I have had many requests to share my NSAE diaries in a more complete form, and in one easy to find place. As that is not possible in facebook notes, I have decided to share my diaries here on my blog.
I was hesitant about this – realised that was unconfidence about how people might perceive me – and got over myself LOL. We are all students of the horse, we are all beginners. In that spirit, so some of you can understand my current journey – and decide if this is something you would like to share – or just as a story to read – here are my diaries so far.
The daily updates will appear on my Effective Horsemanship facebook page and when I have time I will add the updates here. Here are the first 26 days:
The first full — well almost (more on that later) day here at the NSAE. I was up at 7 and onto the yard at 7.30 to help Tellu (the working student who has been here many months already) to “open the barn”- ie get the morning chores done. We fed horses, moved horses, watered horses….then it was a short break for breakfast. I was Craig’s groom for the morning, so brought each horse in, groomed it, saddled it and basically that was my job — so Craig can train as many horses as possible. I also was able to watch him train – and see Mary Anne and Tellu giving some lessons. After just watching a few rides my brain was full LOL Seriously though, just watching, listening and thinking — has given me a LOT of things to think about and work on — and share! Craig worked with three horses: he used lunging (classical) in hand and riding and each horse was definitely in a better place when the session was over. I think I saw some changes just from the day before. One thing that was noticeable was that the horses would be offering piaffe, or canter changes — sometimes with lots of effort and try — and energy and elevation — and then as soon as Craig dropped the reins — they were totally relaxed. Definitely “Calm” as the first element is in place here.
After lunch I had my first seat lesson in AGES — with Tellu being my coach. It was great to be a student again — and to feel confident sitting at the trot, with my legs up so I was just balancing on my seat with no tension and in harmony with Strut’s lovely trot. Great start! And I learned more things to share with anyone who signs up for the seatwork intensives I will be doing in January and February!
After that I organised more horses — then Mary Anne took pity on my obvious jetlag and sent me in for a hot shower and a cup of tea (hence the not quite full day comment at the start!)
So a wonderful first day — lot’s of snippets of insight from Craig as he worked and during handovers — will share as they come to mind — but wanted to get this first “diary entry” up so you can all keep up with what I am doing and learning here in Snohomish.
NSAE diary day 2: Guess what? it was raining today. Not just rain — torrential downpour so hard you could hardly hear yourself think in the indoor arena. Luckily there IS an indoor arena. Last night I slept 11 hours (guess that jet lag finally caught up with me) and felt almost happy when opening up the barn with Tellu this morning. After porridge for breakfast at 9 o’clock I was well set for the day. Today was a great mix: I watched Tellu warming up the horses in hand and on the lunge for Craig to ride — then watched Craig ride. I also watched Craig teach a lesson to the owner of a big ex-racehorse which was interesting. After lunch I had the great opportunity to sit in while Craig and Mary Anne worked on the book where Craig provides commentary on quotes from the old masters — now THAT was amazing and included discussions of how fear affects horsemanship, as well as some great insights into what “Calm, Forward, Straight” actually means in horsemanship terms.
Along the way we had discussions about the benefits and problems of using recipes in horsemanship which I think will be a blog article soon….
After this I was groom for Craig and general dogsbody for a while and watched Tellu teaching…..
An early finish for me as Mary Anne and I were then busy planning the Confidence Talks I am doing to help raise funds for the Foundation for the Equestrian Arts…… and that is where we are now! Looking forward to a lesson with MAry Anne tomorrow…..
NSAE Diary: Day 3. The sun was shining! yes, it was struggling to be seen through the mist but what a change! I did the opening up and morning routine, under Tellu’s watchful eye — as I will be doing this alone on Friday so wanted to practice. All went well — just forgot the two small pills for River and Blue…..better luck next time. Got one more practice before Friday as tomorrow is my day off — well I get a one hour lie in then a lesson with MAry Anne — so excited about that! Back to today: lovely soft morning, all the horses were happy to be fed so morning routine went well. Although the amount of hay I am hauling about is starting to tell on my arms and legs a bit! No need for a gym here…. Today I got to spend a LOT of time watching Craig thanks to Tellu doing so much. Craig was talkative today and gave some insightful answers to my questions that have got me thinking a LOT. I asked about Piaffe: I know many people view Piaffe as the ultimate proof of a horse’s training — and yet these past days I have seen the development of the piaffe used to help a horse learn how to balance weight evenly on all legs, be square — and then use this to develop the other gaits. Interesting paradigm shift. We talked about other paradigm shifts that are necessary when moving from more competitive dressage or military based riding to the classical form such as moving from an approach based on opposition to one based on harmony, where the horse seeks harmony with the rider and is trained to seek harmony — what a lovely idea and one I know many of us have been working on in our own ways already. In my seat lesson I explored another manifestation of how force creeps into our riding: I was trotting, holding my legs up so just balancing on my seat bones, relaxed – except to do this I found I was really engaging my abdominal muscles. Nothing wrong with that you might think — but what if that is just another type of force? and rigidity? and brace? so instead of using my muscles to hold the position, I worked on stacking my spine, and using the balance of my skeletal system and the pendulum of my legs to maintain my position — and you know what — it worked! No force, just balance — amazing. Sometimes we don’t even realise where force is creeping into our riding and it takes something like seatwork to help us figure it out. When we trotted again I felt like my seatbones were plugged into Strut’s pelvis and could feel each hind foot in it’s complete cycle of movement…wonderful to be so connected.
Still processing much of the discussions today – one last thing was we talked of how much of the confidence coaching I do is about helping people become more mindful of how they really feel…and how they are around their horses. And how that is a key element of the riding: being mindful of ourselves, our horse, our surroundings — our place in time and space — our balance, our horse’s balance — all of these things. That is why good riding cannot be done if there is fear. In horse OR human. Fear blocks this mindfulness and so is the enemy of equitation….
Ok — am showered, fed and off to sleep soon, look forward to posting about my lesson with MAry Anne tomorrow!
NSAE diary: day 4 Well today it was my day off — hmmmm. So I was up and out the door at 8.30 to get Blue ready for my lesson with MAry Anne. Hey that’s an hour’s lie in – what more do I need? it DID mean I had my porridge BEFORE I went out for once, which felt good! The lesson with Mary Anne was exactly what I needed. I have done in hand work before, I have done lunging — and I have practiced it a LOT. But — there is always something to learn! Mary Anne took me back to the beginning (a very good place to start) and using the lunge rope (rope, not line) attached to the cavesson we explored some ideas. Mary Anne talked to me of the Mediterranean Horsemanship she and Craig are now working with: in ancient history (eg pre-Hellenic Greece) Most societies were more matriarchal than patriarchal – = and this translated to the horsemanship. This leads to (more!) paradigm shifts compared to traditional or competitive riding. I am lucky enough to be proof reading their book on this topic, so will wait until I have read that before writing more on this topic! Suffice to say it is horse-centred vs human ego-centred and that leads to a lot of things…the most fundamental of which is an acceptance of the horse’s basic goodness. This leads to a philosophy that whatever the horse does, he does for a good reason, and that generally he will work to please you unless he has a good reason…. So when Blue leant on my hand as we talked (ie he put his weight on the line when I was just “in touch”) Mary Anne rephrased that: “instead of “he is leaning on the line”, which is a problem in our human world, and therefore leads us to think of a “fix” — say rather that he is finding that a comfortable way to rest his head while we talk — and if you ask him to do something different, he probably will” .
From there our session was a conversation – I was asking Blue to move using the direct rein, indirect rein — and getting used to using my body and energy in a slow fluid way — and only EVER using touch with my hand on that line. Hmmmm. Mary Anne talked of imagining a swirling bowl of water, and I was changing from one movement to another without splashing. The touch is as if my fingers are resting on the skin of hot cocoa…yes, that light. And, if I get my position and energy right — and if I create the situation where Blue’s position and energy are right — then the movements happen with that level of connection.
At one point, I found Blue’s shoulder moving towards me. My instinct was to use my whip to create movement and ask him to move it away — but that felt wrong somehow. We explored this: yes, it would have worked, but it would have been “moving away from pressure” — when I had another option: if I used my touch to ask him to place himself in a different position, then that shoulder would move away naturally as his body found the space to move into.
Hmmm — so instead of asking your horse to move away from pressure, you ask him to move INTO the space you have created…
Since horses are prey animals, who need space to move into (and feel much safer when they HAVE a space to move into) — this is much more natural.
It’s also more difficult! At least I found it much more difficult to think this way — it got easier, but is a massive paradigm shift.
It is great if you are a chess player and used to thinking ahead — or even of thinking in the present — and really highlights the importance of mindfulness when doing this work!
We did reach the stage where I was able to move forwards, matching my steps to his, and move him away from me and around me using the hand in touch only. This was lightness.
Along the way I know Mary Anne said many other things that resonated — and I am sure they will surface as and when I need them. A marvelous lesson that I will now absorb and process!
After that I came indoors to enjoy my day off — until I was informed that Alex, the barn help had not arrived today — so it was up and out to help Tellu clean 12 stalls! Nice to know my fitness programme continues LOL
I felt it was the least I cold do in return for the lesson…..
Then it was lunch — and time to settle under the heaters and watch Craig ride. That was interesting as he has horses at several different stages of training and today, after our discussions yesterday, I could see him using the walk and piaffe and various movements in the walk to increase the horses ability to use their legs effectively without getting into arguments — and ending up with some beautifully soft halt to canter transitions, correct leads, and flying changes — depending on the horse.
One thing that makes this riding inherently safe, is that when you are having this kind of conversation with your horse, he knows that he can say “hmm – don’t feel like doing that” and you will hear him. Instead of not believing you are listening and having to go “Heck NO!!!” and shouting by bucking, rearing or being unsafe.
When these horses find a sticking point, they show it in a whisper of a raised head, a head shake, a sharper crunch on the bit, a faster movement forwards — maybe a kick out with the leg they don’t want to engage — none of which is particularly scary or hard to sit. And then you can go “ok, let’s explore how I can help you supple up enough to be ABLE to do that move we were talking about…”
That’s a cool way to work with a horse.
Now I am inside in the warm (it dropped to 45 degrees F today out there in the barn) hoping the barn help shows up tomorrow and Friday as other wise I will be doing 12 stalls on my own (mind you, how many lessons would that earn????!!!) and with the privilege of reading through the work on Mediterranean horsemanship AND Craig’s book on dressage theory that is a work in progress…..how lucky am I???
Feeling thankful this thanksgiving week here in Snohomish!
NSAE diaries Day 5: a short almost non horsey day today, what with it being thanksgiving here! I was up and out at 7.30 doing the morning routine, then in for breakfast before watching Craig ride Copper, one of the horses here for training. Even in that one ride, as Craig was handing Copper to me to untack and turnout, in the few sentences, I learned stuff! The conversation turned to a book on War that Craig was reading and how that equated to horsemanship in many people’s eyes. Many people fall in love with or become addicted to the feeling of achievement and victory from overcoming resistance — an adrenalin based reward for more forceful riding — when what academic equitation is about is the search for the endorphins that come from calm, relaxation and harmony.
The focus on riding as sport rather than art also has an effect — what are sports about? winning, doing better, overcoming ourselves — when art is about the creative process — haven’t heard of “competitive art” — even though there are art competitions…the process of creating art is inherently different from the playing of a sport…..
I also mused on how horsemanship can come from anything — as I was sweeping the barn I worked on my balance: making sure to sweep both right and left handed to improve my riding and feel through improving my balance….
