Kickboxing Dressage Horses

Some of you may have seen this article before, which I wrote in 2008.  I am posting it now by request.

Completely gratuitous picture of Elliot  :-)

Completely gratuitous picture of Elliot 🙂

Now into my 4th week of kickboxing, I see clearly that learning to kickbox is simply dressage for people.  It’s all about building strength and flexibility, but this time it is my job, not my horse’s, to do the physical work.  The trainer hasn’t yet uttered the term “gymnasticising”  but I have a suspicion she is thinking it.

I should have seen this epiphany coming.  On Day One, I was smugly confident that I, a former intercollegiate athlete afterall, would pick up this sissy-pants kickboxing in a snap.  Alas, pride goeth before a fall.  Five minutes into the class I was reduced to giggling at my coltish attempts to keep in step.  Occasionally off the beat, often with legs entangled, I began the journey as a goofy young horse–no balance, no muscle tone, but happy to go.

During this time, I relied heavily on my trainer.  The manner in which I looked to her is just as young horses look to us:  “Um, a little help?”  What elevated my favorite trainers was their gift for simply preparing me to succeed.  Perhaps as we were doing a side kick she’d say, “Forward kick in 3, 2, 1”, so that I could be thinking about how to change to the forward kick before I was asked to do it.  Transitions presented in this manner were simple and fun to perform.  If trainers did not give this “verbal half halt”, the transition would be disorganized and rushed.  Worse yet, repeated muffed attempts would leave me vaguely frustrated, and perceiving myself as incompetent.  I realize, with more than a little sadness, that I have felt horses experience this frustration with me.  The kickboxing horsie in me, and the grass-munching ones in my pasture, appreciate having a little “heads up”.

My inner horsie learns best with occasional praise.  As my legs flopped about, while my neighbors’ kicks snapped vividly, I was acutely aware that I was not competent.  From my viewpoint as I struggled, the best trainers responded by encouraging improvement rather then by highlighting shortcomings. Good trainers trust that people and horses would prefer to be competent, and therefore generously acknowledge improvement.  This tactic encouraged my inner horsie to strive more cheerfully and probably more effectively.

With some effort, I’m about a 2nd Level Kickboxing Dressage Horse these days.  Mostly balanced, and I have to admit, a little overconfident at times.  “Ah, yes, next comes the boxer’s hop and then a side kick,” says my presuming inner horsie.  When a front kick comes in where the side kick should have been, uppity inner horsie morphs to attentive inner horsie in a hoofbeat.  There’s nothing like a little variety to keep that inner horsie tuned in.

Timely half halts, honest praise and creative work.  Today I was a kickboxing dressage horse, and for me, that has made all the difference.

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