Saturday, May 3, 2008

Private Riding

I really prefer to ride Silk when we’re all alone. Ideally, my husband is around somewhere on the back of our property working on one of his never-ending earthmoving projects. If something happened, I could shout and he’d come running. It’s highly unlikely that anything would go wrong, since to someone watching from a window inside our house, it would appear that Silk and I were not doing anything.

Since Silk is so responsive, I’ve been practicing with her before I take the reins on Siete. I’m doing the exercises in Mark Rashid’s “Finding the Try” DVD to teach myself, not my horse. Silk is a very patient, cooperative partner. She appears to understand what I’m doing as I make small movements and stop and start and back and turn using as little pressure on the bit as possible.

We work on what I jokingly call “mind melding”. I think about what I would like to do and see if Silk can understand what I’m thinking. Sometimes, she does what I’m hoping she’ll do almost before I complete the thought. Other times, she’ll stand and wait since I’m not focused and communicating clearly. I’m also really working on relaxing my body while I’m on the horse and trying to move in a more balanced way. I take my feet out of the stirrups and ride with my eyes closed, feeling Silk’s footfall. Only recently have I understood how important footfall is to good riding. All of this practice requires concentration and awareness that can’t be found when someone else is there, talking to me or watching or riding. It would have seemed boring to me when I was more flexible and in my teens and twenties. Now, it fascinates me how sensitive my horse is and how subtle our communication can be.

What do you like to do with your horse in those private moments when it's just the two of you? I feel like I just confessed some secret and most people will think I'm an obsessive lunatic. Someone asked me for a picture of me riding Silk. I realized that I don’t have any. It’s become a very private activity. Maybe I can drag my earthmover away from his latest stump-removing task and give him the camera. Don’t expect to see anything exciting, just me sitting calmly on my favorite horse.

"The human mind has absolute freedom as its true nature. There are thousands upon thousands of students who have practiced meditation and obtained this realization. Do not doubt the possibilities because of the simplicity of the method. If you can't find the truth where you are, where else do you expect to find it?"
Dogen, founder of Japanese Zen


billie said...

Victoria, one of my favorite "private" ride things to do is open the gate from our arena into our back field and alternate between arena work and field work. Keil Bay loves it when the "reward" for focused arena work is that immediate stroll through the back field.

I also love doing the rainbow ride sequence I found on Jane Savoie's website. Some pretty amazing things have happened while Keil Bay and I have done that together.

And this is kind of silly, but we have a number of trees bordering our arena and the branches need to be trimmed back during spring and summer so I don't get hit in the face when riding. I can most easily do this chore mounted on Keil Bay, b/c I can instantly see if I've cut them back far enough. He seems to love this - kind of like we're a team doing a job together. It's a good exercise in asking for him to take just one step forward, backward, laterally, standing square and still while I make the cuts, etc. It also gives a little bit of de-spooking practice, as the branches rustle and sometimes drag as we make a pile by the gate.

And typing that last bit in reminded me that sometimes we practice opening and closing gates from the saddle which gives all those same bits of work as cutting branches. It refines the communication and is a practical thing to know we can do together.

At our boarding barn there was a wonderful obstacle course, and if we had a good place to set up a permanent one here I'd do it. We rode through tires, walked over a bridge, delivered "mail" from one mailbox to another, walked through rows of pinwheels twirling in the wind, squeezed through rows of pool noodles, and rode into and out of a large ditch and bank. The barn owner often added new elements - orange tape strips that flew in the breeze, plastic cups tied and hung in bunches so they clicked in the wind, flags, towels draped, blankets and tarps to walk over, etc. Keil Bay, who was previously used to a very pristine "environment" got very comfortable with all these new things.

Like you, I prefer to do most of the above privately, so I can focus in and really enjoy the process w/o any distraction. There's something so peaceful and restorative about riding alone with a trusted horse.

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - Those are great suggestions for "jobs" I can do with Silk. I have also been planning a trail course, similar to what you describe with the obstacles. Silk loves those kind of challenges, and I can see that Siete will too. She enjoys learning tricks and was obviously bored by the routine round and round in the arena work that her previous trainers did. I agree that opening and closing the gate is a great exercise. Silk is better at doing it than I am.

Rose said...