I was responsible for the lunchtime and afternoon feeding today – -including bringing in the horses, so I made sure that even that was done with feel and mindfulness. matching their steps….Interestingly the horses were soft and cooperative even though they were eager to get to the hay in their stalls.
This evening has been spent reading and studying more of Craig’s book on dressage history and theory — a slow process as instead of skimming or just enjoying the story, I find myself having to stop and breathe, to let things sink in. It’s far more than a theory book — it is about the fundamental philosophies that fit with the horse’s nature…fascinating
Ok – -it’s almost 10pm so time to head off to bed — tomorrow I am running the barn — responsibility weights heavy so have to get a good sleep! Will be reading more tomorrow so will share more learnings then x
Almost forgot — NSAE diaries day 6: Phew! I was running the barn today! yep — in charge. AND today the barn help wanted to go to the sales, and I Agreed (yes I AM mad) so today was a full gym workout: all the morning routine PLUS cleaning 12 stalls. Or rather 10 stalls but two of them twice — it’s complicated but to do with horses doing a stall timeshare…
Oh and it was raining.
I remembered everything — and only took about 20 minutes longer than when Tellu and I do it together, so I was reasonably happy with that — had breakfast and then did the stalls.
I decided then to write the Confidence Blog for this week and get that done so tomorrow I can concentrate on watching Craig teach and learn from that — so really, a day off for me — I celebrated by cooking cookies….quite nice ones too
No big learnings or insights today — other than the oustanding blog of course — so will post again tomorrow when I have more to share!
NSAE diaries Day 7: Woke up a tad tired today! At the weekend someone else does the opening and so on so I headed out at 8.30 to see what needed doing. Today was a mix of lessons, Owners riding their horses – -and Craig doing training rides on client’s horses. Lots of opportunity to watch Craig ride and ask questions — and even by lunchtime my brain was feeling pretty full.
In my experience (admittedly limited LOL) most trainers I see take a horse and work it through “levels” of what it should and shouldn’t know by now….. well that’s how it looks and that’s how they talk about it. When I asked Craig what HE was doing, he said he gets on the horse, feels where it’s in balance or out of balance, sorts that out, looks for other sources of imbalance, sorts those out — and bit that develops the balance so the horse can then offer whatever the rider asks. Of course the caveat to this is that with young or inexperienced horses you first have to build the language, but once the language is there, it’s a simple process.
As he was riding round doing soft walk to canter transitions, then halting and standing with loose reins and the horse was totally calm — I recalled how many people I know who find that canter transition so worrying, such a scary moment — and the canter being the gait where the horse and human get emotional – and then I looked back at Craig doing these calm canter departs on the weight of the rein.
This is just one reason I am learning from him.
My tiredness today showed up in a couple of places: I lost all creative thought when one horse decided not to take the bit — Craig came over and just stroked her, and asked her to do some flexions just using the reins that were looped around her neck. He took my hand and put it under his on her side just behind the girth and I could feel energy flowing through — at first, The horse blocked the energy, so Craig released a little — she moved towards our hands — then he rhythmically and so softly I couldn’t even use the word pressure, it was touch and energy — asked and allowed — until she started relaxing and allowing the energy to flow through her as well and moved with the touch. As he says, there is no need to be anything other than gentle – if a horse has a resistance, shouting won’t fix it — being gentle will allow the horse to give up and let go of that resistance….he demonstrated on my shoulder and I swear I felt NO pressure, just touch and an energy that felt inviting. Very interesting.
This is the heart of the Mediterranean horsemanship — which I hope to learn more about while I am here….
Shortly after this I went to fetch another horse in for him to ride. Unfortunately, this was around the time the horses are usually brought in – -and N decided when I turned towards the barn — that he was NOT going to cooperate. I was fine at first — but realised I needed to be clearer — and got myself stuck in that “I know I need to be firm, but he’s someone else’s horse in someone else’s barn and I’m not sure what I am allowed to do!” moments!!! If he had been my horse — or even if I were working with him for a client of my own, I would have had a repertoire of things to try — however, in this moment I had access to nothing – so Craig came out and had a discussion with him – -and then we had a good talk about the event. Of course I felt a total numpty — working student who can’t even lead a horse in? but actually, it turned into a great learning opportunity as it got Craig to talking about the gentle to firm spectrum — the difference between a horse pulling on you and you pulling on a horse, and the value of getting a horse’s ATTENTION as a prerequisite for any movements….. So from now on I will continue to get him in — but with back up and using it as a learning opportunity. Sometimes it’s good when it doesn’t go well — you learn more!
Saturday’s are always interesting as the horses will generally have had two days off — so any extreme behaviour will generally show up on a Saturday!
Luckily I had the stack of pecan oatmeal cookie slices I baked last night as comfort food — they went down well at the barn too — so I may have to bake some more next weekend too!
So a wonderful day exploring the edges of gentleness and firmness — I feel so lucky to be here!
NSAE Diaries Day 8: did I mention I am tired? But today I am also happy as I now have a stash of chocolate LOL Today was BUSY and hectic: The Dentist was here. Now, the dentist – is not like anything *I* have ever seen in the UK: they pull up in a truck with a massive gooseneck trailer — and inside the trailer they have EVERYTHING — a stall the horse walks into after being sedated, a generator to power the equipment and yes they have all the gear on board too. Dr Dick Vetter and Kathy worked tirelessly the whole day fro their 9 am arrival to their departure at after 7pm — and worked on all the horses Kathy is in spirit an educator and couldn’t resist teaching anyone who was interested — and I was interested. She had samples of teeth to show, and skulls and — well let’s say today I learned a lot about dentistry. Here’s their site if you want to know more about them: http://www.perfequinedentistry.com/
What with having to time horses for their dentistry, and have horses available for owners to ride – -and lessons going on — it was hard to keep track of which horse to bring for Craig to ride next. We managed though. So what did I learn today: I learned that if I carry a stick and speak softly, N is a lovely polite horse LOL. I learned how far seat work can go when we got the chance to watch Craig doing seatwork with a teenager who wants to jump. now THAT was impressive — trotting with one leg hooked over the pommel and STILL doing the exercises — hmmmm. Watching Craig riding one of the horses in training with the owner there was good as the owner was talking about the process, and there was an interesting commentary on what the horse found easy or difficult and why Craig was doing certain things.
Tomorrow is a day of only two lessons, so there should be time to watch Craig ride the horses in training and ask lots of questions – and Tellu will give me a seat lesson. Time to work the body and not just the brain!
A long day but a short write up — the dentistry took up most of the day!
DAY 8 ½:
NSAE diaries day 8 1/2 I don’t usually post at lunchtime — but want to make some notes on this morning before I forget!
First, I watched Craig ride: from the OUTSIDE he was doing nothing – -but in the space the horse took up standing there, he ws working on balance. If I watched closely I could see the horse working out to move this leg, then that leg — and come into better and batter balance.
Occasionally he would leak out to one side — but then the process started again. Then in a slow walk, the balance work was taken further. I could finally understand how the old masters could ride their horses in such small areas: some of those old indoor schools are not even 20m x 20m. When the horse is in balance, and that is the focus of the work, then large arenas are not necessary for the training….a balanced canter takes no more space than a balanced walk…
Then I was lucky enough that Craig invited me in to feel the aids he was using: with my hand on the reins, I could follow his hands as they made the requests — with my hand on the reins near the horse’s mouth I could feel what the horse was feeling — and then to feel the relaxation of the leg and how simply rotating the hip gave the leg aids/information. Part of the challenge for people learning to ride this way, with this lightness, is to believe it is possible. And it is — and I belivae this more and more each day, each time I see Craig ride, each time he shows me how little it takes, when you have the language and the harmony. and this is why the seat is so important — because that has to be in harmony with everything else….lot’s to absorb today! More later!
NSAE diaries day 9 — well you saw the lunchtime report! this afternoon I was able to watch Craig ride more horses — and see the same things at different levels — Craig talked of the difference between a master and a good horseman: and I have translated it in my mind into something I can grasp: a master doesn’t need a system….although he works systematically….. he doesn’t need a method, he has the knowledge, feel and timing to just ride and the horse is more balanced, calmer, more himself after the ride than before.
At three o’clock, when the horses are brought in for the evening – -into their stalls with hay ready, I asked for Tellu’s support – and I went to see N, haltered him and — paying attention this time, so I KEPT his attention, and being mindful of every question he asked (eg what are you going to do if I put my shoulder into you? what are you going to do if I stop?) and having a polite answer ready we walked PAST his stall to the wash stall — counted to ten, THEN I led hi to his stall where his hay was waiting — all at a very polite level of conversation. Excellent.
This evening I had another seat lesson:
I started by practicing my lunging – asking for and getting a balanced trot was working tonight, so then my job was to ask Strut to focus his energy at the walk, then with a slight roll of my rope hand, he went into the canter from the walk…very light and subtle! Once on his back with Tellu in charge, we worked on the trot more – -I have to focus on stopping my core from relaxing and imagine I am a dancer — then with my upper body in harmony and my seat in place I feel SO connected to the horse — Tellu had me sitting the trot (which is a semi-active movement; you don’t let the horse just push your weight, you move with it in a pushing movement, but not so much you are driving — just pushing to keep in time with the horse), doing kick backs — so that was fun. All part of the process of improving my seat.
Craig raised an interesting point the other day – -we talk SO much about how saddle fit affects our horses backs — but we talk very little about how our SITTING might be affecting our horses backs — it is very different to move with a balanced, dynamic, connected weight — that moves in harmony with you — vs carrying an out of balance, off centre weight
How much of our horse’s resistances are because our un-connected seat is contradicting what we THINK we are asking for?
Food for thought.
So much food for thought – I am sure I am forgetting lots, but then it is all lodging in my brain somewhere and will surface again when I need it, I am sure…..
One thing I can say is I thought my horse Gracie was going to get a good deal when I started riding her again in January — now I KNOW she is going to get a GREAT deal if I only remember half of what I am learning here x
NSAE diaries day 10: is it ten days already? sometimes it feels like I have been here for months I have learned so much (and I thought I knew a lot already LOL) and sometimes it feels like only five minutes….
Today was an amazing day (seems to happen a lot around here!) First I was able to watch Craig with his first rides this morning, and asked a couple of questions about equitation history and how that impacts current approaches to riding in the UK in particular, then he was riding a horse who was, today, reluctant to take the left bend. Instead of doing what many trainers I have seen do — and insist on the left bend by taking with the left rein, Craig refused to do that — and instead offered her the left bend by giving with the right rein. This is an example of what I talked about in an earlier diary entry about creating the space for the horse to move into… in other words it’s about making the “right” thing easy….
Then I got to shadow Mary Anne teaching a lesson — and that really helped me with some inhand elements and some rein work that her student did. Being behind her and “in”the lesson was great for me as I am a highly kinesthetic learner.
Then, much to my surprise – and delight — Mary Anne popped me up on Strut for a lesson about the reins and exactly HOW light we can be. I took a contact — and then lessened it — until I was feeling the weight of the reins — and suddenly I could feel Struts every movement on the bit: I could feel HOW he was holding the bit…. wow. The combination of the seat work I have been doing, and being with Mary Anne (who had Strut online) meant I was open to these feelings with no armouring.
