frustrated, you may find something that you can laugh about. Keep it fun and light, and before you know it, you will be looking for another class to master.

Kirsten Farris is a regular contributor to and a Certified Sport Consultant, Certified Equestrian Fitness Trainer, and the Author of The Workbook for the Equestrian Athlete - A Guide to Showring Success. She was the 2012 AQHA Select World Champion in Hunter Under Saddle with Lyles Al Lie. For more information contact her © 2012

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