Amazing, this chance to be a passenger, to give over my horse to the instructor, and concentrate on feeling my body in relationship to the horse’s body. I’ve never had lessons like this. Imagine where we would all be if we all got to start out this way! Kids who grow up with horses and become instructors in their 20s have no personal experience with what it’s like for their adult amateur students, struggling to find balance and fluidity that their bodies did not learn early in life. Erin assures me that it’s possible to learn this stuff as an adult, though, and one doesn’t lose anything by trying.
We used my English saddle this time as Rocky’s back was a little sore from Tuesday, but I took the stirrup leathers off and left them in the tack room. It was much harder to stay on my balance point at first, as the high cantle wants to tip my pelvis the wrong way — with a hollow lower back rather than a rounded one. Once I got the gist of where to sit, though, I was able to adapt. My saddle is the Bates Caprilli all-purpose model with the changeable gullets and I had it computer-fitted to Rocky so I know it fits him well (or at least, it did last year).
The good news is that my focus was already much better. Erin taught me to look way up at something far outside the arena, not something on the rail or even on the Cover-All frame. When I did this even I could feel Rocky relax and stride more freely and by the end of the session it felt more natural to look up and out than it did to look down.
I was also able to stay with my eyes closed for longer periods of time. I felt like I kept sliding to the left, which was excellent feedback. I asked Erin if I was, in fact, sliding that way, and she said yes, about an inch. It felt like a foot! I’m not sure if it’s because the left was the inside of our current circle or if I generally weight myself to the left.
I will pay attention in the new few days as I practice on my own — my left is the side with the tweaked knee and the never-fully-recovered ankle sprain, both of which are fine when riding without stirrups but achey with stirrups. So perhaps I do lean into that side more than the right. Not to mention my old habit of putting all my weight on the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. I supinate somewhat profoundly, which is hard on the ankle ligaments at the best of times; doing it in a stirrup is agonizing. (I have Jenni to thank for realizing what I was doing that was causing me so much trouble that first year of lessons before I got Rocky.)
But I’m riding as a passenger now, sans stirrups, imagining a ball joint behind my belly button and bearings in my hips. I also tried what Linda calls “pedaling,” moving my whole leg from the hip, not just the ankle, following her maxim that it’s harder to tense up and brace if you’re moving. I didn’t have to do that very long before I could keep the joint loose without exaggerating the motion — yay! — and yet doing it really helped me feel when Rocky’s hind legs are in the air and swinging forward. I told Erin that I had a glimmer of what Bill Dorrance writes about, knowing where the horse’s feet are. (Discovery has an interesting blog post about how quadripeds move, with neat horsey videos and illustrations.)
Rocky needs lots of warmup, as do I, and Erin said to do lots of walking. That we’re to walk until I’m begging her to trot — that’s when we’ll know I’m ready. Point-to-Point is key, and we can do it outside the arena too.
I am re-reading the Stardance series by Spider Robinson, which involves a lot of thinking about moving and dancing in space, and one of the characters noted recently that the body wants to come to rest. We get used to stopping, in gravity, and have to remember in the space station and later in open space that we’ll keep going unless we do something to stop or change the motion (hit a wall, engage a thruster, etc.). The characters have to learn to overcome the expectation and the desire to hold still, and get comfortable with gently wafting about. That made me think of how resting at a point is a reward for Rocky, and how he will enjoy the game and not get bored as long as I vary the points we go to.