We walked a circle — and I could feel Strut slightly heavier on the left rein. Now, previously my response would most likely have been to vibrate the rein slightly to ask him to come off it — nothing wrong with that as a principle…. but Mary Anne suggested that we think about it a bit: for him to be doing that he was underusing his left hind — so what could we do to supple that up — so I lifted the inside rein about an inch — and Strut moved into a shoulder in on the circle – which encouraged him to use that hind leg more. Interesting.
Mary Anne got me to play with the reins a tad: using the outside rein to influence the circle — and all done with the weight of the rein. Wow, I thought I was light, I thought I rode with a soft touch — but this was SO light. And doing it this way I could feel so much feedback from Strut — it felt like a real conversation.
We finished with the thumb circling exercise I outlined earlier — fascinating….
Then it was time for a quick bite of lunch before hading back out to watch Craig ride. We had more discussions about organising his UK clinic series in 2013 – how to get the most out of it for people riding in them — and so far we have come up with the idea of offering a series of 4 clinics where people can sign up for all four and so see consistent progress as they move through the year…..(let me know if you are interested)
Then it was time for a seat lesson with Tellu: tonight the session was mostly at trot and we did canter too — so good to see – and feel — progress there too!
Is it only day 10? 21 days to go……
NSAE diaries day 11: Well today was my day off — a real one. First real one since I got here – and MAry Anne made sure I took a real break. I slept until 10 — then Mary Anne dropped me off at Woodinvile where I spent a great couple of hours wandering around the World Market getting ideas of what to take back home for Christmas presents, then I had a pumpkin spice latte and a bagel in Barnes and Noble after browsing the new Sci fi books — and the horse magazines. I drafted a couple of ideas for blog articles — you will have to wait and see on those! Then it was back here for catching up on emails before prepping for the Confidence Talk! yes that was tonight – and now another dozen people have the first set of tools to help them build their confidence and become their OWN confidence coaches — very cool stuff! I love doing these talks — and often do them for free so charities can use them as fundraisers — tonight we raised money for the Foundation for the Equestrian Arts — so that felt good! We had a lot of demand for this talk – and part 2 which will be next week — so we are re-running the talk the week of Dec 10th — just in case anyone else now wishes they had come.
So that’s it for today — now I am curled up with some chocolate and my laptop – getting ready for tomorrow’s early start — and work!
see you all tomorrow x
NSAE diaries day 12: What a brilliant day! After the morning routine Craig was giving a lesson and it was SO good to watch. Showing the rider how to do EVEN LESS. With one slight movement of one hand, her horse would take one step with the HQ to one side — then a change of hand and she would step the other way. Wow. Of course it didn’t start like this: at first the horse was bending one way and the other, and dong many steps, moving forwards or backwards — each of these things Craig asked the rider to change her position or her horse’s position — and do less. From being uncertain about her control and worried about her horse not being able to do things — the rider went to delight and joy in how LITTLE it took — the weight of the rein and a thought — IF the link between horse and human was there. Amazing. Then they took that to using the leg to “open the space” for the horse to move into – -and the leg opens almost imperceptibly to the observer The leg suggesting movement and impulsion just touches the hairs of the horse’s side….
Later in the lesson, the rider was setting her horse up for canter departs simply by moving her leg and allowing with the hand….canter and countercanter along the long side — a balanced canter….beautiful.
What an honour to be able to watch that lesson.
Craig was riding Lochinvar — and as the lesson finished and he dismounted – he told me to grab a hard hat and come in — yes I got to sit on Lochinvar — a stunning black andalusian PRE gelding. I thought I was going to be on the lunge — nope I had the reins. Craig was next to me — and by relaxing my legs and using the weight of the reins — I could feel Lochinvar powering up under me – and with Craig’s assistance, felt the piaffe. If I fixed my fingers on the reins, Lochinvar took that as an aid, a block and started to elevate his front end — when I relaxed and allowed the conversation, he arched and stepped into the piaffe.
I needed to do less, I needed to be more relaxed — it was far from perfect or even working well — BUT it was a brilliant experience. To feel that movement on that lightness was phenomenal.
When I got off Lochinvar I immediately went and asked Tellu for a seat session – I am highly motivated to get my seat as good as it can be so that next time I am offered the chance to sit on Lochinvar I can be more relaxed and learn even more.
The chance to sit on a horse like him to experience this level of work – -is invaluable in developing two beliefs: one, that it IS possible to be that light and two — that it is possible for ME to be that light…
I spent the rest of the day working on the MEditerranean horsemanship book – my past as a proof reader and copy editor paying off now! And I cooked dinner —
as I said, a brilliant day.
And on the topic of belief– there is a new blog post up on that very subject
NSAE diaries day 13 — unlucky for some but another good day for me: Yesterday and today I have the chance to read and review – -and help copy edit — a coupe of the books that are the works in progress here — very exciting to be reading this material — and very cool to be able to help in some way!
Today was Tellu’s day off — so I was in charge of the barn. Well, not really — Mary Anne was here – and it was Craig’s day off so it’s just looking after the horses: I opened up, hayed, fed, turned out, cleaned a few stalls, moved horses around, swept up — then had breakfast. Then it was a few hours on the books – -then out to watch a couple of people ride: Someone turned up to visit and find out about Craig and the NSAE so I was able to listen to Mary Anne explaining things – and as Lochinvar’s owner was there riding, she also gave a commentary which was very useful for me.
Another rider was with her horse Luna — and at just after 12, Luna very pointedly came over to the rail and nudged me – she was right, it was time for me to head out and out the lunchtime hay in the paddocks…..hmmmm
After doing the lunchtime hay and having my own lunch I was out to shadow Mary Anne teaching a lesson – -I love doing this. I learn about the riding and the teaching at the same time.
Today was Trinket’s owner and Mary Anne had do some lungework, then ride while Mary Anne held the lunge so the rider could focus on learning without any concern for control. Of course this also means that Mary Anne can support the rider in her aids which helps the rider’s belief and confidence in what she is doing — which is priceless.
So one thing I took away from this lesson: Trinket was on the circle, and was doing the circle in a way that gave Mary Anne a clue — so she changed the direction of the circle a couple of times to check and yes, Trinket did not want to really thrust as much with her right hind as with her left. Now if we were riding with some instructors the answer would be to “make” the horse use it’s right hind by doing exercises that demand it. For example, doing a shoulder in on the circle would be one way of achieving this. But here a different approach is taken – one that is more like training or therapy than “making the horse push through it”. So on the left rein, going around the circle, the rider asked Trinket to bend to the left slightly and shoulder in OUTwards on the circle — using the LEFT hind to thrust. Trinket found this easy and was happy to do it. Afetr doing this a few times, so Trinket was relaxed, the rider then did the shoulder in, then changed the bend to shoulder in INTO the circle — ths asking the RIGHT hind to thrust — but only for a step or two before then quickly going BACK to the original shoulder in where the LEFT hind was doing the work. With good timing, this change BACK to the easy move can be done BEFORE the horse gets stressed — and then you can slowly build up the number of steps as the muscles or joints loosen and supple up – it’s like giving the horse a way to stretch and supple a stiffness without confronting it or getting into resistance. Very cool.
I should probably mention that this was done with weight of the rein or a light touch, and very very slight movements of the hands….that’s all it took. Because after all, if you are connected and are having a conversation with your horse, you are both listening and there is no need to go above a whisper. hmm might post that as a quote!
So that lesson was a lovely one to shadow – -there was lots of discussion too which has sunk in to join all the other words I am absorbing but which I can’t remember right now! LOL one thign I DO remember is we talked about the OPPOSITE of OPPOSITION: a lot of riding is based on opposition: having the horse “between” two forces. What is happening here is SO not that — it’s about opening a door and allowing the horse to go through it — it’s about removing opposition in the rider so the horse can relax and show it’s true movements. Very different.
Then it was time to bring the horses in, I bonded a bit with Watson (a gorgeous huge grey horse) by grooming him — then fed them all and came in.
I am looking forward to an evening of working on the books — AND as it’s friday — I will be baking again: I am thinking chocolate banana pound cake…..hmmmmm
NSAE diaries day 14: Woke up after a night of rather light sleep – I accidentally sliced my thumb last night while chopping some chocolate for the cake I was baking – and so that was hurting a bit.
This morning it was a LOT better and although it still looks nasty, it is clean. I wrapped it well and made a mental note to keep a glove on that hand all day to keep it clean – that worked, and the thumb only hurt when I knocked it directly so that was a relief!
It was an interesting day: the person who usually cleans the stalls on the weekend was off, one of the horses in training was being collected and taken home, other horses stalls were being rearranged – all with the usual Saturday lessons. Busy day!
So we had the usual morning routine – now remember that Thursday and Friday are the “weekend” for the horses, and that is exactly when I had a challenge leading N last week – so this week I went out and took him out of his stall and asked him to come with me to the wash stall (instead of directly to his paddock). I had been doing this during the week to make sure we were on the same page – and it’s been working but today, after the days off it was too much and I felt his “nuh-uh!” before he even stopped walking. I asked him forwards and he decided to go backwards instead. SO I said – what a great idea! And we ended up going backwards right to the bottom of the paddocks area – when he sighed, and decided forwards was a better idea. When he hesitated where we could turn right to his paddock but I was going straight on, I smooched and he lowered his head and came with me. Much better than last week LOL
In the morning Craig rode C, a horse who had been with him for four weeks for training. I first saw this horse two Saturdays ago and the change I have seen in him in those two weeks has been phenomenal. Physically, he has changed shape and now has topline, is able to bring his hind legs under him and use them more effectively – he can do canter departs (he struggled with this) and has also during his time here offered piaffe and passage. His balance is SO much better. His emotional balance is hugely better too – he is calmer, enjoys the work and spends his whole session trying his heart out – lovely horse. In fact one word that sums up the difference IS that word balance – look out for a blog on that topic next week as it has come up a few times now. It was sad to see him go, but I felt grateful for having been able to see his transformation. Craig spent a lot of time with his owners, helping them see what he was doing and how to support C with work on the lunge and in hand. They (a mother daughter team) will be coming to the in hand clinic next weekend to continue their learning.
After a short lunchbreak, I was watching Craig starting to work a young horse, L. And he invited me in – yay! A lesson! And the best kind – unplanned, spontaneous and heartfelt. Craig was lunging L and had me put my hand under his on the rope – ah the feel was so soft – no gripping or tightness. He played with direct and indirect reins, and changing where the centre of the circle was. For most of us, WE are the centre of the circle when lunging – but what if we changed position? What if we go further behind the horse? What if we hold out the lunge whip straight in front of us and WE go in a circle too – so we are both circling with the tip of the whip as the centre? In classical terms this is the equivalent of using a single pillar for work – and when doing this, it was noticeable how the horse curved round the circle differently to when we were the centre…fascinating.
This is all about the quality of touch: the touch on the line is communication, the movement of the whip is communication. I should be able to drape the whip line over my horse and have the horse feel that touch as welcome, friendly touch. No need for emotion. And when I use the whip to extend my arm or hand and ask for movement it’s not because I am using it to threaten – it’s just I am making myself bigger and that raises the emotions, which leads to motion…. This is the opposite of mechanical lunging, it is a mindful conversation between horse and human – two beings that WANT to communicate…..
I experienced the feel of the rope hand and the whip hand – nothing can replace that direct sensation-based learning for me.