This "mind melding" reminds me of when I was taking riding lessons as a child. I was absolutely terrified of going faster than a trot due to a frightening (though not SO awful) experience of trail riding on a neighbor's horse at the beginning of spring, and she seemed to be so excited for the exercise that she broke into a run, did a little kick with her heels, and of course, off my little ten-year-old body fell. (The horse very sweetly walked back over to me lying on the ground, nosing me as if asking why on earth I was on the ground like that.) No physical injury other than a mild hip bruise, but I had some major fears about going fast on a horse that only grew with time.

Anyway, a year later I was taking riding lessons, but was still terrified of going too fast, so my horse trainer had me ride one of her horses with the slowest, smoothest canter I could ever imagine. However, while riding him with my horse trainer calling over, "Okay, when you're ready, tell him to move into a canter." I kicked with my heels, and he went faster, but just kept upping the speed of his trot, and then slowed immediately down again. Finally my horse trainer called us over, seeing my frustration, and said, "You know, he's not going to canter if you don't really want him to." Once I really decided we should canter, the horse responded almost before I tapped his sides. I'm still struck by how amazing and enlightening that experience was.

Pony Girl said...

Great post, Victoria, thanks for always encouraging us to be reflective! I love how I can think I'm going to ask my gelding to whoa or change gaits and how just thinking it, the thought transfers through my body and it's like he knows it the same time I think it. When I trail ride, I prefer riding with other people (safety.) Most of the way we are single file and can't chat, so I enjoy the scenery and just being on my horse in nature. On other parts of the trail, we can ride next to each other and chat. It's the best of both worlds.
On another note, did you see what happened to that filly on Derby Day, Victoria? I am devastated. I did not see it as I took some schoolchildren to a play, but saw the headline online and my heart just sank.

Bones said...

Lovely post, Victoria.

When I was riding regularly, my instructor used to have me ride bareback for balance and control, and my favoritest "activity" was to lie down on the horse's back, staring up at the sky, and let the horse wander where she would as we enjoyed the spring weather. Perhaps not so strangely, it's the same activity I enjoy with my cats: sitting together in the yard, doing nothing other than enjoying the day, or reading in bed together. You know, just hanging out.

I just read your post about it being Silk's birthday, and I got so sad thinking about how many animals (and people) are treated as things by other people. So unnecessary, so short-sighted. I'm so glad you and Silk found each other.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I would say one of my favorite private riding things to do would be when Erik and I would just go for a walk around the farm. It was a peaceful and quiet time for both of us. Just to amble along and enjoy the day and each other with no other agenda than to just have a relaxing walk. I would let him stop and eat some grass and move on, I do miss those times together.

the7msn said...

If we lived closer to each other, I know we'd be great riding buddies...we'd never say a word to each other while in the saddle, and it would be just perfect!

Before I moved away, I would go trail riding every Saturday and Sunday with really good friends, but they drove me freaking nuts 'cause they would never shut up. I must have said, "sorry, I can't talk now" a dozen times each ride because I needed to focus on the feet at the end of my hands, not the latest gossip.

And the whole footfall's such a tough thing to master. I've worked on it with trainers, by watching videos, by reading books - some days I have it, most days I don't. When I get really frustrated, I just go back to Craig Cameron's book "Ride Smart" for his explanations. There's something about the way he explains it that helps me the most.

Linda said...

I know exactly what you are talking about. I have my best rides when I can concentrate on my horse and myself and there are no other distractions. When there are others in the arena I frequently try to tune them out at least part of the time - I don't want to be unfriendly, but my horse knows when I am not paying attention and I might as well not even be on him because we will not accomplish anything. This can be difficult during a lesson, but fortunately I have a trainer who understands that it is more important for me to be tuned into the horse than her.

Loopy said...

What a beautiful blog you have here!

When I'm out on the miles of country roads we have and we head through a creek or tree-lined road, I often close my eyes and just talk with my girl.

LJB said...

My favorite private things are unmounted, like scratching Rusty between his back legs, or standing breathing with Sofia while she rests her muzzle on my shoulder. I guess riding-wise, I like to leave a trail and go 'bush whacking' through the woods, counting on my and my horse's sense of direction to get us back to something familiar. So far, so good. *g* Or getting on my Morgan mare, with no tack at all, and see how connected we are -- can she get with my idea? can I get with her idea?