Long and introspective…so I’m burying it in a riding journal! :-*
Mark Rashid is in town, and while this is the first time I’ve not ridden with him when he is here, I did attend a lecture and have been buzzing over to Frying Pan Park to watch him for about an hour a day. As always, he inspires a fair amount of introspection after I see him. We never say much, I am the student, he is the teacher, with tons of people wanting his time. A smile and a nod are sufficient, if an opportunity arises to talk, a hug.
The first realization after walking up to sit down yesterday was how overly critical and judgmental my thoughts were. I have been riding with Mark since 1999. I know the drill. I don’t have to be told to keep any and all negative comments out of the clinic. But, in years past, as a rider, I tend to be in a different mindset. There to focus on me and my own horse. So, I’ve never had to self-evaluate my thoughts. My thoughts were frankly, mean. “OMG, that poor horse’s back is awful”, “Hmm, that one is ok”, “Fugly horse of the day would go crazy”, “That tack is filthy”, “What a rude t-shirt logo”. Now, as thoughts go, these were all done within 30 seconds of arriving. Within 5 minutes of listening to the lesson in the ring, I was starting to put on the smug mental hat.
Whoa Nellie! What the hell is wrong with me? I had to remind myself of a few things. First, these people are at this clinic because they are looking for help & guidance. They did not pay $500 and take a week off from work because they knew everything. Second, I was not born knowing about nutrition, evaluating for pain, saddle fit, , etc. Third, I need to find a softer place, even as a spectator.
That brings me to softness. Now, softness is not being a pushover. It is finding that place with another being where an open communication is occurring. If you go looking for confrontation, you will probably find it. If you go looking for communication, you will probably get to your destination a lot faster. Now, here is where it gets a bit more mental….we all want soft hands as riders. Good hands, quiet hands, being soft, but real softness comes from inside. It comes from the heart is what Mark says (hmm, how similar it is to yoga study), so how do you get to softness with a horse? Mark has some interesting exercises you do in his lectures with a partner. And, often it is hard to differentiate between pressure and pressure with energy, and how you converted that pressure to soft communication, but practicing with a person is good. For me, I have to work hard at being the one who softens when applying the pressure (making a request), yet when I am the one who is answering a request, I am near instantaneous in my reaction.
Using energy in life, in riding and while around horses. Describing energy is difficult enough in person, in writing…it can almost come across as “tin foil hat” material. Anyone who has ever met me knows I am a pretty high energy person. But, I know how to increase/decrease it as needed, so long as I stay centered and aware. One example Mark was using this year was a water bottle that was half full. It had a value of 10. Half was the horse’s energy, half was the rider’s energy. The balance point is 10, so if the horse’s energy goes up to 7 (spooking is an example) the rider’s energy needs to drop to 3, or else there is an overflow. If your horse is a 3, then you need to be a 7, add energy to the partnership, until the horse reaches 5, then you drop back to 5. Energy is not movement. You can flap your arms/legs around all day and be moving, yet have almost no energy. This is what is difficult about energy. It is not visible to the untrained eye. And, sometimes, it requires other senses to fully feel it. For me, I need to remember to stay soft when adding energy. And that can be hard. You can also think of it as adding an intent to your actions. You can block the energy flow in a horse also, often causing a brace, or lost of softness.
Often the brilliance we want to see in our performance/show horses is far from the softness that I have come to enjoy in a relationship with a horse. Learning to reconcile this is difficult, especially when in various lessons where you are “making” the horse do things. You are often encouraged to push through behavior issues without stopping to evaluate where you might be causing the problem. The pressure to follow a schedule with a horse is evident when watching people work with young horses, or in reading their online posts. A lot of the time, that pre-ordained schedule is causing the problem.
I do enjoy showing and striving for the brilliance and the challenge is keeping the softness in the relationship.
Someone asked for more about what was meant by softness and I responded:
OK, I can try to elaborate. It is SO much easier in person, because it is a feel…and conveying a feel online is tough. I’m going to describe something I did….
The first time this came up was in 2001 at a Mark clinic in Tennessee. At lunch one day, we were sitting across from each other, with reins. I would be horse while he was rider, and then we’d swap…I’d be rider, he’d be horse. So, when you are the “horse” you are giving to the pressure, and the rider needs to release the pressure instantly, but this does not mean drop the contact. When Mark was the one “riding” or using rein pressure, I could give instantly. Yet, when I was the one “riding” and Mark was my “horse” he’d give, and I’d have this last little pull before I could release…This was subtle and it is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. Almost like if you were in a conversation, the person agreed, and instead of moving on, you had to just say something one last time. The desire for a last word, when none is needed.
So, in this example, the softness is being able to soften your request, using energy more than actual movement the moment the horse gives. The reason it works so well with another person is because they can be tricky and give too much, a tiny bit, then take back…just like a horse does.
But, this example could be applied to any aid.
as an aside, I rode Pico this morning with softness being my focus. She can be very hot and reactive and after we worked out the initial brace against my hand, that is worse with her because we have History, she was fantastic. Of course, part of the reason we could work out the brace when it became my focal point, is because part of our history does include my years of integrating what I’ve learned from Mark, even if I do forget it sometimes.
I realize that Pico has no blog. Partly because I should sell her.
Earlier this week I was practicing canter poles with Ronaldo and realized he was not soft and balanced like when we did them under Mike’s supervision. I stopped and thought what was different– why would he be throwing his shoulder right? I got the answer (my left hand, duh), but I’m glad I have enough experience to not blame the horse and to seek the solution within myself (or, at least within the “communication” part of things). Poor horses! It always comes down to lack of communication and bracing, doesn’t it?
It does seem to boil down to those two things.
Another reminder was that you cannot affect the foot on the ground. Your comment about the thrown shoulder brought this to mind. I’d asked my question of how best to get a young horse to not fall in on a circle. And, while he did not directly answer my question that night, he addressed it during a ride the next day. So, at the point that I notice a shoulder is falling in, that foot is on the ground. It cannot be changed. So, another thing to consider, like humans, horse’s tend to walk with their feet in a closer line than they stand square, so to make the inside shoulder move out, when the outside foot is about to leave the ground, ask the horse to move that outside foot away from his body, then the next inside footfall will be to catch up, or, back to where you want it.
Now, this may not have anything to do with you & Ronaldo, but you prompted my needing to type it. And, I just walked away for a while, so lost my train of thought!