There was another conversation too: related to the post Craig put up this morning about textures. To share an example, he touched my arm: as soon as I feel that touch, I first get the texture and sensation of the touch but then my mind starts creating story about it –I set my intellectual side to work to work out what it means to me: the story could be “hmm, that’s a nice friendly touch” or “I wonder what he is going to ask me to do..” or “hmm how will I do this simulation with my own students”
And of course, as SOON as I am thinking ABOUT the touch – I am not IN the touch – I am thinking ABOUT it vs experiencing it, I have objectified it and am in the world of words and analysis rather than feel and tact…..so I have already left the texture behind….
IF however, I can stay WITH the touch, and not objectify it, verbalise it, articulate it – but rather experience it and interact and converse with it – well, that’s a different experience – and part of what the seat work will enable me to do – -because if I have ANY fears of anxieties about being ON the horse, then that will block my ability to feel and hear the conversation….
There is a mindfulness needed to do this work that doesn’t live in our left brain world of words and predicates, but dwells in our right brain world of feelings and experiences…..
Just imagine if we could bring the two together –
To do that, for most of us having lived so long in the world of words we need to swing the pendulum into the world of feeling quite far to be able to bring it back to a balance….
That was a powerful lesson and, as you can probably imagine, I am still living it and won’t know it’s full impact for some time.
Which seems to be true with a lot of this stuff.
Craig then rode L – and I walked along with him as he talked more of the approach. There are several paradigm shifts if you have been involved in other forms of riding or learning. The ones you make will depend on your riding and learning background so all I can do is share mine.
If we are riding with the opposite of opposition – this requires a mindshift – some of us might recognise this from other schools of horsemanship too by the way – if Craig asks L to shoulder in to the left, and she wants to go right – Craig COULD oppose that request and make her go to the left – -but why would he? What quality and balance is that developing? In body and mind? Why not rather say – ok, let’s go right for a bit, this way, in this position – and then once that is going harmoniously, ask for the left again – in most cases the horse will offer, and we have developed the horse AND
developed the harmony……
As I went to leave the arena – Mary Anne called to me. She had just ridden Blue while teaching a lesson – -and was inviting me to get on him for a lesson! Yay!!! Two lessons in one day and right after one another – this was GREAT!
We went to the mounting area and I got on Blue – one of the kindest natured horses I have ever met. Mary Anne describes him as a Golden Retriever in horse form. I took the reins and whip in my right hand only – and the lesson began.
Wow. This lesson was all about feel. Surprise surprise. Mary Anne had the lunge line so I could focus on myself and Blue while she took care of control, and staying away from other horses in the arena etc. Much easier to “feel” with less “noise” going on!
First we went through a connecting ritual: imagine someone coming up when you are in the middle of your favourite book (or in Blue’s case, his own private videos he likes to go inside his head and watch whenever he gets a break) and someone wants your attention – -what would work – AND be polite? Not trigger a negative reaction? How subtle would then have to be?
We played with that – how little did it take? How easily could Blue come into connection with me and converse with me through the reins and body? Where he is a part of me and I am a part of him.
Once we were connected, we could start asking other questions and, as I am learning, this riding is all about finding a good question to ask…..
With both reins in one hand, how could I do a direct rein? How would Blue know which rein was the one to listen to? The question I was asking him was “can you guess what I am asking for?” so how could I help him guess the answer I wanted. ANY guess would be a good one – and feedback for me!! If I got the answer I was wanting, then I had set it up ok….
So at Mary Anne’s suggestion I allowed my right leg to feel “heavier” – that’s all – I didn’t move it consciously – and bingo – -he moved his body in exactly the answer I wanted. Wow.
Then we did a few steps and discussed what I felt….with my heavier leg, I felt more weight on that seatbone – and of course my instinct was that weighting that seatbone would be a great way to ask for the move – until MaryAnne pointed out “how about thinking of lightening the OTHER seat bone?”
Duh! I slapped my forehead. Yes – weighting leaning – can all lead to force (if it doesn’t work the temptation is to lean more, push even!) If I think instead of lightening a seat bone – then there IS no force…just opening a door – -and in lightening one, the other automatically goes closer to the horse and is heavier…
We played with this for a while.
A universe where “putting the leg on” means draping that leg while the other one opens ever so slightly – -is one I like!
There was much more – but I am already close to the word limit here!
At one stage Blue was walking, and as I focused on being connected through my seat, I could feel my legs moving inside themselves as he walked – the seat exercises mean that my hops are loose enough to feel the movement in my femoral head while still keeping my legs draped round him in contact. Then Mary Anne asked if in the walk, I could feel my knees being rotated ever so slightly…
I could – not only could I, I could feel one knee rotating in larger circles than the other – -Mary Anne explained that was because we were on a particular circle – wow. Then, as we walked, I imagined my knee joints were like melted butter – and we played with melting the butter – and having it set a bit – and with no visible movement, and this thought being the ONLY feeling I was changing – Blue shortened and lengthened his walk……
Again with the WOW!
That seemed a good point to take a break – so much to learn and I can’t WAIT to get on Gracie and play with this! The only prerequisite is that the horse WANTS to be in harmony…..then it’s just about building a language using these natural elements of feel and movement that are there anyway….
There was more today – but my brain is full – and there is a chocolate banana cake on the counter waiting to be taken out of the cake tin….
I suppose it would be unreasonable to start yet another journal entry with the words “what am amazing day” and yet each day something happens to make the day so good I am glad I am here.
As there was so much today I am going to write a more “stream of consciousness” journal to make sure I catch all the thoughts that occurred and worry less about stringing them together into a coherent story – if you have any questions about any of it please ask in the comments and I will be happy to expand or make things clearer on request!
Today was lie in day – Christie was here to do the opening so I slept until 8.15 am and was up and out there for my 8.30 start. We finished off the opening and feeding and then I was able to pop back in for breakfast.
After that is was full steam ahead for the morning – Craig had asked for Flash to be tacked up ready for him to ride at ten, so as Tellu was teaching, I was on groom duty. Flash is a stunning black ex-racehorse — who has a habit of falling asleep in the wash stall – so I thought I had timed my grooming well, allowing a bit of extra time for my thumb handicap – -but in fact was ready early which was not necessarily a good thing as now he had to stay awake until Craig came down. So when I called Craig to say he was ready, Craig suggested I take him in the arena and walk him around. This was good as Mary Anne was in there teaching a lesson – and so found some space to teach me too – a short session on some in hand work using the direct and indirect rein to ask Flash to move himself around some poles and cones. That was good stuff – I kept finding myself out of position in a sort of “you can’t get there from here” moment – and had to unstuck myself and start again. Good for the ego! I also remembered how if I got my position right, and his – and set things up well – it was light and easy. I also worked on applying the “if I do this can you guess what I am asking for?” mindset we had explored yesterday.
As I was doing this, Craig came out – and lucky for me – decided to make this into even more of a lesson.
He put my hand under his on the line so I could feel how LITTLE tension there is in touch – in fact I could say there is no tension, just feel as that makes more sense. I could do this with my left hand, cut thumb and all because there was no pressure from the thumb on the line…how interesting. The hand positions the horse, sets him up for success in working out what you are asking. The whip today did two things – -one, it could use it’s movement to stimulate energy, and two it could by touching the horse, ask him to stimulate particular muscles – -or pay attention to particular muscles. You know how when someone tells you to focus on your legs, you sometimes forget what your hands are doing? Well a gentle touch will bring them back into your consciousness – so with the whip – -it’s for communication and is an extension of your arm so you CAN touch. It says “pay attention here..” If my line hand is asking the horse to elevate and bend – and Flash is struggling to do this I can touch the place on his neck where he is holding tension and he can go “oh right – if I let go there I can do what you are asking!” – always the focus is on me setting up the questions so the horse can find the answers as easily as possible. If I put one hand on your shoulder, you may not be clear if I am asking you to turn, move backwards or something else – if I put my other hand on your other shoulder and use that to clarify – then you can relax, knowing what I am asking and maybe the next time you will know just from one hand – -no escalating pressure, just guidance, clarity and a feeling of using the touch to say “can you guess what I am asking you to do? Go on – have a guess – anything you do will be a good guess!”
And if I ask the question and the horse gives the “wrong” answer? Well that’s really impossible – there IS no wrong answer – the horse is simply doing what he THINKS I am asking – so if the answer isn’t the one I expected, then I wasn’t clear in my question, or didn’t set him up in a way it was POSSIBLE for him to give me the answer I wanted….
If he gives me an answer I wasn’t expecting or wanting and I “correct HIM” – what am I telling him? Vs if he gives me an answer and I say “thanks for that guess, great try –“ and correct MYSELF – what difference does that make to the horse?
So then Craig let the line lengthen so he was lunging Flash. He asked for trot and Flash cantered. He let him (see the previous paragraph). When Flash slowed he asked for trot again and he cantered again. So, it looked as if today, it was easier for Flash to offer left lead canter than to trot – which might suggest some concern about pushing off the right hind – so Craig changed direction and asked for canter – Flash counter cantered. Obviously not totally happy about using that right hind. So Craig asked him to walk, then asked again for canter – and Flash offered the right lead canter for a few strides – that got a pause and verbal reward – as that was a real try.
As long as the horse is trying, making the effort – then that is the key. If there is language and effort, then there is connection, communication and possibly progress.
Now he had used his right hind, when asked for trot, he was able to offer it. Craig could ask for canter by moving the whip in a three time rhythm or cadence, he could ask for trot moving the whip in a two time rhythm – if the horse is looking for harmony then you are conducting the horse like an orchestra and of course you don’t really need the whip…
We looked at the tracking in the walk and trot – how was it? Looking at the top of the horse he looked as if he was moving ok – -looking at the tracking sometimes the hind was to the left of the front hoofmark, sometimes over it, sometimes to the right – ie his tracking was inconsistent – we could use lunging and watching the tracking to help him become and see when he becomes more balanced and consistent….
While playing with the lunging Craig showed how sometimes he was the centre of the motion (ie the horse was moving around him) and how sometimes the horse was the centre (the horse was pivoting around his own centre or hind end) — — sometimes a horse will choose to be the centre – but you are still in control as it is you, the lunger who is defining the space within which this is all happening, so whether you are the centre or the horse, as long as you are defining the area of movement and space – you are in control….
The session made total sense when I was there and I know has helped my lunging tremendously – not always easy to put it into words though!
I had a short break after that as my friend Jo, who is in the US with her family for a while, came to visit – that was fun!
Then in the afternoon, totally unexpectedly, Mary Anne invited me to get on Blue for a lesson – yay!
I jammed a hat on my head and went down – and hopped on.
This was a phenomenal lesson – -and all about feel.
I had the reins and whip in my right hand (left one still a bit sore!) and Mary Anne had Blue on the lunge so I could focus on what I was feeling without the noise from needing to be in control.
We played with using the indirect rein to move Blue out away from Mary Anne onto the circle. Actually first I “linked” with Blue – I “fixed my seat” and draped my legs around him, and bowed – which coincidentally (not!) moves my hands forwards and “gives” the reins – then I sat up, and that lifted my hands and he chose to come with them, loosening his jaw and connecting with me. I asked him to elevate his neck further, and felt his engine powering up as I did that and he asked the question – -are we going back or forwards? Then I gave ever so slightly with one hand (invisible to an observer…well that’s the plan) – and he walked forwards.
Then, as my reins were both in my right hand, how could I do an indirect rein? I could clumsily move my whole hand to the left – or I could think in terms of a small circle inside my hand – anticlockwise (to the left, towards Blue’s neck) and simply clarify which rein to listen to by ever so slightly having my right leg stay on his hair on his side, “petting” it, with my left leg opening the door to the space I wanted him to move into by moving invisibly off his hair…. like soft syrup he moved out on the circle….wow….
