Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Being the Calm Center, and Fixing My Right Bend

Lots of rides this week.  As usual, I'm working on improving how I ride, and my horses are, as usual, helping me out with that.

One of the things I've been working on for a while, and continue to work on, is being a "calm center" for my horses.  Both Dawn and Red can be excitable and at times nervous, and Pie is still a relatively young horse.  In order for them to give me their best, I have to give them mine - and a big part of that is to provide them with a calm center that they can use as stability no matter what else is going on.  Part of this is of course physical - giving the horse the quietest and softest ride possible, but a big part of it is mental/emotional/even spiritual in a way.  And the physical and mental aspects reinforce one another. It's my job to give them the calm but confident leadership they need to feel secure, and to be there for them, leaving no gaps where they feel they've been left on their own.  Keeping the live connection going, and the focus on what we're doing, is a big part of this.

Dawn was my first teacher for this, and she continues to show me how well she can work for me if I give her the calm center she needs.  It's been very cold this week, and Dawn just comes in and does her job, without any lungeing, and if there are momentary distractions or worries she's able to come right back to me.  One day this week, we had an excellent ride - there were some magical moments at the canter where it felt as if I were riding the still center of the turning world - I turned her back out and did some chores.  When I went outside a bit later to go to my car, I saw Dawn galloping flat out across her pasture doing repeated "handstand" bucks - she doesn't slow in the slightest but her hind end goes very high in the air - here's a (poor quality) photo of Dawn from a couple of years ago - notice the single front foot on the ground:

I was honored that she was able to join with me in calmness for our work, and didn't use her extracurricular athletic abilities on me!

A short digression - this morning when I was riding Dawn in the indoor arena, the south door was open to let in some sun, giving us a view of the pastures.  As I was riding by that end, what do I see but a pair of side-by-side chestnut heads at the water tank next to the gate.  I called their names and up popped two faces - Pie and Red.  Dawn and I stood by the door and we conversed for a moment, they went back to drinking and then moseyed off.  It was a lovely sight.

The other thing I've been working on is my right bend.  Part of this is my posture - I've always had terrible posture.  I tend to slump through the shoulders, and to look down - both of these things have bad effects on my riding position and therefore on my horses.  I made a lot of progress on this in my work with Heather last spring and in the clinic with Mark in June, but I'm still working on making my new way of going automatic.  Today, in all three of my rides, I worked very hard on remembering to keep my chin up, and my focus point at the equivalent of treetop height - this seems like an extreme position, but it's what's needed to just get me vertical instead of slumped.  Every time I noticed that I was looking down, I just returned my chin and focus to where they belonged.

Next, I worked on the elements necessary for me to have a proper right bend.

I've know for a while that I had a problem with this, because all my horses have more trouble tracking, and bending right, and it isn't just a coincidence.  Ideally, when I'm asking my horses to bend, my inside leg should be just at the girth, both legs should be relaxed and long, my upper body and shoulders and head, and focus, should be turned just the right amount in the direction I'm going, and my outside hand should be slightly forward and my inside hand slightly back (and perhaps slightly to the inside as well depending on what we're doing and how tight the turn is) with my elbows both close to my body.  And my chin should be up and focus high and ahead . . .

I've figured out why my horses are having trouble tracking right.  When we track left, I'm able to pretty easily do what I should.  Doing the same thing tracking right is much harder for me physically.  I have a tendency instead to bring my right leg up a bit, bring my right shoulder in and down and drop my right hand.  Trying to simulate riding a left and right bend while standing on the ground without a horse proved how hard bending right correctly is for me. My horses naturally get frustrated by this, as I'm simultaneously asking them to bend right and signaling them to bend left.  Pie, since he's the greenest, shows me this defect in my riding most clearly - he does just what I'm doing, which is to drop his inside shoulder and tip his nose to the outside, producing a left bend.  Dawn is also very good at telling me when I'm doing it wrong.  Red is so easy to bend and so responsive to my inside leg that he compensates for me pretty well.

So today, in all my rides, in addition to keeping my chin and eyes up, when bending right, I worked on keeping my right leg long and relaxed and turning my torso and focus right while moving my left hand slightly forward and bringing my right elbow and hand back slightly towards my hip.  Both Dawn and Pie approved of my efforts and responded in kind with great improvement in their right bend.  I also knew I was doing some changing of my "way of going" since some muscles in my back were complaining of my new position.  Now I just have to keep bringing my attention back to this so that it becomes more and more automatic - I'm fortunate in the fine equine teachers I have.

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