I find that I have a love/hate relationship with mirrors. Who doesn’t, right? For some reason now I have Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” stuck in my head. No, but riding with mirrors can obviously be really helpful. It’s great to see what the picture of the horse looks like relative to what I’m feeling. However, I’m finding that paying too much attention to our reflection can be a hindrance that is just distracting me from really riding.
Lately I’ve noticed that my eyes aren’t being totally honest with me, and when I pay attention to the visual picture too much, I don’t stay as connected to the feeling in the horse’s body. Riding the feeling in the body is the only way to create a really good picture, so when I look at the mirrors first, and then ride what I see and feel, I’ve already lost the initial connection that I need. When I forget about my reflection, just feel the horse, THEN take a peek to see if I’m on the right track, it’s consistently a much more impressive picture. I feel like it’s the difference between playing a video game, controlling your avatar by watching the screen and then reacting to a challenge by pushing buttons versus actually living the action, being able to feel the body, being in tune to the energy, preparing and affecting the horse’s body before the problem can even happen.
In a lesson on Bimini, Courtney called out for a shoulder-in on the long side. She had me turn and start it again, saying that I was riding it as if I was riding a movement, that she wants me to “ride the horse… ride the body…” and then just happen to put the horse in a shoulder-in. So all the components of the shoulder-in should already be there…. the correct bend, inside leg to outside rein, push, etc. and that I should be able to just “pivot his body” until it’s making a shoulder-in. Instead of thinking, “HEY, let’s do shoulder-in just for the sake of doing shoulder-in!” She says to ride the movement to help the horse, not to just ride the horse in order to make a movement happen. We’re after quality, throughness, strength, and these fancy little tricks should be used to make those basics better, not to just do the trick. For me, what I have to change in order to think that way is I have to take my eyes off of the reflection, and sort of look inside of myself and inside of my horse (now that sounds… weird.) and concentrate on the feeling. It’s also important that I “go somewhere” as Courtney says. No floating around, I have to look ahead and ride to a point, but at the same time paying more attention to the feeling in our bodies. Now I find myself looking at a point on the kickboard or a letter instead of the mirror, and then if I think it’s good I’ll check with my eyes to make sure.
Taking my focus away from the mirrors also helped me to be quicker to make corrections. I lose a little track of time and ground that I’ve covered when I’m watching myself ride straight to the mirrors. Somehow the picture slows down time and always makes it seem like I have tons of space left on the long side. On Fargo we’ve been working on getting him off the right leg. He likes to lay on the right side, so if I’m going to the left I will often use a leg yield left or renvers as a correction or just as a test to make sure it’s always available before he actually gets crooked and needs it as a correction. Once I started a long side doing just that, but then Courtney called out that it took me half of the arena to have that one correction go through. I sort of came out of my little mirror-entranced zone, looked around and saw how slow I was! Before she said something, it didn’t look that way to me; I could see his body moving over as I asked it to, but my eyes in the mirror were lying saying it was good. When I stopped burying myself in that reflective tunnel and just kept my eyes up, I could focus just on the feeling and was able to tell that my correction was not going through all the way nearly quickly enough.
Maybe I’m the only one whose eyes cause her to stumble, who gives them a little too much power and allows them to make the decisions… Having a visual is certainly a brilliant tool to help understand and a great confirmation that the feeling is right. I am just realizing that I need to be careful not to get a little lost in it. If I can’t see, odds are that I’m stronger than if I could.