When I rode as a kid, I never thought about balance. I just had it, naturally. My daughter is the same way. Her seat looks like it’s glued to the back of the horse when she rides. The older I get, the more top-heavy I seem to be. I know I’m not alone with this problem. Callie started an entertaining discussion about it on her blog the other day.
I recently read James Shaw’s “Ride from Within”, which explains how to use Tai Chi principles to help you balance and get into the horse’s rhythm. Many of the motions used in Tai Chi are circular. Mark Rashid also talks about the circular movement in Aikido and how it is one of the most powerful forces in nature. He often uses it as a way to offer a horse a better alternative when the horse is troubled.
I was thinking about how it has been four years since we have been living here in the Northeast. We have circled through the seasons enough times for me to recognize the blooming cycles in my garden and the changes that occur in caring for my horses. Each season is so distinct, unlike the blur of weather that we experienced living in California in a warmer climate. I look forward to the changes here, feeling each annual circle moving our lives forward.
We are making a medicine wheel on our hill above the barn. In San Diego, we created a big circle of stones with special larger rocks that marked the four directions. We gave each direction a corresponding animal totem and painted a picture of it on the rock. The horse was East. Now, we are adapting it to a new, very different location. For Native Americans, the medicine wheel is the circle of life, a symbol of wholeness and equality. The end is also the beginning.
Longeing Siete in a circle, I am learning to move with her, not just stand in the center and get dizzy as she moves around me. James Shaw talks about how your balance can’t be stationary. It must be alive and moving. He says, “Think of letting your center breathe.” Sometimes, it’s not easy staying centered while your horse is moving. So, he gives exercises both on and off the horse to help you.
The exercises in his book are simple but really challenging. There’s one called “Wall Sitting”, where you position your feet about a foot from the wall and slide your back down the wall so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then you rest there and breathe, slowly rolling your tailbone and shoulders forward to press more of your lower back on the wall. Aii-ee-ya! That’s tough on the thigh muscles.
All those Eastern martial artists and philosophers make it sound so simple, but I am a total klutz. Just breathing with my abdominal muscles requires my intense concentration. I know if I stick with it, my balance will improve. Hopefully, by the time we circle around to next May, all these movements that are so difficult will be second nature to me.
“Move like a beam of light….Whirl in circles around a stable center.”