Wednesday, September 29, 2016
Khaleesi and I are on a good streak lately: strong connection and great solo rides.
I try to use “I” and “Me” because my horse is always perfect. She is a horse after all. She doesn’t lie and she always acts like a horse. She is a mirror at best and worst of me she is the evidence if what I’m doing is working or not working.
This means when things are going well that I’m getting something right, and if things are going wrong that I’m missing something… Or not giving my best… Or not focused 100% on her when I’m there.
A slight exception, I think, for the concept Dr. Bennett talks about ‘filling in’. So often our horses have to fill in for our shortcomings and they will- for a while so we can learn, and in some horses forever even if we never get better. This is a generosity in spirit they have that always amazes me. My goal and of most true horseman is to not have my horse to fill in for me, but for me to be good enough- or even better than good enough that I can sometimes fill in for her.
I am aware that my horse still has to fill in for my shortcomings at times. My riding isn’t always balanced. Sometimes my legs say too much… I don’t have the most elegant approach angles and timing to dance with her when I go say hello in the field. Still she keeps me on board while we ride and she comes in with me walking head at my shoulder like a team ready to take on the world.
But she knows I’m trying. Every day I strive to hear and understand more. Slowly her language is making more sense. My riding is improving each time. My ability to be sensitive and quiet, to hear and speak in subtleties is always growing.
This week we took another solo ride.
I’ve been focused on feeling my stirrups under my feet. I’ve been imagining her footfalls while I ride. Letting go of any tension in my hips and joints to move with her and stay out of her way. And on our last ride this thing happened. I felt it underneath me and it was loud as it was strong. It was unmistakably different than anything I’d ever felt before.
She picked up a trot along the river after we descended a mountain single track. I believe my riding (with a lot of attention to it over a year at least) is improving- my body and moving with her… I finally find times where one posting diagonal is not less comfortable than the other… I was trying to remember a few things I’d heard are important in riding…
What were those words… Soft? Calm… Carried? I can’t remember… There are 5 concepts… There’s a mental list… I’ve been working on such basic things I can’t remember the next steps that encourage her to carry herself more powerfully… What were they?
But my mind was on the concept- a horse moving naturally with the right muscles, not strung and hollowed out from bad rider balance and position… A horse that doesn’t pull from the front end but powers from the rear. A horse that lifts herself to create space for the hind to reach underneath… carrying herself naturally without ‘aids’ or ‘force’….
I saw that horse in my mind clearly for a moment and I imagined my own body position that would help and not block that horse’s body…
Then it happened…
She lifted up underneath me and I felt her back almost invert like a bow pulled back… She raised up and her legs reached underneath us… I was barely coming out of the saddle in each post… Almost floating though I was still posting a trot… And she felt strong and powerful. It took my breath away.
Wow. This is new. Ooooooohhhhhhhhhhh….. Yes. This. Wow.
Then after trotting that way for a minute or so she broke into a slow canter and I felt – really felt in my own body- her hind end push off in a way I’ve never felt before. It was the first time I’d ever felt the canter start from the hind end so definitely. There was a lot of power there.
I couldn’t help but feel that.
It was amazing.
I rubbed her and told her how fantastic she was and thank you for offering that to me… We came to the river crossing and lingered there as she ate grass on the bank and the dogs cooled off.
Many things we do as horse people are worth the effort we put in… The quiet moments alone in nature… Connected to the earth and the universe in a way many people who do not get out into the wild will never feel… Partnering with an animal loosely domesticated and learning to work together… Rubbing the velvet fur… Just the smell of horse- of the earth and the stars somehow.
But this. This was a new reward for me, and worth the many years of trying to ride. Really ride. This wasn’t forced ‘collection’, this wasn’t me putting or even asking my horse to find a frame – it was something she gave me on a loose rein, willing and able to do it on her own because I got out of the way. I let go and allowed her to do it.
It began in my mind… Which changed me… Which changed her.
Let go. Let her.
In some way, this felt like the first moment I truly rode. It was worth the years of dedication to do this thing different and trying to figure out what that meant. The time spent on the ground figuring out how to communicate… Me asking for something and her thinking through the response. Fine tuning the process (because it’s not really about getting my horse to unlock her hind end, it’s about how we communicate). The struggle of how that process would look as I ventured on a path that was my own with this horse. One without force.
It reminds me of this life concept I’m working through where things need to be allowed to happen and not forced into place. I have a lot of strength and too often I use that strength to force things, but a better use of strength is to have the capacity to let go and allow things to fall where they belong. It takes a lot of strength to let go actually. And it takes strength for some of us to be present completely as well (I do believe some are more wired this way than others. I am not).
Of my legs
Of my hips
Of my shoulders
Of my neck
Of my tongue
Of her head
Of my goals
Of my timeline
Of my expectations
Of the past
Of the future
This doesn’t mean those things don’t exist or aren’t important. And it doesn’t mean being a ‘blob of dead weight’ on her back or not having any goals. But letting go of them mean they don’t drive the process. They aren’t held tightly.
This process with Khaleesi has been one where I’ve tried to learn how not to force her to do anything, but to create the conditions that she falls into the right thing easily. It is a slow process right now because I am learning how. It is a fast process for the horse if I can get it right. Easy for her and harder on me.
If I were to go the other route which I see as more common- I would make it easy on me (this is how I tell you to do x, y or z… And you need to learn what that means and learn to do it even though it may not fit what is intuitive to you) but harder on her.
Humans generally have to use some sort of force to make that happen at least at first because the language isn’t right for them, they don’t really understand and we have to make it uncomfortable enough that they will fill in for us and learn it your way and replicate it going forward. They are smarter than we in many ways and have good memories.
How can that horse ever truly connect with and trust a human? How can the magic happen when force is applied… Ever?
We all make excuses for that moment when we force our horse. At least I have… More times than I’d like to admit. That doesn’t even take into account the times we use force and don’t realize it is force to the horse.
I’m trying though. And each time the magic does happen… I get a taste of that thing.
It always leaves me hungry for more. New layers are so fun to explore- and we do it together.
So worth it. What can you let go of today? In life and with your horse… I dare you.