Sometimes my brain is my biggest obstacle!
The lovely Kelly was kind enough to find the time to give me a lesson this afternoon. I feel very fortunate to have a friend and colleague like her who is generous enough with her time that she will willingly teach a lesson when she doesn’t have to. The fact that she’s bloody good also helps.
That’s one thing I’ve noticed, and I don’t know what it is about Kelly’s approach, but somehow she always manages to get things through to me in a way that I totally understand and can process. Stupid little things like, how to block your movement through a halt transition. The amount of times I’ve had things told to me, and yet somehow my brain hadn’t quite clicked with it all and I still felt the need to use the reins.
It might not be very exciting to any of you experienced horsey people, or even non-experienced for that matter, but today Kelly was able to clearly and concisely explain to me the crucial part of a halt transition which had me stopping neatly with absolutely no alteration to the rein contact each time. I didn’t feel the need to pull back once. My hands remained exactly as they were, my lower leg stayed on, I stepped down into the stirrup, closed my thighs onto the saddle, lifted my ribcage and tightened all my core muscles and bam…we stopped. Of course, all of this took place much quicker as I was doing everything at the same time so it wasn’t a chain of motion and then halt. It was just, halt. Fox took a couple of times to really understand what I was asking him to do, as he is so used to the reins being used. But he was extremely responsive to my changed approach, and seemed much happier altogether with this improved method.
He is not a horse I expect to have working in an outline for the entire lesson. Because he’s lazy and not well schooled enough. He can do it here and there, softening occasionally and working through from time to time. But he struggles. What I do expect from him, however, is that he listens, responds and works properly. I’m not asking the earth, but I want him to do the things I ask.
So today I tried him in spurs, at Kelly’s suggestion. And it worked! He was much more consistent throughout the lesson as opposed to when I carry a whip and he’ll go sluggish, and then get a spurt of energy when I tickle him, and then slow again. With the spurs, I only needed to jab him a couple of times towards the start to remind him that my legs were to be listened to and to wake him up a bit, and after that it only took a niggle here and a nudge there to get him moving forward quite nicely.
We played with the halt transitions for a bit, and then started on trot ones. Kelly had me squeezing with my leg to rev him up ready to trot and then start to rise immediately, in a bid to get my diagonal correct first time, every time. It’s all about timing, as I quickly discovered, and there were several instances when I was slightly too slow, or too quick. I did, however, manage to time it perfectly on several other occasions, teaching my body how to feel that energy building before starting to rise.
I sometimes wonder if I think too much like a horse. Kelly did mention that sometimes when you ride, you have to do that. And I laughed and said that it wasn’t really a problem for me. But I find myself thinking about how horses learn. You ride them, or lunge them, or whatever it is you’re doing to try and teach them something, and they don’t always get it first time. Sometimes you’ll go the entire teaching session and they just won’t get it. So, rather than get frustrated and cross, you put the horse away and resolve yourself to try again tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, and you get the horse out ready to test your own patience. And miraculously, the horse responds beautifully and seems to know exactly what it needs to do. Because on some level, it processed what it had been taught. Horses have a remarkable capacity for memory, and while they do not have the lobe linked with rational thought, they certainly process things somewhere.
I am a human, and I am more than capable of rational thought. But sometimes I find it easier to think like a horse. Especially concerning my progression with horses and riding. I have had it before, where I just couldn’t quite get the hang of something so rather than beat myself up about it, I let it go and did something else instead. The next day, or a couple of days after, I tried again and much to my surprise, showed marked improvement. Sonya and Georgie have both mentioned it with regards to my jumping. And I’ve noticed it myself with some of my flatwork. Sometimes I just need to think ‘horse’, go away from a situation and let my brain process it without trying to rationalise. And then, somehow, I get better.
Pulling back out of my own thoughts and returning to today’s lesson, we also got a rather wonderful halt to canter! He was being rather lazy and unresponsive in the upwards transitions, so Kelly told me to really jab him with the spurs and get him moving off my leg much sharper. We did it a couple of times, with minimal effect. So I realised more leg was needed. We halted, thighs squeezed, ribcage lifted, all of that. And I gathered myself, took a deep breath and BANG, let’s go Foxy, said I.
Obliging soul that he is, he said yup I can go go go! And off we cantered. Beautiful strike up, crisp forward movement, and actually a seriously nice canter. Kelly was laughing in the corner of the school saying, “Well that’s not quite….but at least he’s going forwards now…and actually, nice canter!”
