One of my students has been going through a particular rough patch at the moment (okay probably more than one is going through a rough patch, let's be honest). It's a feeling that anyone who is dedicated to a pursuit can appreciate - it's that feeling of two steps forward, one step back. It's that feeling of "how did I manage to do that course last week and now it feels like I can barely stay on?"
In our conversation today after a particularly tough lesson, an analogy came to me: learning any task is like building a house. You can build a simple two bed, one bath house rather quickly. For most people, it will serve its purpose as a safe shelter and they will need no more. However, if you decide that you need more from your house, you must remodel. Anyone who has remodeled a house knows what a huge headache it is - walls must be destroyed, plans must be made, and ultimately you end up with a grand mess...for a while. For a short time your house will barely resemble a dwelling; it will be a pile of lumber, drywall, and other miscellaneous parts needing assembly. But once it has been put back together, it will be larger, stronger, and more complex.
The process of learning to ride is really no different. Learning the basics takes very little time, with balance and timing being the most difficult skills to acquire. Once you're ready to move on from the basics, life will get infinitely more difficult from now until forever. Riding is one of those sports where the more you know, the more you know you don't know. And in the process of learning more, you're bound to make more mistakes. Mistakes are how we all learn. Once you learn to embrace the mistakes, you'll never be able to truly fail.
And if you do feel like you're in a learning rut and you can't seem to make any progress, take a short break. Often inspiration comes from a fresh mind. Even horses sometimes need a little break to mull over what they've learned. Sometimes taking that one step back is all you need to launch yourself forwards!
One of my favorite quotes about learning to ride is from Bill Steinkraus. It's a great reminder to not be afraid to try something new:
"For me, rational riding is riding that depends on thought as well as feeling, on the brain as well as the body. Rational riding starts with the idea that it's easier to do something if you know very concretely what you're trying to do, why you're trying to do it and how it functions mechanically. Today I can't believe that every rider wouldn't benefit from spending some time consciously addressing his and his horses' strengths and weaknesses, and trying to find ways to exploit the former and correct the latter. It's surprising what a big deal it is for most people actually to try something new. Thinking about it is one thing, but having to try it out on your own horse or with your own body means abandoning what you have always done before. Many riders can't bring themselves to do this, when they're seeking advice in the first place because they aren't having much success with their old techniques. Consequently, most riders display the same faults year after year, their progress blocked by their own resistance to change, forever bogged down at a lower level of success than they are capable of achieving."