Connecting the Dots

 

Here's a picture of Jenny - just because who couldn't use a dose of donkey cuteness??

Here’s a picture of Jenny – just because who couldn’t use a dose of donkey cuteness??

I love connecting the dots. I love the way the world seems to grow smaller and smaller. I love learning about mutual friends and being able to send hugs through them to loved ones on the other side of the country. “Hey, you know how cool that person is too?!” It’s so fun discovering an idea, a lesson, a person, a place in the world and then noticing all the other people around you who share that with you. It’s like learning a new word and then noticing it in your life every other day for a week. I love learning about how similar we all are – finding out that I’m SO not the only one. And I love the way that people can grasp the same concept but go on to teach it with their own style – the way that different people can shine their own lights upon an idea until the whole lesson is illuminated.

Courtney and Lendon work so well together. In many ways they aim to teach the same thing, but they compliment each other in the way they approach it – using different phrases or exercises to trigger the correct response. Having the right connection and good half halts has been quite the theme these days (perhaps forever?) There was a point in Bimini’s canter work with Lendon when we just cantered around on a circle occasionally shortening a little and going forward again. I think Bimi’s butt was a bit tired from our pirouette work with Courtney the day before and his canter was getting sticky; instead of sitting down to shorten he was pushing down in his shoulders and coming down in the bridle. It was an opportunity to work on our connection. Lendon approached it much like Courtney has been, and one little exercise seemed to make their thoughts come together for me.

When Bimi was sticky and pushing down, Lendon had me give the reins for a stride or two – the canter was instantly better. Hmm. I don’t think that I’m holding. I think that I’m following and making corrections with my seat and legs, but when the reins disappear and everything gets better, obviously something’s been going on with my arms, which they’ve been keeping secret from my brain. Lendon had me think of it this way. At first I was keeping connection with the reins for say, four strides and giving all the way for one or two; now, for this exercise she wants me to give the reins for four strides and use the reins however I need to for just one stride. She gave me a deadline – a pretty short one. Do what I need to do with my hands and then get outta Dodge!

The end goal is in no way to ride around with loose reins or to only have connection when I’m correcting! It’s really important to have steady, following contact. But when I so clearly knew I was only allowed one stride to have a chat with his mouth, my correcting aids were efficient enough that they could be truly passive for the four strides following. Therefore, I was a lot more effective than when my arms were sorta kinda doing something a lot of the time but lying to me saying they were not. Come on body, stop holding on too long to what’s not helping you.

Another piece of the puzzle connected some thoughts from Courtney lessons. I realized the other reason why thinking halt makes me ride better half halts. In my lesson with Lendon, we touched on some work with half steps. Bimini has the idea, but we haven’t been working on them. At first I was getting steps that were too slow and too forward. I was fighting his will to passage instead of taking short steps. Lendon said something like, “The mistake so many riders make is that they’re so paranoid about the horse stopping, they try to do it too forward. When in reality, there can not be piaffe steps if they are very forward…” So I need to quit playing chicken and just bring him on back if I want anything in the realm of half steps.

So, when I’m riding half halts and tell my body to ride like I’m actually going to halt, I’m shortening the horse to a point where I know we could be at a dead stop at any moment I choose. Therefore, I end up with a short quick/active hind leg instead of one that’s just slowing up. I’m thinking about being on the spot the way I need to think for half steps instead of about the hind legs continuing to stretch forward. So think halt, on the spot, piaffe, whoa… whatever thought works for me to make the half halt active!

It’s such a happy thing the way that working together makes it easier to grasp the big picture.

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Permission to Dance

We had theBimi privilege of having Katherine Bateson up for a clinic at Bel Air Farm last week. She’s such a lovely person; I’m so grateful to be able to know and learn from such awesome human beings. What is especially cool to me is that in my lessons on Bimini, we basically touched on everything that Courtney and I have been working on, but there was just a different voice – different words to guide me on the same path. I love that feeling of connection when we’re all on the same track.

 “Keep everything as simple as possible.”

So maybe this Dressage thing really is pretty complicated, but it’s never going to simplify if we don’t at least try. My aids and my mind need to be as clear and basic as possible. We started out by making sure that my aid for the half halt was simple, not reliant on my hand (partially so that we can try to keep his neck long), and effective. Katherine reminded me to lean back a bit beyond where I usually sit to access my back. This made a clear change in my seat to tell the horse that it’s time to sit and wait. When it was good, it got to the point where I felt like as I sat back the hind end would lower. If it wasn’t instantaneous, I could use my hand quickly to say, “Hey, that meant woah!”

I was reminded that it’s important for me to do lots and lots and lots (millions) of these half halts. I need to make sure that there’s an immediate response when I sit back and tighten my abs, but I can’t just sit there and try to hold the half halt so that he gets “claustrophobic.” Since Bimini is such a go, go, go, energizer bunny kind of a horse, my body tends to want to ride negatively, to keep him under me instead of riding positively, pushing him to go and then just using the half halts as a reminder to sit and wait.

