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Opening Doors

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Opening doors 

One of my favourite saying is

When one door closes, another always opens.

But that is only half the story. And on its own the saying is pretty hollow. The full saying has more though....

When one door closes, another always opens. But most people spend so long looking at the door that has just closed that they miss the one that is now open.

Well, with Sherlock off the road it certainly feels like a door has closed, and it has affected me. September’s blog, for instance, I could not seem to sit down and write it. I was too sad, too caught up in the door that had just closed. Not ready to see any advantage in the situation. I needed to reframe the experience before I set it to writing, or there would have been nothing Upbeat about it!

It took some time, it actually felt like a period of mourning, so many plans put on hold, and the mourning I think was for my own competitive aspirations, which now may or may not be met with Sherlock. But Sherlock is my horse, I cannot at the moment see myself with another, and so that seemed like a door slammed shut.

I thought about my saying, looked for the door that was opening, and I realised that I did now have more TIME than I expected. I have a whole list of things that I would like to do, but never have time to do them. Some of them, like tidying the house, I still do not seem to have time to do. For me to spend time and energy on a project it does have to inspire me! One thing that I had wanted to look at was learning to dance the Argentine Tango.

A couple of people recommended  me to look at the Argentine Tango, there were many reasons why. For a start I have always loved the idea of dressing up and being a princess, yet I am most often to be found in breeches and steel toecaps. But it was more than that. In the Argentine Tango there are no routines learned by the dancers, the man leads and the female follows. The man uses balance and position to guide the lady into the steps, he is the choreographer, reacting to the music and changing with the circumstances, such as a busy dance floor. It is uncannily similar to riding and training a horse, actually! That was the second reason to take classes, to experience a physical training environment from a horse's perspective.

Another reason to go and take the classes was so I could go and experience being the person completely at sea. I have two left feet where dance is concerned, I knew nothing of Argentine Tango, and it was disorientating and even scary at first. I guess my last reason was to study the trainers, how they set up the learning experience, managed my fears, how they affected me as a learner. Here was a pair of professional trainers, training feel, timing, balance from a totally different perspective, I wanted to access the whole different training culture the dance world may have to offer.

I attended a beginners weekend workshop, 10 hours of tuition and a Milonga, or social dance, to finish. I found the whole process fascinating, a new physical skill to learn, like a novice rider, finding that it is all too easy to become tense and then not feel the movement. The male is the leader like a horse trainer and rider, suggesting the movement, and I was for once the follower, like the horse, without a voice, not able to initiate my own ideas.

We learned to dance with many different partners, some skilled, some not skilled. We swapped partners every time the music changed and, like the horse, did not have the choice who danced us, we moved one person up the line. When the music started we would feel for the new leader’s movement, every leader feels different. Some feel good, and some do not. With some it is easy, with some it seems impossible.  With some people I could dance. Me. Dance. Wow. With others I was cautious and wooden, frustrated and unsure. I studied the difference.

I found that with the one who made the dance easiest, he was relaxed, poised and sure all of the time. If I was unsure he would just pause, and I could have time to feel for what was wanted. I found that often when I was stuck was just where I had not got my balance above my axis, but he did not have to explain it, he just paused and waited, waited it out until I was balanced and then just led away again. Once I got it, I got it, and we did not have to pause. There was no wrong presented to me, as if I was not poised and ready to follow the next movement, he did not try to lead me into that movement. I never felt that I did not understand as I was not asked to do anything that I could not do. It felt safe and powerful.