Then I asked for a direct rein – a clockwise circle – and looking to my left at the space I wanted him to move his hips into… that was hard as I am used to looking at body parts to move the away with the pressure, vs looking to invite a horse into the space, and make sure the space is clear to move into – -and which, by the way, moves my seat in a totally different way, hmmmmm how interesting….
We played with this until it was happening without me forcing it – there is always a tendency to do too much when beginning this – as if we have to do big muscular moves to get results – that’s our primate instincts I think – -if small is good then big must be better LOL. I am finding here that the first time I do any move it’s way too big – and then the second time I can do it smaller, and then even smaller. Maybe it’s all to do with that belief stuff I wrote about on Friday on my blog. Once you believe it will work, then you are happy to make the move smaller to see if it STILL works. What if I could start that small? What would it take? Hmmmm, something to think about.
Then Mary Anne said to ask for a trot – so I asked Blue to elevate and thought of trot – and he offered a canter. Hmmm. So here was an opportunity – to work on canter departs – how cool! We had a discussion about how if I just squared myself Blue would most likely trot as trot is a square gait and canter is a triangular one…
So then we walked, – Blue as bent to the inside, as if in a shoulder- in which takes the weight off that inside shoulder, I asked him to elevate to power up the engine – then I did a reverse half halt ( a small, small forward circle) and there it was – a balanced, soft canter depart…wow.
Of course I could do a SMALLER reverse half halt – as opposed to throwing the rein away and disturbing Blue’s balance LOL – so we tried that.
Then Mary Anne talked about trying something – how about moving nothing except my head? What if I just rolled my head ever so slightly to my left shoulder – then forwards again slightly towards my right shoulder – well, that was a weight shift so what might happen?
So we tried it. Of course the first time I almost threw my head off – LOL. Maybe I should say it was almost ROTFL. Blue cantered – but wasn’t terribly balanced—not surprising with my 9lb bowling ball head rolling about so violently. So next time – I did less – in fact I just THOUGHT of rolling my head – and there it was – the canter depart. Wow. We had to pause for a moment as I dealt with my euphoria from that feeling.
Then we came to the walk – -to work on canter departs some more. Yes – working on canter depart while in the walk – a great idea for anyone with confidence concerns – plus a chance to really FEEL what is going on without the noise of the actual canter.
So we walked and stopped. Then I asked him to elevate, and just felt him step off in walk. Mary Anne’s instruction was to “feel what the feel was” when he did that. Of course I wasn’t sure I was feeling the “right” feel, so we laughed about that and she reassured me that different people feel different things so I could relax and just feel what I felt without worrying about being right. I still can’t really verbalise what I felt – something around the seat bones, definitely. We played with this a bit – then I was to ask Blue to elevate and try to replicate the feeling while asking him to go forwards – and wow – he stepped off on the leg I felt he should – this feel stuff works!
Amazing…. I was thrilled with this! To just feel a feel and have it work like that – brilliant.
So the next thing was to do this in the canter depart. So we walked – -and my only job was to replicate the feeling – without thinking, or going into my intellectual place at all – just feel it – and pop – there it was, a lovely balanced canter depart – from just feeling a feeling…
Forget about moving a muscle – just feel a feeling and there’s a canter depart…
This is why I am here…..
NSAE diaries day 16: Monday! After the busy weekend — and all the lessons I had — I was looking forward to a day of absorbing. I watched Craig ride the horses in training — and use the lunge to support a rider who is regaining confidence after some bad experiences with her previous horse. After coming to my Confidence Talk last week, this rider had made a plan with lots of ideas for working on her confidence and one of them was to have some very specific lessons with Craig to build her trust in her horse — and in herself. And it’s working – she is brimming with delight each time and can’t WAIT to ride — a big change from the “oughts” and dread she had started to feel. On Wednesday we have part two of the talk where we will practice anchoring positive feelings as a resource for when we get tense — to help our bodies relax and interrupt that cycle where our horse moves, we tense, our horse tenses we get more tense — with an anchor we can change OUR pattern and change our horse’s pattern — cool stuff!
It’s great watching Craig doing these lessons — as he is revisiting the basics — and the more we revisit the basics, the more chance we have of remembering them!! esp when on the back of a horse!
The importance of linking with the horse before introducing any movement or motion of any kind is key. Key for safety, for control — and for communication. Without that linking, the connection is not there, the line is bad and the communication is patchy at best.
Several people are coming for interviews over the next few days to work here so that was also interesting as I was able to hear Mary Anne talk about the barn, the riding, the horses — which all embeds things more each time I hear it.
Watching Craig ride the horses in training was interesting too — I am seeing more and more what he is actually doing as my eyes tune in and my brain lets me understand it. Of course his close to invisible aids make it hard — but by watching the horse I can start to see that this horse finds it hard to balance for the right lead canter depart, that horse finds it hard to bend to the left — and then watch how Craig uses tact and suppling to help the horse better answers….. hoping it is all sinking in and will be there when I ride Gracie next year….
A short report today — as my brain was processing and absorbing rather than taking in new stuff — maybe that will give you the reader time to take a breath too LOL
NSAE diaries day 17: I know these are getting a bit delayed but as yesterday was my day off there won’t be much to report from that! I find I am undergoing some form of “processing time” – just as when we ask our horse to really think and learn new things – possibly chancing his choices, and they go inside themselves for a while — well I think that is what is happening to me. I can feel stuff bubbling away inside but don’t yet have the words for it all. So this note is just about what I learned specifically with horses on Tuesday.
Trinket is, of course, a pretty trained horse — I think Craig has bee riding her for two years, so she is getting really good now – but even so — now I was NOT pulling with my hands, or twisting, or putting ANY muscular effort in at all — I was remembering the feeling when Craig did the reins, and just changing the weight in my hands to match that feeling and Trinket was responding.
How astounding. In fact if I DID use muscles, the feelings were confused and Trinket had no idea what to do.
Then we went further — yes there’s more — I lay my hand flat on the seat of the saddle — and “felt” the movements — and then, yes, just let my hand feel the same way and yes – Trinket did the direct and indirect reins.
Craig was using half halts to manage the forward motion, but otherwise it was all from my hand on that saddle.
I immediately apologised to all the horses I have ever ridden before I knew all this — I seem to do this most times I learn new stuff!
Then I held the stirrup: yes, turns out that we can do direct and indirect rein with that too — in fact, if you WATCH the stirrup when in hand doing direct rein and indirect rein — you can see the movement change – -and then if you DO those movements, the horse responds — and it’s so natural… watching the stirrup also shows you the cadence, so you can use that – and if you get resistance, instead of pushing through, use a soft cadence to get that harmony back….
Earlier I had watched Craig give a lesson on canter departs and changes — and on the importance of not under or overdoing a movement when we are asking our horses — EITHER can cause tension in the horse – -if we underdo it, we are not giving clear information, if we OVER do it, we are taking the horse out of balance – either way, the horse cannot be as soft – if we are right “on the line” every time, and the horse can trust our consistency — then he can be soft and start to become expressive as our reliability allows him to play with his OWN balance, secure in the knowledge that WE are balanced and not going to unbalance him.
Where there is tension, expression is limited….
We talked about this in training the horse – being consistent, balanced — so the horse can relax, be truly calm and then start offering more as he trusts your physical and emotional balance to be there
Then Craig took my hand and I held the reins in my right hand — and he provided energy — with the smallest shifts of weight in my hand, Trinket was doing direct rein, the indirect rein — then piaffe.
Wow.then later it was time to play with Watson. Watson is about 17hh, a grey, almost white (when he is clean!) Oldenburg, about 16 or 17 and with a touch of arthritis in his joints. I brought him in and did a quick groom as Mary Anne had offered a short lesson to get me started working with him in hand.
Watson is a hard horse to clean — I need more time!
Anyhow, I went in and experienced a strange moment of unconfidence — being in a learning situation with a horse — old riding school memories and anchors were being triggered — I told MAry Anne which reduced their effect and then managed to get over myself enough to listen to her as we played with the direct and indirect reins in hand. After a few corrections — it’s hard when a thousand new things bump into the thousand old things and suddenly you can’t even hold a rein anymore!!! good to be in that situation so I remember what it’s like to be a student again!
Then I played with WAtson for a while: practicing direct and indirect reins on each side, and generally combining them to move around.
It wasn’t smooth, it wasnt graceful and it certainly wasn’t a dance — but it was a start! Watson hasn’t had much attention lately, so he was mostly intersted in chewing the bit and stretching his neck – so I helped him with that too. On the right rein, our direct rein and indirect rein worked well and some relatively smooth transitions occurred — on the left rein I was trying really hard to get a direct rein without his shoulder coming into me – he wasn’t moving so I gave up – -at which moment he gave me a perfect direct rein. Hmm so he has a sense of humour!
I am looking forward to getting to know him better — I have a day off weds but when I have the barn mostly to myself on Friday I plan a couple of short sessions with him again — onward and upward! will see if I can get a photo of us to share with you all too as he is going to be one of my equine teachers for the rest of my stay.
Well that was basically my day – more catching up to come
Then it was sleeeeepppppp
Today I had two very important jobs — read the two books Mary Anne and Craig have drafted and do my thing as a copy editor: so while in the barn watching Craig teach I have been working on Mary Anne’s book that brings together the Mediterranean horsemanship, and Craig’s Dressage Theory book that shows the history and theory behind classical/academic equitation vs modern competitive riding. My head was so far into these books I couldn’t thin of working with a horse today, so I have promised Watson a thorough groom and lots of attention tomorrow. And if I can apply just half what I have learned from working on the books we will have an amazing session. That’s it for today folks — more excitement tomorrow I hope — I think my brain has absorbed so much some of it is bound to reach my hands and body soon LOL
There was another lesson in the afternoon – -I brought the horses in and fed them so we could leave a bit early and got to spend a bonus couple of hours in a massive book shop, drinking pumpkin spice latte, eating a pumpkin muffin and reading the fantasy book I had bought in the used books section — heaven! More tomorrow!
And for the horse, doing the same balance exercises as he’s already done, he just feels comfortable in what he’s doing. And the handler seems unimpressed with the person sitting on him, so it’s a non event. Over the course of however long or short it takes, the control goes from the handler on the ground to the handler in the saddle. The horse figures that we’re just doing the same work from a different vantage point, and he’s totally right.
Some horses are very clutzy. The work in hand helps with balance ideas and carriage ideas, generally. It helps them sort out their balance in a more conscious way, helps with horsey proprioception.
A clutzy horse might take a little longer to be ridden independent of the reassuring ground person.
Or… a nervous horse too will take more time. There’s no reason to rush any of this, you just take the time it takes, and let it make total sense to the horse.
In natural horsemanship, though it is very gentle in approach, still because of its roots the practitioners set stock in how quickly they can start a colt– this is because on the ranch speed is a premium, you have lots of cheap horses to start fast to do important work. So quick is a part of what you look for. They are very very good at quick colt starting, having found “you catch more flies with honey”.
In modern training, they have a system by which you approach training, and the horse fits that system whether he’s ready or not, or is considered inferior or unsuitable. Thus you have many horses that just “flunk out” of various forms of training. “Only the elite” make it to the top levels.
In classical work as we approach it, all you care about is the solid, quiet integrity of the horse’s experience. There is NO step taken that is not “right” with the horse’s body, heart and soul. The work is about drawing that slowly up with respect for the way the horse thinks and works, so that there is never a resistance. There’s renegotiation! But no force, no “Making It Happen”.
