The title of this posting is sorely appropriate seeing as I haven’t been visiting the blog as much as I’d like. Holidays, horses, and a highly active family keep me hopping these days. Not to mention a humongous writing project (knew I could fit another ‘h’ in there somewhere). With Thanksgiving just behind us let me say I am thankful for readers who still return here from time to time regardless of my consistent inconsistency.
I’d planned another vehicle encounter for this post. It would be appropriate seeing as…I GOT A NEW TRUCK. But, alas, horses under the hood are not as inspiring as the one under my saddle (see above beauty) so photos of the snazzy, white, diesel powered truck I now have will have to wait till next time. Something else is on my mind.
More than one sport has been called a “metaphor for life.” From running, to rock climbing, athletic pursuits are often said to mirror the journey of life. My favorite is golf. I’m sure there’s a meaningful message in the wearing of pastel colors while driving a cute white vehicle around 18 holes scattered on unnaturally green looking grass. Hmmm…it’ll come to me, I’m sure.
I cannot find an immediately recognized metaphor for life in the equestrian sports. However, life with horses does mirror a person’s style and health (or not) within relationships. Horses reveal us to ourselves; they are a revelation if we allow it. Angry/controlling/inflexible/a push over/highstrung/restless/relaxed/available/emotional/unstable/unresponsive? There’s an excellent chance your horse is, too. An English proverb states: Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are. My horse is at the mercy of my personal awareness and it’s up to me to straighten things out.
For the last month Eli has been at a dressage trainer’s barn. He’d gone as far as I could take him in his training and we were in need of some deeper insight to continue developing both athletic ability and our relationship under saddle. My objective? Helping him progress along the training pyramid with specific goals of strengthening his self carriage and balance. He is so flexible sitting him could be compared to riding a large fettucine noodle. Wiggle this way, wiggle that. A giant stride, weak rear end, and plenty of forward go make for an interesting time some days. We’d come a long way in his first two years under saddle, but I wanted to graduate from elementary school.
Dressage frequently gets a bad rap from backyard owners like myself who make the mistake of dismissing the discipline as something pursued by stuffy elitists who enjoy showing off. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Dressage is worthwhile and challenging for many reasons. It demands focus, attention to detail, and sensitive feel. It demands an understanding of the equine body and mind as the athlete they are created to be.
I was not thinking too much about my own focus and attention or habitual “sins under saddle” when I dropped Eli off. Rather, I was excited someone with a lot of knowledge would shape him up, straighten him out (literally), and show him the ropes. I couldn’t wait to get on and ride a horse with “education.” It would be so much easier.
Today was case in point. Let me just say Eli is looking beautiful. As I saddled him just prior to our lesson I admired the muscle building along his back and wither. Lifting the back and relaxing the neck while driving under in rhythm builds a very pretty equine shape. Our current challenge? Encouraging a state called “contact.” This is frequently a misunderstood term. It is not forcing an artificial head “set” or pulling the horse’s head down with a jerk of the wrist. Like all good communication it involves seeking, sensing, and trust. Rigidity and sloppy riding destroys the horse’s faith in the human at the end of the rein.
Straightness helps contact by enabling the horse to drive under and stay “between the reins.” No bulging inside or out. This has been a problem for Eli and I. We bulge. I felt sure this was his problem. I mean, he’s a big strong stallion. He needs to just use his body better. Then I, the weaker human, will be able to sit on him and look lovely. We’ll have this contact thing down and can start doing cool stuff like flying lead changes and passage.
Apparently we need to fix our bulging problem. This was the scenario today as I trotted down the wall:
Trainer, also known as Yoda (though she is much cuter): “He’s bulging right because you’re crooked. Bring your right shoulder back, squeeze your right knee, and loosen the left rein.”
We are going left so this feels awkward, but I do as I’m told.
Yoda: “You’re still crooked. Look at the wall to your right; pretend you’re a rodeo queen waving at the audience.”
It seems necessary to look where I’m going, but I’ve always wanted to be a rodeo queen.
Yoda: “More. But keep your weight in the left stirrup.”
At this point I’m thinking rubbing my tummy and patting my head would be easier then what she is asking. I have become a tragic victim of scoliosis, my spine freakishly twisted. I stare at the arena wall as we trot along, certain we will crash into it at any moment.
Yoda: “There! You’re straight now.”
Me: “What? This does not feel natural!”
Yoda: “I know. You’ve been sitting on your horse at an angle. When he follows you right, you pull him left. He does what you do. Notice how he’s traveling now.”
Over the course of a few (hard) minutes of correcting my body position a miracle has happened. Eli is rhythmically trotting, his neck long, lovely, and relaxed. He feels round and supple. A moment later he reaches longer into the bit looking similar to the photo above.
Yoda: “He’s seeking the contact. Follow him with your hands and receive it.”
There is only one way to describe the feeling at that moment: Trust. No forcing or pulling just rhythm and relaxation. As dorky as it may sound, I felt rather emotional.
Later I became aware that my crookedness isn’t just in the saddle. I slouch right when I stand, when I drive, when I lean on my kitchen counter. I’m darn crooked! Was Eli crooked on his own or did I create it by my position? What came first, the chicken or the egg? Doesn’t matter. The point is I need to straighten out to improve our communication, even if it doesn’t feel natural. Crooked position causes crooked responses, but a changed perspective invites contact.
Is that like a metaphor smorgasbord or what?!