Some leaders, however, I found confusing, and when I got it wrong they unintentionally punished me with irritation. The irritation felt the worst, even when that was just expressed with disappointment or a Tut. No one was intentionally hurtful, every person on that dance floor was there to have fun and help everybody else to do so too. I was really trying to feel for the movement, and when I felt irritation I started to second guess, I was jumpy and not fluid, it felt nasty, and I became so concerned with doing it right that I was tense and was less able to feel for what was happening. The whole idea of dancing became impossible as I marked myself and my performance against other people's reaction to it.
Some leaders were sure and patient, no irritation, but fast. It felt good to be with such a sure partner, but some movement was faster than my novice dance conciousness could process. I was still, to a large extent, having to think of the mechanics, even of just walking backwards without tripping up. When it was fast I felt like I was playing catch up and playing catch up makes it difficult to be in the moment and start to just feel the movement and follow. With a faster but sure partner I did at least feel that eventually I would get it, but feeling behind and not just dancing in the moment would make this take longer for me than dancing with a partner who waited until I was ready for the next movement. 

With some leaders I can do things that I did not even know I could do. It did not always depend on the lead dancer's skill at dancing, it was, for me, about timing, clear intent and a lack of uncertainty, plus a lack of disappointment if I was wrong. When it was right it was a joined energy, less the leader and follower and more as one. But for me, at the moment, this was fleeting. It is so like riding a horse it is spooky. Like a person first learning to ride with engagement, a few fleeting moments of joined purpose and balance, then gone again.

I also made a realisation, that I learn well from mapping or grooving a movement. Take learning a dressage test. If I do not know the test, I can learn this from start to finish by grooving. If someone reads this to me while I ride it, if they read it with no mistakes, and I ride it first time, then I have learned it, but the grooving is not complete, the groove not set deep enough into my sub conscious to be unshakeable yet. I then ride the test and tell the person with the piece of paper what is on it. Then the third time I just ride it with my teacher just watching and checking. After three times I have it learned, with certainty.

The funny thing is, if on the first three times the reader of the paper gets it wrong, either reads it wrong, or incorrectly interrupts me to tell me I have it wrong, it grooves uncertainty into my test. It will then take me AGES to learn it, like days of practice as opposed to being sure after 15 minutes. The uncertainty hangs around like a bad smell. But, after three times perfect I have it, I can be asked “what it the manoeuvre immediately before the second canter” and I will know. Someone can tell it me wrongly, and I will be sure that they are wrong, it is no confusion.  

So, with the way I have been learning Tango, there was, for me, a lot of confusion and uncertainty. I am shown my response to a movement or weight shift, and I 'know it', then maybe I am partnered with someone who is a novice like me, we make a mistake and the groove is not yet deep enough for me to keep my certainty, and the groove is then changed. And that uncertainty is also grooved so I start to feel the feeling of “uncertainty” creeping into the experience.

 If I were to have private lessons with a professional and map or groove the technicalities first with certainty then I guess it will stick and become unshakeable. For me, with a dressage test it just takes three times. If I am to learn a new skill then I will also seek out the trainer who is so skilled that they stay sure and centred while I learn. The trainers for this course were  encouraging and professional and I would be happy to learn more from them direct, even if that means paying more!

I could then also learn from the expert trainer who does not have me, even unintentionally, feeling bad or wooden. It makes me feel for horses who have trainers who make them feel like that. It would be faster and less frustrating to learn from someone who primarily stays level emotionally (no punishment) and also does not get 'it', as in assessing their partner and only asking for what will be possible and understood in that moment, wrong!


I noticed that I also had an effect on some of the Leaders. If some people danced with a fluid partner they were then fluid themselves, but if they danced with me, and I was unsure, then they themselves turn to wood. I guess they become uncertain if I do not give the correct response to their signal. I guess if it was not going well I would also have been disappointed, and unintentionally punishing them too.

I do not like the feeling that I can turn someone to wooden performance, make them less than they are. It just does not feel nice. With a more confident partner, they remain certain of themselves when they dance with me, if I am off balance or unsure, they remain balanced and sure and can wait until I have the movement, they can then suggest the way to go with certainty and confidence.