Bless his heart. I enjoyed that short burst of canter actually, it was really nice to sit. But Kelly quickly had us come back down the paces to halt, and try again. This time with less explosive but equally responsive results.
Apart from that brief interlude, we didn’t do any canter work today. Working on the walk and the trot was enough. I actually suffered a rather dizzy spell halfway through the lesson and had to stop for a bit until my vision cleared. Kelly ran to get me a bit of chocolate to try and spike my blood sugar levels a bit warning me “don’t fall off” as she went. Fortunately, Fox took advantage of my dizzy state to stand completely still and let it all hang loose.
I worked hard today though, really trying to use my legs properly and focusing so many different things at once. I was conscious of where my hands where, how tight my tummy muscles were, whether my hips were open or locked, trying to keep my knees from rotating, stretching through the calf muscle, stepping down into the stirrup, lifting my ribcage, keeping a bend in my elbow, and looking up and around. All at the same time.
I know that in time, all of those things will come together and gradually I won’t even notice I’m doing them. There are moments I feel like I’m getting it, like things are starting to come naturally. But then something new happens and it’s like I have to start all over again to incorporate it into the pattern of my body.
Kelly asked me at one point whether I was okay with the fact that we weren’t doing anything very exciting, and I told her that what we were doing was exactly what I wanted to be doing, because it’s the little things I seem to struggle with. At which point, she corrected me.
“You don’t struggle with all the little things at all. You block some of your feel. Feel comes from your seat, not your brain, and your brain is so active that the minute you start thinking about what you’re doing, you start blocking that feel. You know how to do all the little things perfectly well, you struggle to feel it because you’re using your head more than your seat.”
I think I may have just sat and looked at her when she said that. Not because I was appalled or upset or confused. But because in a few short sentences she had explained to me the exact thing I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I’ve known for a while that something is holding me back, and I spend half my time searching to find what it is and how to make it better. When what I should be doing is just that, doing. I need to stop all this brain stuff, turn off the analysing and the rationalising and the worrying and the self-criticisms. I need to block that out, and just ride. Block the thoughts, not the feel.
There were moments today when I felt like something was right. When we had a nice active walk, I could feel the swing across his back, underneath me. I could feel which hind leg was stepping forwards each time, and I shifted my own hips in time with his, as if they were attached by a piece of string. I moved with him, by feeling his movement. I started to pick up the feel of that mounting energy going into the trot transition. I wasn’t consistent with my timing, but there were times when it was there.
Instead of sitting to ask for the walk, I just slowed my rising more and more until his next step forward was into walk. I could feel as I slowed my rise, that he was slowing with me. And through the halt transitions I could feel him respond as I blocked the movement, gingerly at first but more confidently as the lesson wore on. I was able to feel his body still, almost at the same time mine did towards the end of the lesson.
It was actually really nice to be able to feel all of that, and to really know (because I felt it) that Fox was 100% listening and responding to what I was asking of him. He was so responsive to my movements or lack of movements, and he was so quick to understand what I wanted him to do despite it being different to how I’ve asked him before. And it was lovely to feel him relaxing throughout the lesson.
Still on the Fox line, but not riding wise, I got a truly lovely greeting from him this afternoon. He wasn’t in his usual stable but I spotted his headcollar so headed off in that direction. As I approached, I saw his spotty bum in the corner and realised he was standing right at the back, probably sulking about something. So I called, “Foooxyyyy” as I walked closer. I heard him shift around a little, and the second I came into sight his head (already turned towards the door) lifted right up, the ears came forward and got a gorgeous whicker as he walked over to me. My heart leapt, and I presented my hands for him to sniff quickly. He then stepped right up to the door, and presented me with his head. I rubbed his forehead a bit and massaged his ears for a little bit, until he leant into my shoulder with his chin. So I pressed my forehead against his and we stood like that for a little bit, just having a quiet moment.
He’s so darn cute it near breaks my heart.
And when I turned him out, he stood there with me for a bit, just waiting. So I gave him a bit of a cuddle and then went back out of the field again. I waved at him and said bye, and started walking off across the field. I’d got about twenty steps away before I heard a whinny. Looking back around, I saw him standing exactly where I’d left him, staring right at me and calling.
SO DAMN CUTE!
I should note, he was not on his own. Maguire and Victor were also in the field, nearby. Victor, in fact, was right next to him. So he wasn’t panicking. In all fairness it was probably less, I love you don’t go, and more, why are you taking the treats away treat lady.
But I choose to see it as a nice thing. So there.