Posts Tagged With: riding lesson

Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned ~Mark Twain

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.

english saddleWe 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.)

muybridge_race_horse_animatedBut 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.

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A lesson in focus, breath, and balance

Focus leads to feel which leads to timing. I don’t have to expect myself to get all of these going well right away.

My lesson started with some ground work as I was practicing sideways without a fence and Erin gave me some tips on how I was confusing Rocky with conflicting messages. Then I got on from the fence. He wore a bareback pad over a western saddle pad.

swing-dance-lindy-hopI babbled and passenged and got more comfortable over time. It reminds me of how my male friends react when I teach them a basic swing or salsa dance step. “It’s so awkward! I’m so uncomfortable! I’m inherently¬† not good at this! Everyone is going to know what a klutz I am!” And then I say “mmm hmmm and you’ve been doing it for 90 seconds. When you’ve had as many hours at it as I have over the past 20 years, you’ll be as comfortable with it as I am, other than the fact that I wanted to learn and you fear to learn.”

The Spanish Riding School doesn’t let you off the longe line for the first six years. ~ Erin Murphy

The aspects I struggle with are akin to those of the beginning dancer as well. I need to keep my eyes above my shoulders, not look down. I need to trust my partner. I need to follow my partner’s motions. I need to keep a strong core and an independent everything else.

I figure I’m a Level 3 dancer but I started at Level 1 — and in fact, with a partner I probably would be a Level 2 dancer, as I have never had a partner who dances other than a few stand-in beginners when I had a short series of lessons. I know how to follow but I’m not very practiced at it. (“Why do girls love horses? Because even male horses love to dance.”)

dancing horsesClosing my eyes as a passenger revealed that I hold on with my eyes. Erin did small, gentle yo-yo games while I passenged with my eyes closed and boy did it feel different. I felt like I leaned to the left then slipped over to the right — while he was standing still. I felt the first hint of motion sickness but it went away when she reminded me to breathe. I really want to do more of this as even just a few minutes showed me how effectively this will develop my feel.

I don’t trust Rocky enough. This makes me sad but I’m glad I noticed it and am facing it. But he can be reactive and even though I trust Erin as she plays with him on-line while I passenger, I got twitchy. I want to do more of this so that I let go and trust him more. I know that when you extend trust to a well-meaning being, that being strives to continue earning that trust. And Rocky is very well-meaning.

horse balanceI chattered to Erin the whole time because I have her focus for that hour and I want to get into her brain as much as I can. We talked about horsenality and some of the qualities that I thought were extroverted, such as how his life comes up with accelaration, are actually introvered. It goes along with the tense-freeze-EXPLODE behavior that shows up in more extreme right-brain horses. My LBI might actually be innately RBI!

I very much look forward to the personalized horsenality report that Parelli is releasing later this year. I feel like I can adjust to any quadrant but I need to do so through the filter of his innate horsenality, and he’s too evenly spread on the horsenality chart for me to tell. Erin’s feedback is invaluable, because of her experience with hundreds of horses over 20 years, and she sees things I can’t. For example, I’ll think we’ve got something down, and she points out the brace.

My homework:

  • Practice focus. Play point to point. Whatever my eyes see first, like a gate post or a tree branch, keep my eyes there no matter what happens, and get there, and rest for 10 seconds or so.
  • Practice balance point exercises. I tend not to roll back far enough, so it’s ok to exaggerate rolling the pelvis back a bit more for now. My core engagement is really good but I need to do a little more cat and a little less cow. I found an interesting page to study about how the horse balances and how the rider can and should help.
  • Practice yo-yo from all zones when on-line and straight yo-yo while riding. Rocky didn’t know to back when she wiggled the rope while standing at his side. He kept offering sideways game, which we appreciated, and then Erin persisted with the y0-yo.
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