The verb practice means to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. Ray Hunt would tell us that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. My questions are, how do I get to the point that I can practice perfectly and if I have achieved perfection in a skill or activity, do I really need the practice?
To be perfect is to have all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics in my activity; getting it as good as it can possibly be. So, recognizing what perfection is will help me to achieve it. In horsemanship, perfection requires both the horse and the rider to be in perfect harmony. Minds and bodies come together to perform a maneuver in complete symphony. It’s beautiful to watch, exhilarating to experience.
What would make perfect practice with my horse? For me, it’s first having a picture in my mind of what I want my horse and I to look like and second, understanding the elements of what I want to achieve. My mentors have done a good job of placing short videos of how I want to ride in my brain. It’s been years of riding and making mistakes that has helped me to better understand the pieces that have to come together to create that video picture. For a long time, I thought that I could “make” my horses look the way I thought they should look. I could hear the words, “set it up and let it happen”, playing in my head but, I didn’t truly understand what that could be. As a consequence, I was still making things happen and putting braces in the horses I was riding. I’m still searching for how good it will one day be but, I’m discovering smaller, more minute elements of some simple things that I didn’t realize made such a big difference to the horse. For example, all of the things that have to come together between the horse and rider to make a perfect circle with no resistance.
Is it possible that Ray was trying to get us to search for perfection in our practice not to actually achieve perfection but to discover more about how our horses are? When we bury our ego and give ourselves to our horses, we get closer to feeling what our horses can give back to us. When we “turn loose” and allow things to happen between ourselves and our horses, we get one step closer to the symphony of movement in our practice. We feel more about how our horses move and are better able to get in rhythm with that movement and then influence that movement in a way that makes complete sense to our horse. It becomes more natural for the horse to come with us and for us to go with them. It’s perfection! For a moment.
In answer to the second question I asked about needing to continue to practice; the answer for me is YES! Just because I become better with my horse doesn’t mean that I’ve achieved perfection. I never will. The wonderfully frustrating part of having and riding horses is that they will always keep us searching for something better. It’s just a part of the journey. Isn’t that just perfect!?