So… starting a colt is very boring to watch, unless you know the work… nothing appears to happen.
And, every horse, no matter how rough or highly bred, expresses his or her unique beauty. They all do higher level work, because… they can all do it already, and we don’t interfere with their comprehension, their balance, their autonomy, or their personal sense of self.
Ordinary horses and ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Another day at the office!
Today was day 1 of the Work in hand clinic – this is one I hope to bring to the UK, so I was excited to see what it was all about. I have learned some of the work in hand with Craig before – but that was MANY years ago and since then he has been studying the Mediterranean horsemanship so I thought there might be some changes. It was SO worth the two days investment!
I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the clinic, as that seems unfair – -if I were to transcribe my notes here they would only be a fuzzy translation of Craig’s words – much better for everyone to hear them straight from him – BUT I can and WILL share some of my biggest “aha” moments and take aways from the day.
How many of us “get” that the work in hand is really using a “living pillar”? And here’s an interesting tidbit – we often think of pillar work as originating with renaissance horsemanship – -but there are some thoughts that the ancient Greeks in 6-700 BC used single pillars during sieges to keep their horses suppled and exercised in the restricted space of siege camps….
All work in hand is physical and mental preparation for the horse to help it find its balance – with the definition of “best balance” being the ideal place for his body to be able to do the job AND carry the weight of the rider.
I think most of us agree it makes sense for a horse to be able to do things with just its own weight to sort out before we ask him to do them with a rider as well – the work in hand, which covers the close to the head work AND lunging – can do this. And, as there is a sensitive, intelligent human involved, we can be subtle and supportive of the horse and his needs.
One thing Craig talks about a lot is “the Goldilocks principle” – not too much, not too little, just enough. Applying this to the size of the steps, the energy in the gait – -everything we do and we ask our horse to do.
So an interesting perspective on lunging – it is really work in hand, just at a greater distance – -so everything we do in hand: direct reins, indirect reins, moving the HQ and the shoulder, elevating the neck, half halts, reverse half halts – ALL these things can be done in hand – and so can be done when lunging. Now there’s a concept that is rather different from most lunging I have seen!
Using work in hand and lunging thoughtfully means we can correct improper training and “restore normal motion”. I know that some of the online work I did with Sovereign helped him recover from being trained in side reins, which had led to some VERY big balance and tension issues throughout his body – and he had not had THAT much training!
Interestingly, the work in hand is so important because in the work I am learning here, the classical work, the hand is the primary aid. If we think about the fact that the horse controls himself by using his spine – and the jaw is the tip of that spine so it seems obvious that the hand can influence the horse’s posture, position and so on as it connects with the spine.
When thinking of the work in hand it’s useful to think of one rein being the primary rein, the rein that actually influences the body of the horse. So the primary rein gives direction, indicates the human’s intent – whereas the other, secondary rein, supports this and regulates the amount of bend and can also provide impulsion….by opening the door.
I think I have mentioned before that this work is the opposite of opposition: we don’t force the horse into another force and compress him – -we indicate with the primary rein the SPACE we are opening for the horse to move into – so the horse is moving INTO space, not against more pressure and being trapped between the two.
All aids are circular – then they are in harmony with the horse’s joints and movements…
The first symptom of any resistance in the horse is a loss of rhythm. And of course, the resistance is not something to push through – and any non circular rein effect will interrupt the rhythm and actually create resistance…
So the idea is that we can develop our language with our horse in hand before we ask him to converse with us from the saddle. More importantly WE learn the language and how light touch can be, and needs to be for us to HEAR the horse’s side of the conversation.
This conversation involves the hand, and the whip. Some people have an emotional response to the word whip – but if you think of it as merely an extension of your arm, and something you can use to stroke, touch, caress and draw attention to places by tapping – as you would your hand – -then it takes on a different perspective. You can also use the whip through touch, tapping or like a conductor’s baton to bring cadence and rhythm. If the horse has ANY fear of the whip, then he will have tension will means he cannot move easily and supple himself – so that is the first task. The whip works by bringing attention to parts of the body, like I would touch you if you were deep in a book – or if I wanted to say – -move THIS muscle in a training session. It can touch rhythmically to suggest a tempo and the horse’s desire for harmony is what brings him to that tempo, nothing to do with fear or anxiety. Think of the whip as a tool for focusing attention…using touch and energy.Talking of lunging – there is a lot of research that suggest lunging on a small circle is not good for horses. And it is right – IF the horse is not in balance; IF the lunger is pulling on the horse (and so pulling him out of balance), IF there are reins fixing the head position so the hors can’t find his balance – AND IF YOU are fixed……when you move too, you can support the horse in finding his balance, help him out when he needs it – and make sure the lunging works FOR him.
When you use lunging intelligently, paying attention to the horse, his balance, his suppleness and using your own mental flexibility to help develop his physical flexibility – that is totally different.Work in hand educates OUR hands, so we can be intelligent with the bit…..When you use gadgets or other tools to hold a horse’s head position – you “lose the simplest single indicator of whether you are working correctly or not”. If you consider that the reason a horse puts his head in any position is because it is comfortable, you can see how that can be an indicator of suppleness.
When a horse is supple, his head will naturally come into the “desirable by so many” position – putting his head in that position does NOT make him supple. My comment here is that this is just another example of the back to front thinking that mars modern dressage riding and teaching!
Use of spaces: if you have no “enclosure” then it will be harder to focus your horse’s mind on what you are doing. A round pen can be useful – but a square pen is even more so as you can use the corners to help a horse learn to slow, collect and balance himself – -or move forwards out of the corners. Using the environment is a key part of the work in hand.
Control is the result of position and action – hmm that’s a big concept so will come back to that another time I think!!!
The one who asks the questions is the one who is in control – -your horse does not read your mind, if you have an opening here you want the horse to go, and reward the horse when he goes there – then you have control and most likely willing cooperation.Most of the arguments and aggression with horses arise from EGO issues – we say “let’s go right” the horse says “I am going left” and we end up going sort of straight – no one wins. In fact a lot of traditional dressage appears to be knowing exactly how to balance the oppositions to get the effect we want to show – ie it’s a BATTLE.
When we work in harmony, things are different. If the horse says “I want to go left” we can say “you know what a great idea, let’s go left!” you both “win” – you just changed your mind, showed your mental flexibility – and this way you NEVER lose and you NEVER get into a battle. Your mind has to be FLEXIBLE – and then HARMONY becomes the HABIT….
When harmony is a habit, both horse and human seek it out – so when there IS a moment of disharmony, the horse will move to resolve it…to stay in harmony with you.
What gets in the way of this is our fear: because we think we are not in control and you know what, we are not – the harmony is the control….Control is a combination of position and action: each position you take makes some things easy and some things hard. “create a physical position in the skeleton and then give him energy”: the question controls the movement: give him a position and ask “what can you do now?”
So instead of “right” or “wrong” you just give a position and see what happens… you don’t MAKE the horse move, you take him to a place and see what he does, using his natural gyroscope, to find his balance.
Horses move TOWARDS comfort. If you ask the right questions, then it can be easy.
If a horse says “no” – it means “no” – don’t violate the horse’s balance – you CAN negotiate using cadence and rhythm….A lot of people talk about vectors – and a vector plus a vector meet and create a new vector that is a combination of the two, a linear direction that is the outcome of the two vectors…
Horses are creatures of water, Poseidon’s gift – they flow like waves
When two waves meet, they pass THROUGH each other – both survive…..
Remember the classical mantra – Calm, Forward, Straight?
CALM enables us to create uniform ripples…
FORWARD is about creating the ripples, but without the calm there is chaos
And STRAIGHT? Is the natural bend of the spine….The Work in Hand prepares the horse to be ridden – -or helps a horse that is being ridden
The Mediterranean work comes before that with the psychological preparation: the relaxation, attention, ability to concentrate – -cultivate the willingness – for horse AND human! Developing the harmony and touch…
The Work in Hand is about gradually shaping the horse into the ridden behaviours – they feel good to the horse, giving physical balance……
During all of this we headed out for practice sessions too….we saw a demo by Craig, and then had time ourselves to work in pairs with a horse to see how we could translate the learning into practice.
And that was the end of Day 1 of the Work in Hand clinic
NSAE Diaries Day 22: the second day of the in hand clinic
At the end of the day yesterday we practiced – two of us per horse. I paired up with Kelly and her horse Flash which was really interesting as he is a horse of two very different sides: on the left rein he is a relaxed, attentive horse very useful to practice with – so I took advantage of that to work on my own tendency to step back when asking for a direct rein on this rein. I have worked out that this is a psychological thing: I don’t quite BELIEVE his shoulder is going to step away, so I step away instead. Interesting, as I have broken that habit in so much of my horsemanship and yet here it is – just another aspect of fear really, just at a very low level. So I practiced asking him to elevate, which puts the weight on the outside fore so he then steps the inside fore away – if his head is low, then the weight is on that inside shoulder making the move away difficult – one of those “doh!” moments. Also, if I elevate enough, he steps back, giving me the space to think and breathe – there will be more on space later in these diaries as it turned out to be a key element for me.
On the right rein, Flash switches off – it’s as if no one is there and he “can’t hear you!” with his hooves in his ears. So this is like a two for one horse LOL. Craig came over and was creative in seeing where Flash wanted to go with his head and neck – using the whip to stroke areas that were tight – going against the hair encourages stretching, going with the hair encourages relaxation – tapping lightly and rhythmically increases blood flow and therefore “attention” to that area. By doing this, Craig can see which vertebrae in the neck is “blocked” and use stretching and relaxing to help the horse be more supple. Very cool stuff and all done as a “conversation” the horse enjoys. At times, Flash would put himself in a weird position – -and Craig would say “this obviously feels good for him, let’s see if we can help him with this stretch and movement” – once the horse realises you are an intelligent partner, he will tell you the moves he needs to supple up and feel better. Any massage therapist will agree!
I will again just note things that resonated with me through this day – we did cover a lot of theory that I don’t want to go into too much detail with as you will find that out when you come on an in hand course or clinic!
The aim of the work in hand course is to educate us with the principles well enough that we can “become aware of the fabric of the practice” – -and use the principles to guide us when practicing with our own horses. It is one thing to give someone a recipe – do a then b then c – quite another to give them the underlying principles so they can create their own work….
And yet only with the underlying principles can we approach the flow the horse needs to be in balance, and the flow we need to be classical
So the idea is to give us enough to:
– Understand the questions to ask
– enter into practice
– pay attention to the fabric
– improve the quality of that fabric
We discussed Euclidean geometry. Classical riding isn’t classical because it comes from the past. It is classical because it was based on the principles of classical studies: Euclidean geometry, Pythagoras, plato, the principles of classical beauty and ratios (the golden mean) – classical riding predates the renaissance, medieval times – it comes from the desire to “become classical” that the aristocracy had as part of the belief in classics as a way of being. An understanding of classical thought, and the development of the mind is a cornerstone or maybe even a prerequisite for truly classical horsemanship.
Euclidean geometry is used for lots of things – if you build a building it has to be geometrically “true” or it will fall over. For the horse, we have to be geometrically true or the horse will break down, physically or emotionally.
The riding ring is like a sketch pad for drawing…
The Euclidean work comes in more detail in other discussions, but the shapes of circles, triangles and squares and their relative stablility and fluidity are throughout riding.
