Thursday, March 8, 2012

Flow, Connection and Mirroring

Many good things are happening, many good things indeed.  It's hard to know where to start . . . and even though a number of these things may look and sound as though they have little to do with horses, in fact they have everything to do with horses.

One of the things I wanted to do as part of my plan for 2012 was to practice being fully present - to be mindful - as I think this is really important with horses, and with life as a whole.  One of the things I've been doing as part of this is taking a t'ai chi chih class at our local community college.  T'ai chi chih is a series of movements, and is derived from marial arts but is not itself a martial art.  T'ai chi chih is also very good for balance as the movements involve a lot of weight shifting from foot to foot and some movements have moments when one foot is lifted from the ground.

But as I'm progressing with the class, and trying to do the movements, I'm finding that t'ai chi chih is also about flow, breathing, softness and connected movement of the whole body from the core.  As I'm thinking about this and practicing it, it has a lot to do with my riding.  One of the things I've been struggling with in t'ai chi chih is the coordination of the shifting of balance - leg movements and hip turns - with the movements of my upper body, arms and hands.  If done properly, these movements come from the core as it turns and moves and the timing of the arm and hand movements flows with the shifts of balance and leg movements.  More on that in a moment . . .

There's also a very important concept that I think of as "mirroring" - this is one of the (many) things that I've learned from Mark Rashid.  The idea is that, if we're riding our horses with connection and flow, that we become one with the horse's body, and our actions/position of head, neck, back, arms and legs directly correspond to and influence the corresponding parts of the horse's body. The concept is also that, if we're carrying tension in a particular part of our body, or have a part of our body that's not connected and flowing with the rest of our body, the horse will "mirror" this and have corresponding tension and/or poor movement and flow in the corresponding part of the body.  I've seen this in a number of cases at Mark's clinics - he'll watch a rider and horse pair for several minutes and then ask a question like:  "Have you recently injured your right shoulder?" - he sees the tension/blocking in the horse's right shoulder and suspects that this is coming from the corresponding part of the rider's body.  In most cases, the rider will answer: "Yes, how did you know that?"

Most of my issues when riding come from my upper body - particularly my shoulders and neck.  If I'm tense, that's usually where it is.  I also have a tendency to clench my jaw and round my shoulders down, which pushes my elbows out to the side, breaking the straight connection between the horse's head, my hands, elbows and shoulders, and causing my chin to drop.  And, since my accident and the injury to my left shoulder and the left side of my torso, there's some stiffness there.  This tends to result in tension in my horses' jaws, necks and shoulders, and in particular the left shoulder.

Riding Dawn is great for figuring these things out, because she instantly picks up on any tension in my body and mirrors it back to me.  If she's starting to brace, rush or fall on the forehand, the source of this is almost always in my upper body.  Similarly, her tendency to not bend correctly when tracking right, and to want to drop in, is directly related to the stiffness and tension in my left shoulder and torso.

So here's what I need to do . . .  First, although I thing what's called an independent leg, seat and hands is very important - you need to be able to separately move each body part - I think for me a more important idea at this stage of my riding life is flow and connection.  If I'm riding a turn "with" the horse, the turn should come from my core and the movements of my legs and arms and head should all, however small the subtle those movements are, be connected to and flow from the core.  I guess what I'm saying is that I need to stop thinking of things as seat aids, leg aids, hand aids, where I look, etc., and instead feel and do them as a continuous, flowing whole.  And, using the concept of mirroring, I need to feel and let go of tension in my various body parts - unblock them - as I'm riding so Dawn can freely move the corresponding body parts.  And I need to feel my whole body going with and "being" the whole body of the horse in the corresponding mirrored parts - I need to feel as if I am the horse as it moves.

Dawn and I are going to be trying some things along these lines this afternoon . . .

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