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Equine Endeavor

Learning to Ride with My Mind - Mary Wanless Workshop 2020

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Mary Wanless Northern California Workshop. Mary has been coming to Watsonville, California for the past 29 years! I hope to attend next year for her 30th anniversary trip.


Mary Wanless is an internationally renowned coach as well as the author of the "Ride With Your Mind" books. Here is a little about Mary, stolen from her website:


"30 years ago, when Mary was frustrated with her limited progress as a pupil, she set out to discover how talented riders do what they do. Her guiding question was... What is the trainer presupposing? That the rider already has these skills (but somehow forgot, or just didn't bother to implement them?!) Or that she ought to be able to do it because it's easy?


Any co-ordination that is easy (and therefore a 'bite size chunk') for the trainer is not necessarily a 'bite size chunk' for the pupil. When the trainer says 'Do X' she is assuming that the pupil can do 'A,B,C,D,' etc. just as she can! But that may not be the case. The reality is that most trainers teach the pupil as if they were teaching themselves. The skill of coaching lies in the coach's/trainer's ability to cross that skill-gap, and show the pupil her own personalized next steps, that will move her on from her current starting point.


Science has now proved what Mary instinctively knew all those years ago - that the world's best riders may have implicit knowledge or 'know-how', but they cannot put this knowledge into words. This is because physical skills and verbal descriptions come from different parts of the brain. The resulting dislocation between expertise and explanation makes it hard for skilled riders to 'clone' themselves - indeed, what they do and what they say they do can be poles apart. But Mary has discovered that their skills have an underlying structure, and knowing this explicitly enables her to communicate it to others. She clarifies the ‘how’ of riding, making its biomechanics explicit and learnable whilst avoiding the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ that stifle learning."


Since the clinic, I have purchased two of Mary's books, and have been trying to implement what I learned from her over the course of the 3 days to better myself as a rider, trainer, and coach. The clinic was for "teacher training" and thus, very much lecture-based - I did not ride, but rather, was able to watch various levels of women ride.


It has been a month since I came home from the clinic, so not only did I want to share some of my takeaways from the clinic, but I also wanted to share some before and after photos of me riding - I now ride with a stronger emphasis on my biomechanics to ensure I am conveying the correct message to my horse, and not getting in his way.


Before Mary:


Here are some of the takeaways from the workshop that I wanted to share:


W o r k s h o p T a k e a w a y s - T h o u g h t s f o r R i d e r s


What is happening now? What do you want? Mary shared that in your riding journey it is hard to know where to go if you don't know where you are


Change is hard. Why? To our brains, familiar = right and unfamiliar = weird, which = wrong


Just because you know what your horse should look like doesn't mean you know what to do to get it to look that way - Be conscious of this!

It takes approximately 10,000 repetitions to refine your nervous system to do a new (improved) habit. The more problems you fix, the better you get at fixing problems.


The brain does not know the difference between mental rehearsal and doing something in reality - For homework after a lesson, you can imagine how your ride felt in the good moments and to mentally rehearse that for the next ride.


To ride the canter better, think about sling-shotting seat bones back during suspension phase of canter


W o r k s h o p T a k e a w a y s - T h o u g h t s f o r T r a i n e r s


As a trainer, where do you hit your edge? We predispose that people think like we do - But they don't! Some under focus, some over focus - Like a manual camera lens.


Your actions as a trainer are underlined by your philosophy - Are you a teacher who rides? Or a rider who teaches?


What is your main skill as an instructor? If it's riding, can you put instruction into words that will make sense to your riders?


For the teachers who are more skilled as riders, we are trying to fill in the gaps where we do not have the language


If a rider doesn't know that they are doing something, make them do it more to understand it --> "Know your enemy"


We want riders to go from being unconscious of their incompetence, to being conscious of their incompetence, to being consciously competent.


How to teach tactic? Once you have taught something, have your student teach it back to you. Ask, "How does it feel?" or "How did you achieve that?"


In addition to these thoughts and ideas, we did several exercises on the ground to become more aware of our bodies, watched rider demos each day, had alignments done in stationary saddles, learned an incredible amount about the mechanic of the canter for both horse and rider, and delved into Polyvagal Theory.

It was an incredible experience and I am so excited to continue down this path. I hope to be able to attend the clinic in 2021, and would recommend anybody clinic with Mary if give the opportunity. As a perpetual thinker, I am so excited to really be able to ride with my mind. (And teach my riders the to do the same!)


1-Month After Mary:


© 2019 Equine Endeavor