Thursday, November 19, 2009

Breakthrough

Alicia and I have a habit of closing down restaurants. They are usually putting the chairs upside down on the tables or mopping the floor by the time we look around and realize we should probably go, and have been talking horses for a solid couple of hours. In one of these many talks, all of which I cherish of course, Alicia told me that when she takes lessons with Anne Kursinski, sometimes things that Anne tells her won't click until months later, and then she'll realize what Anne was talking about in the middle of a ride. When Alicia told me this, I thought, "Gosh I wish that would happen. More often than not I feel like things are sailing over my head, barely sinking in, or getting lost in translation. But last night I had one of those moments, for the first time.

The advice was this: "You need to make a place for yourself to sit on your horse." When I first heard this from Alicia, I had a vague sense of what she meant but no sense of how that would feel or how it would be accomplished. Last night I got the feeling and thought "Oh! I get it!" I was perfectly centered in the middle of my horse, comfortably sitting with his stride, balanced, secure and relaxed. And it wasn't a fleeting feeling. It lasted. And it was good.

Here is how it came about. We warmed up at the walk and he felt good. No gadgets, no gimicks, because I wanted a true sense of how his adjustment had changed his way of going. It definitely made a difference -- no more head tilt for starters. When we moved into the trot, he was forward and relaxed but he wasn't quite balanced. I started doing some big serpentines and he tripped twice behind, which is like a giant neon flashing light that reads: "Your horse is on his forehand and his hind end is actually about a mile behind you doing absolutely nothing. Would you care to fix this before both of you topple over?"

Ah, yes. Perhaps I should do something about this, before, as the sign says, we topple over. So I went back down to the walk. I remembered that one day this summer we had a lesson out in the grass field and Alicia had me work on halting using only my seat and leg, sending him forward if he tried to balance off my hand for the halt, and then asking again. So I went back to this. This time he caught on very quickly (he is after all a Wunderkind) so a couple of times I asked him to back softly after he halted, using a lot of seat and leg. The first few times he wanted to swing his hind end to the left or right as he backed up. I straightened him out slowly and asked for another couple of steps of backing. When he backed up straight, lots of praise.

When I had a really balanced walk, pushing off from his hind end, I went back to a sitting trot. And what a sitting trot it was. I thought about pulling my knee away from the saddle, sinking into my heel, sitting evenly on both seat bones, and stretching tall through my shoulders (the shoulders may have only been partially accomplished. It's a weakness).

For the transition to the canter I stretched tall, lifted my hand, kept a firm contact on my outside rein, and asked him to canter with support from my inside leg. Excellent departure, and beautiful canter. And then suddenly I felt it -- I had made a place for myself to sit. My legs felt like they were just wrapped around him (nevermind they come halfway down his sides). I could feel his back lift beneath me and his hind end become completely engaged. I was using my inside calf muscle to balance him in my canter circles -- and he was responding and holding his bend! I lifted my hand and sat deeper down the long sides of the arena and his canter stride stayed the same length. I never got displaced from where I was sitting. I felt like I was six feet tall and had the grace and strength of a ballerina. It was amazing.

Then the moment came when a choir of angels began to sing. I had this awesome canter and I really thought about my downward transition. I thought -- just ask for it the same way you asked for the halt. Seat and leg: stretch tall and sit deep, use your inner thighs. And it worked! There was no herky-jerky emergency-break style downward transition. It was light as a feather, and his trot was big and bouncy and soft. It felt so good I almost quit on that, but I wanted to see if I could make it happen in the other direction.

And the best part is -- I did! His right lead canter is always easier so I was optimistic. I centered myself again, asked for the upward transition with an elevated hand, firm contact on the left rein and supporting right leg. Another beautiful transition, into the same uphill soft canter. I had a place to sit. I had a moment where I thought -- now don't get too discouraged if you can't repeat the downward transition. This will still be a fantastic ride. But I thought about my halt transitions, asked the same way, and got the same soft downward transition. I actually said out loud: "I get it! Tucker! I totally get it!"

I quit on that note and gave him all kinds of praise and affection. And he knew he was good too. You could see it written all over his face while I was cooling him out: "I am the MAN."

How lucky are we, horse people? Do you ever stop and think about it? On a regular old Wednesday night, I got to do something that made me feel thoroughly satisfied and completely elated. Do you ever think about the fact that people who don't ride must get that feeling so much less frequently? Sure, they have other things that make them happy, but that walking-on-air, everything-is-right-with-the-universe feeling that we get after a good ride must be so hard to replicate in a life without horses. I am so grateful that a few nights a week I get to see this face and know that my life has meaning. This horse is such a blessing.

8 comments:

  1. Very cool - he's a wonderful horse, for sure! Love your descriptions - that's what happens when you become part of the horse and your description captures it perfectly. And you're so right about the satisfaction that the horse brings to us - people without horses miss out on a lot!

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  2. OMG! I so know what you mean!!!!!! I haven't felt like that with my seat yet but the steps towards that still get me high when I finally get something adn it works!!!!! GOOD ON YOU AND THE MAN!!!!!! People who don't have horses in their lives have no idea what they are missing!

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  3. That is so cool! That is what us dressage riders mean by having a horse "on the bit". It is when they are having all that energy coming from back to front and you are just quietly holding your hands catching it. There is no other feeling like the moment when a horse lifts their back for you. It is just the coolest thing ever. On a slightly different note...I had a dream about you and Boomer's Mom coming out to meet Phoenix and her yelling at us for dressing in the exact same work outfit. It was pretty funny for a dream. I hope you get more rides like that one!

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  4. Oh those moments are so precious. I think it is what we ride for, so congrats and bask in the glow! I love it when the light bulb also comes on for your horse and you can tell he gets it too. That is the best! Yay!

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  5. Thanks everyone! Nina -- I haven't heard the expression "good on you!" in so long and it's one of my favorite Australian sayings!

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  6. I'm such a geek, the last paragraph made me a little teary eyed!!! I agree...I think some people get that feeling with their kids (so I hear...), or my bf claims to get it at the gym when he works out (again, I myself have never experienced that kind of elation on a treadmill)...great post! Good boy Tucker!

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  7. I love how you describe your ride and your revelation, I feel like I'm right in the experience, almost as if I'm riding through you. (Which is great since jumping scares me, thanks!) You GO girl! I haven't heard that expression before, "You make a place for yourself to sit on your horse." but I like it. Makes sense to me. When I first felt that offering, a horse giving his back to me, I felt like I finally "got" the whole basis of riding.

    I didn't of course, but it went a looooong way and helped me translate a great deal of things that had previously been gibberish. I'm sure the horse was praising heaven for THAT epiphany.

    Yay for you and Tucker! He does look like The Man in your photo, so (rightfully) proud of himself.

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