Monday, August 26, 2013

It's not too late to learn; it just takes a different approach.

Happy New Year: Pick Up a New Skill : The New Yorker

This article, published on New Year's Day of this year (2013) focuses on learning the guitar.  You're probably not learning the guitar.  You're probably  here on this blog because you have something to do with horses and want to know if all hope is lost because you're over 7 years old.  If you have amblyopia ("lazy eye"), you're in luck, because the article also focuses (pun intended) a bit on that.

The answer to all questions regarding aging and learning is NO and YES!  You truly are not too old to learn a lot of things.  Note I didn't leave that open-ended.  There are some things you probably are too old to learn, depending on the condition of your body and your brain and just how interested you really are in taking on new skills.  I know as I've aged, my desire to learn new things is often more verbal than mental.  That is, I talk a good show, but I don't think much about it after I've told my story to whoever will listen.  Witness my resounding failure to self-teach Cantonese using a set of DVD's and a text I got from Amazon last year.  I learned a few phrases, which made for a great party trick, and I made a valiant, if cursory, attempt to video chat with a friend in Taiwan, but I never got past Chapter 1 in the book.  Ni hao a!

Me, learning why mirror-selfies are a bad idea.
No, my head isn't in traction, and as a rule I'm
wrinkled, but not out-of-focus.

If what you want to learn is horse-related, is it strictly mental (that is, do you want to simply know more about horsey stuff) or is it physical (do you want to learn to vault onto your horse from behind and gallop screaming into the sunset)?  I, for one, have fantasies of doing all sorts of physical things that my body simply is never, ever, ever going to do ever again (if it ever could).  I'm old.  I have arthritis in places where I didn't know it was possible, and I have developed a fear of hospitalization.  I've had friends who simply went in and disappeared, and I'm not sure that's entirely my paranoia dark-tinting my rose-colored glasses.  So my prospects are limited in a very real way.  I ride.  I ride as many days a week as the weather and my plans allow, which is most days.  I do a little dressage (my memory isn't what it was, so I have to keep checking the test charts at night so I won't forget the test while I'm riding it), a few cross-rails (up to a pacemaker-stopping 18-inches) and run barrels and poles, which I've done so often there's little chance of error or serious bodily harm.  If I take a lesson, I need weeks to practice all the things I was taught, so another lesson in a week is pointless for me and frustrating for an instructor.  I'm not sheepish about admitting I didn't learn whatever it was.

I am thrilled, by the way, for all the old people who are doing phenomenal things.  A woman in her 80's doing yoga moves I couldn't do in my 20's is nothing short of amazing.  She's also one of a kind.  Though it's often inspirational to see other's succeeding in Herculean efforts, it can be disconcerting to those of us who simply can't.  We would like to.  We just have things about us that prevent certain accomplishments.  We need to not feel bad about ourselves.  We need to work within and perhaps a bit past our limits without feeling like failures if we don't wind up front-Facebook-Page-center.

But learning is important, and so I continue to read, take lessons, attend clinics, and add small nuances to my exercises. I've gotten better in some surprising ways as a result.  My overall balance and ability to stick to the saddle are possibly the best they've been.  I can "hear" what the horse needs better than I could when I was younger.  I'm not as likely to ignore what I "hear" in favor of what someone says I "should" be doing.  I know lots of intriguing things to do with horses that didn't occur to me 20 years ago.  I'm less focused on how I look riding than on how I feel the horse connection.  It's all good.

Learning new things has an overlapping, synergistic effect.  Learning music makes you better at math and gives your riding a leg up on the cadence concept.  Learning yoga makes your balance better and helps you focus in other activities, like staying centered in the saddle.  Learning to play tennis improves your reflexes and makes you more responsive and quicker in the saddle.  Learning anything changes your brain, so continued attempts are never wasted.

This article ( is LifeHacker's expansion on the one linked above, and it's got super-cool illustrations, which are perfect for those of us whose attention span is fleeting but who are able to focus at least momentarily on nifty drawings of brains and other stuff.  If you are too over-stretched from all this thinking to read, at least look at the illustrations so some of this new learning will stick and change your brain into something more impressive.

Study On!  You have nothing to lose but a little time and the misconception that you're truly an old dog.


Susan Schreyer said...

Before I sat down to read your blog, I took 2 Aleve and poured myself a glass of wine. Not because of your blog, but to try and do something about the stabbing, dull (yes, it's possible) ache that goes from my right hip into my right thigh. I got it from sitting at my desk at work today. At least I think so.
Sadly, I can't do a lot of the things I used to, and the things I can do certainly aren't approached with the same devil-may-care enthusiasm. That person I keep seeing in the mirror is a stranger. I wish she'd step aside so I can see what I'm doing when I put my makeup on.
Riding, however, I can do. And because I believe it is a more mental sport than a physical one, I believe I am still improving -- that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
And by the way, I'm in total awe that you attempted to learn Cantonese. You Rock. And with the exception of the peculiar antenna sticking out of your head, you're quite a looker.

Joanne Friedman, Freelance Writer, ASEA Certified Equine Appraiser, Owner Gallant Hope Farm said...

You really made me laugh,Susan! A kindred spirit is a fine thing to find lounging around my blog. Coincidentally, on my first visit to my daughter's new home last year, she asked how I liked the remodeled bathroom. I told her it was lovely, but there was a problem. There's a nasty-looking old lady stuck in the mirror, and she needs to be removed. ;) I'm sure we're not alone in our appreciation of the finer points of aging on horseback. And I truly hope no one is going to post one of those photos of a zillion-year-old female athlete who is still sky-diving and participating in MMA. I only have so much space in my brain for data that conflicts with my reality.