Our first task is to “square up the horse”: we need to see the asymmetry/symmetry; we need to know where there is comfort/discomfort; ease/lack of ease; coordination/lack of coordination
And our need to SEE these things is why we CANNOT fix the head in position – once we fix the head we LOSE this insight and do not get true feedback.
So can our horse stand square at the halt? What are the things he finds easy in this, or hard – can we help him? If he can’t be square at the halt without a rider – why do we expect this WITH a rider? If he can’t be square at the halt, which is balanced – why do we expect him to be balanced when he moves?
When you are working with a horse and you feel “resistance” – this jst means there is a loss of rhythm. It means you and the horse are out of synch. And if you lose your rhythm, you will create resistance. And by the way – here I am using the word resistance to JUST mean that the movement you think you have asked for is not possible – -whether the resistance is physical or mental is irrelevant – it means you are disconnected from the horse’s rhythm…rhythm and cadence are an important part of horsemanship
Imagine trying to ballroom dance with someone. I did this once – my friend Michael swept me off my feet and he was so balanced, assured and secure that I surrendered to the dance and allowed myself to be led across the dance floor – it was a sublime sensation feeling so safe, secure and moving delightfully with lightness…I imagine that’s what it must be like for our horses in those centaur moments when we are in harmony with them and we move as one….
Now imagine your dance partner keeps falling out of the natural rhythm – how hard is that to dance with? Instead of swaying left and right with the music, they just stay on their left foot – -waiting for you to catch up with them – ok so half the time they are in time with you – -but half the time they are out of synch. Even if I WANT to work with you, it is not easy to do so without that rhythm – and if you begin to punish me or “correct” me for the resistance you are feeling – then I will armour and brace against you and it is even harder to even hear the rhythm let alone harmonise with it.
Cadence is a steady pace – it’s most obvious in jumping when you need that steady cadence going into the jumps – rather than a sudden acceleration or worse, a deceleration!
When you work in hand you really want a steady pace to feel the cadence – if you feel a pressure in your hand, then the horse is ahead of your hand, if you feel extreme lightness then the horse is behind your hand….
Any step we make from our square balance – and thereon after is like an isosceles triangle – so if the triangles are even on both sides, then the horse can stay “square” and balanced when moving. We can talk of the horse having a “thrusting” diagonal and a “supporting” diagonal – and when we look at the body over the base of support, the optimum is for the triangles to be equal… and we can play with this on the lunge.
When we ask the horse to turn on the forehand using a left direct rein – the left diagonal will thrust and the right will support – believe me this is much easier with either a diagram or a real horse in front of you – so I won’t spend too long on this bit – other than to say this information and understanding is what enables us to have precision when we are working, and precision enables us to really know we are working on balance. OK we start with approximations, but as our eye and feel improves, our precision creates communication that leads to balance, and our horse begins to trust our communication – and this is before we ride…..
If we think of the piaffe – there BOTH diagonals are supporting diagonals….does that help? When one starts thrusting, then we have passage with the forwards motion….or perhaps we can think of the passage as alternating the thrusting diagonal – hmmmm
When we move from using one rein to using the other as the primary rein – then we are usually changing the thrusting and supporting diagonals – we call this “reconciling the supporting diagonals” – and the challenge is to do it without the horse hollowing as he does it – he supports himself through his torso.
We had an interesting discussion of the parts of the horse’s body that rotate and move – the true hip (often obscured by the pesky bit of bone that sticks out) and the point of the shoulder – using pictures with and without skeletons, projected onto the white board, we learned to see the true uphill/downhill vs just looking at withers and croup.
This matters, because where the hind foot is when moving is an indicator of how “balanced” or “correct” the movement is for the horse: when the hind leg is under the haunches when the supporting leg turns to thrust – then the horse is in balance – -and we can use tracking to help us see this.
Our eyes are easily fooled: especially when they are programmed by the pictures of incorrect movement that are put up as excellence. Most of us find it easy to see and analyse the forward movement of a horse’s leg – -but how many of us pay attention and are able to see the other half of the swing? The rest of the pendulum? We can’t trust our eyes – most of us look at our horses topline when we lunge – but we should be looking at their feet if we want a true picture of their balance.
So we look at the feet – and how the hind feet are placing compared with the front – -looking at the inside legs: at the walk, is the tracking going a hoof to a hoof and a half ahead of the front hoof mark? Is it straight, or off to one side- is it consistent or varying?
In the trot we are looking for the hind to be in the front hoofprint – and in the canter, we would like to see the outside thrusting rear print to be parallel to the leading fore hoofprint…
Going out and playing with this with a horse in ground where you can see the prints – makes this much easier! And if you can’t see it to start with, keep looking – you will!
Interestingly, canter on the lunge is a har gait to work on proper balance as in canter the horse is accelerating and slowing in each stride, so most of the lunge work is done at walk and trot, with just some transitions to canter
In fact, in the walk, the horse goes through ALL the weight displacements it uses in all the other gaits, so everything CAN be developed at the walk, and why the work at walk is so useful. I think it was Lubersac who trained his horses completely in the walk for 18 months – -and then his students found they could ride all gaits and movements in perfect balance. Makes you think!
We had a discussion on beauty – while it IS subjective, classical beauty is based on the fact that we as humans respond to certain proportions and ratios with pleasure – -the golden mean is an example of this – the drawings Leonardo Da Vinci did of horses show this – so the premise of classical riding was in developing this classical beauty which is why riding was art vs a set of mechanical techniques.
The mechanical techniques are, of course, useful when you are training raw recruits to be cavalry soldiers in 30 days and every horse MUST be obedient – but we are not in that environment – we are working with one horse, in one moment – with one aid at a time to explore the dynamics of balance and dance
On the basis that a properly started horse will seek comfort, and express this to the human, then we can use our in hand work to help the horse increase his comfort – and for a horse, comfort is found in balance.
One comment was rather than thinking of a horse “putting the weight back” – think of “the rear being placed to support the front” – it’s a small adjustment but leads to a huge shift in mindset when working with your horse on the ground or in riding
The rear leg has more joints, more springs and more options for moving weight that the more simple weight bearing structure of the forelimbs – which is why placing the rear to support movements is better for the horse in the long run…
Just as we drag ourselves forward using our weight- horses tend to step forwards and pull their back end up to them – -when they are playing or in danger we see them thrusting from the rear in a totally different way…..that is what we are aiming for.
The horse knows it has the ability AND PERMISSION to find his own comfort, he feels OK to find the position that works for him. If we are lunging, ask for trot and our horse canters – -it is because that is comfortable for him – so why correct? Or worse, punish? Just allow, then ask again…..
Initially a horse will favour the use of his weight vs thrusting – that is where we can help him – we can educate.
We can use both forms of lunging: the one based on simple projection, “place” in motion: developing propulsive and supporting effect of the legs, balancing the front and back ends – this is particularly necessary with young or poorly trained horses
And the one based on elevation: to develop the flexion of the hind legs, working on the tracking without rushing….
The first version is about having no restraint at the front, so there can be no fights or arguments and the horse can “run” if he needs to – perfect for green or confused horses
The second version is about slowing the front and developing the thrust of the rear….
What we are aiming for is Calm, Forward, Sraight
Calm: psychological state, this is the primary function of the Mediterranean work and the work in hand
Forward: “en avant” – a psychological state of reaching FOR The touch, moving TO the connection and wanting to work WITH us
Straight: the result of proper position in forward motion: the lateral alignment of front and back – -which again can only happen with the right psychological state….I know from my experiences with Alexander and Feldenkrais that what is “correct” often doesn’t “feel right” and I have to get my mind retuned!
We then ran through the typical school figures – you can find them in any dressage book so I won’t repeat them here. One observation was that in modern dressage, these figures are used by pushing the horse into the shape of the figure we hope to develop suppleness – in classical riding the figures can be used as diagnoses and proofs of suppleness, and the actually suppling is done more subtley.
Two more big topics were covered – the use of the whip, and the concept of entrainment – -if you don’t mind I will put those in another post, as this one is already rather long!!
After two intensive days of the in hand clinic, my brain was ready for a rest – but there was none to be found! I opened the barn with Tellu – it was her last day on the barn as she heads back to Finland tomorrow! I was just getting used to her too – shame. I look forward to seeing her again though as she and her mother hope to visit England soon..
I had a discussion with CS about aggression and horsemanship. CS, like many of us, when he first worked with horses says he met rudeness with aggression, and often had a view that the horse should be obedient. And, like many of us, he has changed over time and now emphasises that to use aggression is really admitting that we have no intelligence – it is not very often that a horse is wilfully disobedient – all he is doing is whatever is easy for him in that moment, so there is no point to aggression.
Well, there is, because in the short term, aggression works. And that is what makes it so seductive – it works, and gets results – in that moment, on that day. What it also does though is build in brace, armouring – as the horse learns to expect aggression and so armours against its possible happening: and an armoured horse is one that cannot “hear” – and moves tensely so making it hard for the rider to “feel” – which can then be interpreted as more disobedience – for which more aggression is the answer – and horse and human become trapped in a spiral of aggression.
I posted more thoughts on this topic on my blog in response to a question someone had, so will continue with the review of the day.
One thing Craig has always said is to feel free to ask as many questions as you can think of while he is riding – although five weeks might sound like a long time, it’s not long enough to unpack everything he knows, so I was focused on finding good and useful questions to ask.
Marie had a seat lesson today – it was a great opportunity to watch Craig giving the lesson – always good to watch the master work and help me remember all the small details that have slipped from my teaching – or notice new things that make the learning even better.
If we think of the principles of balance, we need to thing of the horse having physical and emotional balance – -and the human needs these too. The seat work helps the human develop the physical and emotional experience to be balanced when finally taking hold of the reins.
One of the things that gets in the way of the rider being able to really feel the horse’s movement, is any tension, bracing or anxiety in the human body. Most of us, when we are on the horse, have at the very least slight concerns about whether we are in control, whether the horse will do as we ask – and whether we will “lose our balance”. As long as our minds or bodies are worried about any of these things – then we are unable to hear anything the horse might be telling us with their body. Even worse, the tension on our body will be preventing the horse from moving in a free and soft way, and will be putting tension into their muscles and movements – which is why the seat work is so vital. By going through a series of exercises, physical and mental, your body learns its OWN balance, your mind learns to trust your body – and your muscle memory evolves to where your body takes care of its own balance without your mind needing to get involved – and your mind learns to trust your body. By doing exercises where you put yourself out of and back into balance – your unconscious learns to TRUST your body and just imagine the confidence that gives you….
It is only through the seat work that I have been able to relax enough to truly feel all the amazing things I have felt during this stay – and I will be continuing my seat development with friends, working students etc to make sure I keep this level of relaxation that allows me to feel the horse, and allows the horse to feel me. For the communication to work on the weight of the rein, or the thought of a feeling, the connection has to be clean as crystal – and there can be no static or noise from tension of any kind.
There is a reason that “calm” is the FIRST of the classical words.
Marie’s seat work included kick downs, kick ups, “fixing her seat” to find her balance – all at walk then trot – and arm circles too….
On another level, the seat work operates on the mind by getting you used to using your body automatically, without thinking – and your mind learns to process rapid fire instructions, while taking care of yourself and also paying attention to what you are feeling – all good skills for when you ride!
The First lesson this morning was D who had done a lot of work in the Confidence workshops and was excited to be back in her learning zone and happy to be in the saddle.
One of the challenges of riding is that if you think like a human when you are on the horse – then you will invariably be late in your aids and late with your questions or suggestions.