A big focus was to see how long I could go around letting Bimini be sort of, “on his own”.  He needs to learn to wait for me, to stay with me instead of deciding that dragging me around town is more fun and efficient. “Just keep saying, ‘I’m not going to hang onto you.’”

She had me ride 10 meter circles in every corner to give me the chance to ride positively. I could really put my leg on to push his hind end without him just getting away from me or burying into my hands. Leg doesn’t mean run, buddy! The voltes sort of did the collecting for me. I realized that I usually use too much hand in the turns because he looks for it. He would rather have me hold him up than to sit and carry himself around the circle. “When he wants you to take back, you’ve got to give.” So when I choose to give and my hand just sort of disappears, he’s forced to sit his butt down and hold himself up. Then my hand becomes unnecessary. See, it is simple after all.

Schooling the flying changes went along the same lines. I get especially caught up in my brain when I go to ride the changes. It’s so obvious when changes go wrong, so I tend to think harder, ride more, and just generally complicate them in my effort not to make a mistake. I’m learning that spinning wheels are often counterproductive. It reminds me of a song that my Bestie and I were listening to on a road trip with the lyrics,

But we’re willing to wait on you; we believe in everything that you can do, if you could only lay down your mind.”

 The way we started practicing the changes was all very relaxed and simple. “The aid for flying changes can’t be faster than the rhythm of the canter. He already wants to be too quick. Don’t get ahead of him, it’s gotta be like a dance.” I had to make a clear effort to be lazy. Hmm, that’s an oxymoron. But really, just quieting my mind and body helped me to feel my horse and let him move with me like a dance partner.

 It’s time to give myself permission to dance.

Whoa, Give. Letting Go.

A simple but important lesson that has stuck out to me lately is, “Whoa, give.” I like to think that I’m not one to sit in the saddle and just hang on to the reins, but often I hold on just a little too long. With a light connection it could be that I just have hands that are lifeless or too vague in communicating my aids. Sometimes I try to just hold on to the correction I’m trying to make – whether it’s actively holding or just unchanging, I wait a few strides too long, one stride too long, even a half of a stride too long. I don’t relent the control.

It may have started simple, but as usual my brain spins and tries to take things deeper – bear with me. My train of thought goes something like: Whoa, give. –  Short whoa, clear give. – Whoa, let go. – Whoa, trust. – Reminder of good balance, let go and see what comes of it.

There’s a reason that so much is written on letting go. Come on, you know that you hear Passenger cooing about it on every other radio station. It sells because it’s hard, and everyone seems to struggle with it in some way, shape, or form. We can relate. It could be control, fear, a relationship, an idea or plan, bitterness, resentment and baggage that’s so old you can’t even remember why it still weighs so heavily, or whatever…  Isn’t it all the same with training? Horses and riding lessons tend to teach me at least as much about myself as remembering to put my heels down and figuring out the timing of my whoa, gives.

I tend to want to hold on a little too long. I want to make my own vision happen all on my own. I want to sit down, close my legs, and hold on to that rein until I create the push, until I make the butt sit, and so that I don’t let those shoulders get away. But if I never give my partner the chance to react, if I don’t trust him to stay when I let go, if I don’t let him show off how he can dance and live and shine, well then he just won’t. I put a glass over the flame. I try to make that fire burn by keeping it close, by holding it tight, but I suffocate it.

Holding on slows progress. Holding on feels natural, instinctive, easy. Letting go seems more like a decision. But oh the world is lighter and fancier when it’s gone! Holding on, whoaing longer and tighter does not make you anymore in control. Without the give, without the instant willingness to let go, there IS nothing to trust. You can’t control the result you want without giving it the chance to exist. 

Letting go leaves a space for bigger mistakes to happen. If something goes wrong, you can’t give yourself credit for trying to avoid it or not letting it happen. Holding on gives that security. Holding on keeps the fear at bay. Letting go makes room for progress. Letting go allows the magic that we can’t see or grip a chance to come in and shine.

There’s a large element of trust and willingness to trust; however, if the horse doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain and continues to run around like a freight train, then of course after my clear give I must give a bigger correction saying, “Hey, that little something I just did, yea that meant something! Specifically… whoa boy!” Courtney said something like, trust that he knows what it means. Yes, correct him if nothing happens, but give him that chance to understand my quick little whoa, give or else he never will.  It makes such a big difference in the lateral work, transitions, mediums… everything really. That clear give, moment of trust, just allows him to step up to the plate and bring the spark. I can feel the energy from behind go over his back and up to his poll. I can feel his feet dancing a little lighter off the ground – a feeling that I can’t quite create, a feeling that only he could show me was even a possibility.