I guess this is like horses and riders too. Get an expert rider and that rider can lift the horse to be able to do what it has not been able to do before, by keeping the centre, fluidity, queuing at the right moment and keeping a positive learning environment where mistakes are just a springboard to learning. Put a less skilled rider on board the same horse and that rider can turn the horse to stone, resistance and tension. But this can work the other way round, there are horses that when you ride them make some riders feel like a million dollars, but put that same rider on a less skilled horse then that same rider can feel tension and unbalanced. I aim at being the rider who can stay poised both physically and mentally whatever I ride, who can lift the horse to feel good. But in Tango I am a person who needs the leader to be sure of themselves to avoid my confusion.

I guess the whole experience underlines for me why I prefer private lessons for equestrian learners of most abilities. Group lessons can be fun, and if the group is small enough then people can learn from each other, but if I am really wanting to concentrate on learning a feel or a technique then more direct and timely feedback than is available on a group is, for me, better.

The whole experience was fascinating. If you have not read it the book The Inner Game Of Tennis by W. Timothy Galway, it is a wonderful insight as to how we learn, and how we can be so unintentionally critical of ourselves we often do not need anyone to come along to stifle our learning.

I have enjoyed studying this whole learning experience so much that I am hoping to now take an NLP Practitioner’s course. It is about 300 hours of study, including 7 days of full time classes and a whole lot more observation of the real world. NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming, and is essentially a study of how we frame our experiences in language, and how we can improve our life experiences by changing the language, and thoughts that we have. It is a study of how the mind works, and finding ways of changing unhelpful thinking and behaviour. The course is one that is geared to making me a better coach.

There, more time on my hands, and a big door just opened!

Sherlock has been funny. We are still on box rest and a 20 minute walk out, and he has been a bit bored! On one of his early walks I noticed that he was being extra demanding, he was asking a lot of questions, just with his energy, raising, or being distracted in one direction. He kept me pretty busy, observing his deviations and correcting them. It felt like dancing a dance of attention and energy, it felt good, I answered all of his questions, but did wonder at the time how well this was going to go long term, as he was not always paying attention, and with Sherlock if it does go wrong then it can go VERY wrong!

I was answered just the next day, by dancing with his energy and answering his questions in this way the day before, he saw that as me entering into his game. I realised that by observing his energy and entering in to the dance Sherlock was entertained by the dance, and in fact horses are hard wired to try to see who is the leader as the leader will lead the herd and keep the others safe. I did not want to join in Sherlock’s entertaining little game!

I quickly realised that I needed more focused intent and I set off walking with a purpose, and when Sherlock was distracted I just walked, and if he hit the end of the rope because he had stopped and I had not, I kept walking and he was jerked to me, and then he wanted to enter into a discussion with that and I just kept walking and he found that he was jerked again, but there was no one paying attention to his little dispute, he had no one to dispute anything with, I was just walking. As I had no anger, no irritation, I was just walking and opening the door to forwards, but if he found the end of the rope he was jerking himself, and I was just walking.

He tried the opposite, walking into me, and with that I did a small explosion of my own energy, then kept walking. Sherlock was left standing there wondering what had happened, then he found the end of the rope again, and then he was walking again! No one to argue with. Since then we have been doing better! In fact we have been doing some Ride and Lead with Charlie, and Sherlock has been a little lamb.

I have also had the first visit with my farrier since I have been trimming Sherlock myself. I was just a little nervous in case I had made any mistakes, but I need not have worried, my trimming was just fine, and I have been shown how better to use the trimming knife and tripod, so I am ready for really effective trimming and rasping. The farrier will continue to review my work every 5 weeks, but at this stage we have done a few weeks of road walking, and all seems well.

More opening doors? Well, I now have time to go on that Rally Driving course next month. Oh yes, really. Me, Rally Driving. In south Wales, instruction, a demo drive, and at the end of the day a RACE! Well, not exactly a race, it is a competition by time trial, much safer than a group of Rally Novices with red mist all on the track at the same time!

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