D was riding and turning – and Craig noticed she was consistently late in her turns – which was then causing her horse to start to question her intelligence….after all, if your rider consistently asked you to do something you find physically hard to do – such as turn a bend you are not set up for – then you start to question the wisdom of that rider….your horse tries to do as you ask, turns too sharply and “falls” in, collapses into the turn – and will end up losing trust and confidence in you.
When you are on the horse, you need to think with the HORSE’S body.
Craig asked D to show him where she was focusing on her turns: she said “three strides ahead” – which is “correct” – but when he stood where she said she was looking – it turned out to be three HUMAN strides!
When Craig paced out three HORSE strides – D’s eyes opened wide when she realised what she had been doing.
She had been riding while in her human body sized bubble – when we need to be riding our HORSE sized bubble – we are using the HORSE’s legs – and need to adjust our vision accordingly.
This was a breakthrough for D – and a great insight for me too!
When D went out into the school and started putting this into practice – she felt the difference immediately – her horse turned perfectly AND softened and relaxed – gaining confidence in her rider’s knowledge and intelligence with this one simple change.
Other things of note today: Craig had a chat with me about me getting blocked when leading Navarre and Watson – he was concerned that this might be reflecting an underlying issue – we talked about how I felt it was more an artefact of being in someone else’s barn, with someone else’s rules and so having a bit of a paralysis of analysis in those moments – and indeed I was confident they wouldn’t happen again.
We also had a conversation about how people look for a system, a method, a recipe – they do “A,B,C “to warm up – eg they go in the arena, walk, then trot then canter on both leads – then think they are ready to start training. Of course by then they have already put their horse totally out of balance, on the forehand – and didn’t realise that those first moments are vital in the mental and physical training of their horse.
Then most people work on figures to train – this many circles, this much shoulder in – doing it all mechanically because it is what they are supposed to do – or, even if they have some feeling for the horse and what needs suppling, they use figures to replace the subtlety of asking each leg to balance and stretch in turn..but we can get into that another time!
Interestingly, none of the horses Craig rode were sweaty when he ended his sessions. Once or twice a horse was warm on the neck – -this was when the session had been a bit more emotional – and so when a horse is calm, there is no need for the sweating at all for the session to still be a valuable physical therapy session.
Being at Craig’s is like being in a bubble: here you can rely on the goodwill of the horse – in many places horses don’t even realise that humans can be intelligent, and that is where the conversations have to start…
In fact I think I feel a blog about recipes and another one about creating goodwill coming on – will file those ideas away for now.
Tonight is the start of the second sequence of Confidence Workshops. This week the sessions are on Tuesday and Thursday to fit them in before I leave. Lovely to be “going global” with the confidence work!
Another day off – I slept in after the workshop went until 9.30 last night. I was out in the barn settled down to watch Craig riding after breakfast – and I took his book out with me to work through while I was watching. I am starting to feel the time pressure as now I have only one week left here to learn EVERYTHING.
I asked a few questions and the main concept that came up today was the one of “Bardo”. Bardo is “the space between”. This can be as shallow or deep as you want it to be – -but is a phenomenal way of thinking.
The space between is where the power lies, where the choices lie and where intelligence can act. Think about a horse who is going backwards, or forwards. As long as he is doing one or the other, there is little we can do. However, if we can catch that space between….and lengthen it – then we have the time and space to develop other options….
If your horse is going from calm to crazy in a split second – look for the space between the two things, and there you can find a place where you can feel him, you can develop a scale of 0-5 where 0 is calm, 5 is crazy – and in the space of 1,2,3,and 4 you have time to make changes.
The space between is essential for intelligent riding: having the time and space to respond intelligently instead of react instinctively can be the difference between clarity and aggression in our riding. One of the purposes of seatwork is to create this space in our minds, and a common observation of people after they have done their seatwork is that things slow down and they have more time to think about what they are doing when they ride…
Usually, our space is filled with emotions – -anxiety, fear, desire, ego – all of these things fill the space between and blur things.
We as humans also have a tendency to think in dualities – nothing/something; good/bad; correct/incorrect – when the usefulness comes from thinking of the DEGREES of each, and working out the space between.
This was a great insight – and there will be more on this later when I have a lesson.
Then I watched Marie’s lesson: some things came out of this
When using the legs – the squeeze is the preparation to go, an attention getting signal: it’s the OPENING of the legs that means “go”. Actually this makes sense – the LAST thing we want to do is train our horse to go forwards when we squeeze – otherwise when a horse spooks and we accidentally grip, we are telling our horse to go forwards – not a good idea!
Think of touch – and go. Train the opening not the closing – instead of thinking “something/nothing”, think “something/something ELSE”….
All of this makes more sense if you start with the classical groundwork where one of the first things we do is develop the touch with our horses so that we can communicate from AND towards touch….
Instead if using pressure to say “move away” we use touch to indicate direction energy to indicate movement – and then when we lighten the touch, create an opening – the horse moves to maintain the touch, seeks harmony – and moves INTO the space between which we have created….
Then we can touch and create a space on the other side of the horse, and a sense that THERE is the space we are creating, and the horse moves TOWARDS that opening…
This is very different from pushing a horse away – but in fact, we can see how someone watching this could think that is what we were doing – more on that another time!
In today’s seat session Marie held a baton and did some fascinating work: while doing the basic exercises, Craig had her touch the baton with her toe when kicking up – then had her practice pointing to the right diagonal, the left diagonal, the right lateral, the left lateral – whilst maintain her balance AND doing the exercises….
This is a wonderful way of teaching the mind to be able to pay attention to these things while the body gets on with dealing with the balance……it proves to the rider’s unconscious that these things CAN be done – and creates in the rider that space between where they have time to think and respond while balancing effectively and being able to function mentally….
Somehow we expect ourselves to have a level of balance and coordination which we use no where else in our lives – -and we expect to have it without actually working at it – how interesting.
Today I had a lesson with Craig on River. River is a lovely small horse, similar in many physical ways to Strut – but a very different horse on the inside. River is learning to let go and relax and has a tension that means he is not ideal for every rider. However, this also means he is a good horse to learn about relaxation on – as he will pick up any tension in the rider and make it very visible!
When I went to bring him in he was expecting to be taken to his stall, and so hesitated. He does tend to worry a bit about the wash stall so this wasn’t unexpected. Craig was very particular in me looking at his balance and using the next logical rein aid with the lead rope to make my wishes clear to him rather than allowing any blocking to happen, or “pulling him off balance”. Again, in something this simple we prove our intelligence, how easy is it to trust someone who intentionally pulls you off balance? Especially when you are a horse, to whom balance is key?
I brought River into the arena and Craig talked me through some of the in hand and lunging elements: in particular one thing that is key in the classical work is maintaining the “touch” with the horse. If we maintain the touch, then the horse will look for it – and learn to take mutual responsibility for maintaining it….
We talked about some of the underlying and philosophy underlying truly classical work. Craig referred to how we can use in hand work to develop feel, and how also we can think of the six mandelas (these vary in different schools of Buddhism) – Generosity, Discipline and Patience are the core three, then effort, correctness – and wisdom.
In the horsemanship, Generosity is about many things – at the very least it is being generous to the horse in allowing them time and space to search for answers to the questions we pose, it’s assuming a basic goodwill from the horse, and offering the same to them whatever their choices; The whole “not correcting but allowing” comes from that generosity.
Discipline – well that is about the human mostly: seat work, being balanced, being disciplined emotionally when I am with my horse – being physically disciplined – these are essential. And we expect the horse to develop discipline when working with us too, and give us his try, his effort and focus vs treating time with us like time with any other being…
Patience – well this is about time being irrelevant. One of the advantages of riding the horses every day is that progress happens naturally. Patience is easy when you have generosity in your heart and you know you are being disciplined in your approach….and allowing the horse time to learn and develop so you work on the horse’s timescale, not your artificial human concept of linear time. This would also apply to not insisting on a linear scale of training, or levels – but having the patience to work with the horse that shows up and do whatever that particular horse needs in this particular ride.
We also talked about the four immeasurable states explored in Buddhism: Love, Equanimity, Compassion and Joy….
Craig was moving River around in hand and showing things while we talked about how these four states interplay and underly horsemanship….
Rhythm is a horse’s natural state when moving – -so when you lose rhythm, it means there is some resistance there – River was distracted – so play with the resistance and it goes…
Resistance is not disobedience – it’s a sign that the expected answer is not easy, or there is distraction, or a lack of attention…
River was “stuck”: when Craig asked him to Piaffe, he kicked out with is hind legs. His hind feet were stuck. In other words, he had no space between – he had forwards and stuck – nothing inbetween. It was a binary state, a duality – so one thing to do was to create a scale – as then we would have something to play with. Creating a scale would expand the space between…
Craig played with forwards, stop and piaffe to develop this scale – and then was able to approach and retreat the sticking point while River stayed calmer until he was able to relax and offer some piaffe instead of needing to kick out. All done very calmly….
I got on River and focused on my seat – I imagined I was on Strut and, as Craig had the lunge rope, I didn’t have to think about control or steering – all I had to do was be able to feel what this perfectly trained horse (in Craig’s hands at any rate!) was doing…
I must have done ok because Craig didn’t comment – and from the moment I got on and “fixed my seat” I felt a genuine connection through River to his feet – it was amazing, I could feel his individual feet lift and land just by shifting my focus and “feeling” for that leg…
As soon as I started THINKING about what was happening, I lost it – I had to stay in the feeling mode. How interesting.
We explored Cambre and Vousse – the only way I can put this in words is to say that when a horse walks, you can feel one side of your body sort of tone up and the other sort of relax a bit in time with the walk? The toning up is camber, the relax is vousse – this is very crude and not at all what really happens, but it is close enough to work until I can be with you with a horse and you can feel it for yourself!
When doing seat work you can play with this, in the whole body or going from side to side – very interesting. This natural movement of the horse also means your leg naturally comes on and off the horse in a rhythm. Remember the stirrup moving on Trinket the other day?
One thing Craig talks about is how when teaching Kings and Aristocracy, it was important that things WORKED – it’s not easy or possible to tell the King he is wrong – so using the natural aids that happen anyway when a horse moves – well that just makes sense – to the horse, so the aid results in the movement, and to the human
It is also easier to teach: you simply put the rider on a perfectly trained horse, have the horse do a move, let the human feel the move – then just say to them “replicate that feeling”.
Simple, but not always easy!
So on River, Craig was moving him around – and my job was to FEEL the movement. I took the reins (Craig still had the lunge) and we played with a few things. Craig pointed out how my shoulder moved when the horse moved – so I tried to replicate that to produce the movement in the horse – I did WAY too much and instead brought stiffness into the movement. Just the way I have worded that shows I was thinking poorly – next time instead of trying to replicate the movement in the horse, I simply remembered the feeling in my own body – and the HORSE went into the movement….
Oh boy, this was LIGHT!
Instead of “doing it” – just “feel it” and LET it happen…..
Craig did a direct rein/indirect rein sequence across the school so I could feel it – then he just was there while I remembered the feeling – and River was moving across the school JUST ON A REMEMBERED FEELING!!!
I was LAUGHING OUT LOUD! THIS WAS THE CENTAUR MOMENT!!!
I was connected, and his feet were my feet, my heart and his heart were one – and it was a JOY!!!
Oh boy, this was phenomenal.
At the end of this session Craig agreed that I could have unsupervised rides on Strut or Blue to further my learning – yay!