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December 28, 2014: Book Overview: Zen and Horseback Riding, by Tom Nagel

I waited for a long time for this book to get here. It arrived the day before Christmas. Pete wrapped it up and gave it to me as a Christmas present. This was well worth the wait. And I could not have gotten a better present. What a great book. So different from Zen Horse, Zen Rider. Zen Horse, Zen Rider is a big, fat beefy book with a lot of fancy graphics, color illustrations, and complicated diagrams. Zen and Horseback Riding is a very small book with minimal graphics, black and white illustrations and photos, and simple diagrams. It also has a spiral binding, which makes it easier to view the text when doing the accompanying exercises.

The cover of Zen and Horseback Riding is deceptively simple. It’s a black and white illustration on green gray cardstock. The logo consists of three horses and the Zen enso or circle, which is the symbol for Mu. According to Nagel, “Mu represents emptiness or nothingness, or if you will ‘direct experience.’ The horses represent the technical aspects of posture, breath, and awareness. The enso represent the wholeness in which the principle of all three intertwine and relate.”

And this book is about these three principles. There is no attempt to make the connection between Zen and mumbo jumbo natural horsemanship techniques, as there is in Zen Horse, Zen Rider.

Nagel’s findings mainly center around the use of the psoas muscles. He explains early on that the psoas muscles are central to riding. They’re the bridge between the upper body and the legs. They’re also the only muscles that directly link the spine to the legs. The psoas do not attach directly to the pelvis but influence it through the iliacus muscles, which are attached to the inner walls of the pelvi.

This may be what’s most important. The correct use of psoas muscles enable the rider to breath correctly. A related claim is that reading this book also teaches the rider to expand their focus and shift their awareness.

All this is a very tall order. But I decided to give it a go. Yesterday I did the psoas exercises. My attempt was rather half-ass because Ryder decided that I was her afternoon home entertainment center. But I did feel better after. And today, when out riding, I thought about my position and how it related to my breathing. I worked on half-halts when out on the trail, breathing in, thinking about my breath moving up my spine, and breathing out, thinking of my breath moving down my spine. Breathing in, I thought about what I was going to ask Raudi to do. Breathing out, I then asked her to do it.

Raudi’s response to this was quite interesting. She often stopped. I think she was thinking about what she was being asked to do – and how this differed from what she’d been asked to do in the past. I would like to coordinate my breath to her strides, and then I think that we’d be in sync.

Last night I began reading the Anatomy of Riding book. And today I looked up a few things in it that were in Gray’s Anatomy. I now understand that the more body aware I am, the more connected I’ll be with my horse, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Pete and I talked about bringing Tom Nagel here to Alaska, where we’d have him do a clinic. If this comes to be, this would be very cool.

Next: 348. 12/29/14: Carol Clemens Past and Present