Tune into the Feel

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.

Corner Clarity

Lately, Courtney and I have been very focused on riding good corners with all three boys.  It has taken me a while to organize what needs to be fixed and how. With all of Courtney’s great input, I have many thoughts on what we’ve been working on, and I just want them to all stop flying around up in the air and settle into a neat list of ABC’s, just like writing. Think about this moment here, then think about that one, focus on this, now explain that. Sometimes things get cluttered and I need to just need to pick and start. There is a time to analyze the process (talking about it and writing helps), and there is a time to just do it. This seems to be a trend for many things.

I’m learning how helpful corners can be when they are used correctly, and how big of a tattler they can be when my inside leg to outside rein connection isn’t quite honest. When they are good, they feel like a great opportunity to half-halt, check in on the balance, and set up for whatever is coming next. It should be like part of a volte where the inside leg to outside rein connection creates bend for the turn and causes the horse to release the inside rein. When that connection is not quite honest and prepared before the corner, it’s really obvious that the horse needs my inside rein in the turn.

First off to get that helpful, honest corner, I need to make sure that my inside leg actually means something to the horse. When my inside leg goes on, there should be an immediate reaction. Courtney has had me be really picky that I am not always using my inside leg in a way to keep the horse balanced, but that I can do nothing with my leg and then get a very clear response of moving away the moment it goes on. It’s a feeling that I could do a very sideways leg yield with bend at any given time – and I should do that frequently just enough to get the reaction and know that my leg works. Courtney explained that the moment he moves away from my leg is the moment he gives. I can clearly feel that first real step away from my inside leg makes the horse release the inside rein, and that is what I want all the time. (When I think about it, I can feel the difference between that initial moment of release, and the slight automatic lean a couple of strides later) It should be made especially clear in those corners. So that give is the feeling that I have to memorize and consistently keep.

Also, I have a new picture in my head for my course of action. Somewhere along the way, Courtney pointed out that even if I could give in the corner, that I needed the inside rein immediately again on the long side. (Not the result we want!) In my focus of being able to give inside rein in the very depth of the corner, I made that right angle my destination. I was determined to give in that spot, so then when I made it through the corner, the goal was accomplished , but I wasn’t ready for anything else. So Courtney had me ride a leg yield AFTER the corner. The new priority was being able to have my horse pushing to the outside rein and releasing the inside rein immediately after. It was ok to take bend in the depth of the corner if I needed to… whatever I needed to do in order to leg yield and give right after. This changed the picture in my mind. Now I create an imaginary rail a few feet inside of the wall on both the short and long side so that I’m picturing a corner but I have room to leg yield to the actual wall when I need to. Focusing on that leg yield and the release  just after the corner without worrying too much about the turn made me prepare for the long side much better. Then somehow I could do that same preparation early on and have the leg yield feeling during AND after the corner. Cool.

Another helpful tool was making a box with a couple of poles across the ring to make the corners closer together. In the canter with Bimini, it helped when Courtney told me to really challenge the collection for the corner. Doing pirouette canter got him on his hind end, and I think it helped me because I really had to make sure that my half halt was going through, it’s easy to feel the shape the horse wants his body to be in that much collection, and in a way I have more time to think when I’m not travelling as forward. Also, it was helpful just to ride corner after corner, knowing that there was another one to prepare for very soon, so I had to make the canter good right away.

Then there comes a time to just forget all the mumbo jumbo (not that I actually think it’s mumbo jumbo, but it becomes just that if my wheels are constantly turning off their own wheels) and just ride. Ride something specific like a half pass out of the corner. After finding the right feeling of the horse being much better around my inside leg and releasing the inside rein, I make sure his body is going to be ready to have that for the half pass. Magically, that focus created a good corner without me even worrying about it. The preparation for the movement after the corner seems to be key for me.

At this point I don’t claim to be any sort of master of the corner. I still have a ways to go before I really own those bad boys, but I think the light for my road is shining a little brighter. It’s always satisfying when many ideas start to align and make everything a little clearer.