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January 3, 2016: Shinnying up the Learning Curve

I was, as my lesson plan indicates, fairly well prepared for this lesson. Actually, I would not have been able to pull this one off if those present, Pete, Dan, June, and Ruth, had not been so gung ho about all I proposed to do, from the onset.

I first had all sit in chairs, and this was a good idea because it centered us and made us a more cohesive group. I explained that these days I am heading straight up the learning curve, and in fact am so far up it that the ground seems like a long ways away. What I failed to say was that this is good in that I’m learning a great deal. But it is bad

that I do feel at times a bit at loose ends.

I next talked a bit about this particular lessons being an experiment for me – I wanted (I said) to see if bringing awareness to various parts of the body translated to doing the same when in the saddle. What brought this to mind was the thought that I often see riders in arena settings come and saddle up their horses and then go straight into the arena. The best, of course, warm up their mounts. But they do not warm themselves up or tend to areas of imbalance or tightness. I’m now convinced that we need to find ways of transmitting our own stiffness and points of tension to our horses.

In an ideal world, and perhaps at some future point in time, I would like to do day long sessions with very small groups – first doing some body awareness work, next doing work on the horses, then after all this, ride – all to show people that the preliminary work for both horses and riders is really important.

We started our class at 3:30 p.m. first working on ourselves. We were in the indoor arena, so I elected to do standing poses. I chose exercises from Tom Nagel’s Zen and Horses and Sally Swift’s Centered Riding II. Started with Nagel – not all his exercises have names – I need to come up with some because giving a pose a name more easily enables riders to bring them to mind. We first did what Nagel calls “Top of the Spine #7” and I call “Standing Balloon.” This was followed by “Psoas Method Exercise #8 Vertical Bilateral Movements of the Psoas Muscle Standing,” and “Psoas Method Exercise # 9, Pube Up Movement of the Psoas Muscle.”

Hoorah for Sally Swift – she gave her exercises titles, in the long run making recall easier for her riders. Another instance of her genius. We did “Find your Center,” “Find your Sun,” and the “Shakeout” – what I called the slow version. I used her directives in having all tighten and loosen arms, legs, hips, shoulders. For example, I had all tighten toes, then attempt to shake their legs. This was followed by the statement that if our toes are tight, the leg, hip, back, and shoulders will also be tight. This actually turned out to be an ah ha moment for me – I am going to recall it when I’m out on the trail and the snowmobiles are coming in my and Raudi’s direction.

Everyone was lively and talkative and became even more so as the above session progressed. It reminded me of my own energy level and how lately, with my doing variations on the above, my overall energy level has been riding, and my overall disposition has been improving. The same holds true for my horses.

June left after the body awareness session and Pete was in and out. Ruth and Dan then saddled up Curly and Rowdy. Rowdy is not my little Raudi but rather Dan’s large Rowdy. Both are sorrels, and both are willful. Ruth, who was ready to go first, began warming up Curly. Dan followed suit. I had planned to go over the above in an organized and systematic fashion. I even had my notecard in hand. The riding portion of the lesson didn’t go as I wanted it to – rather I was all over the map.

Anything and everything I suggest for Ruth always seems to work, thank dog. This time was no exception. We began with standing balloon, and then moved on to teeter totter. I had her do melting trochanter – then did Bubbling Springs on her feet. We noted that her feet turn outward – this is just plain interesting. Her legs did lengthen in doing the above. Had I had the time, I would have had her lower her stirrup a notch. Again, in putting her legs in her stirrups, she noted that her legs tensed up. Might in the future have her first envision herself as Rubber woman and tell her to envision her legs of being made of a boing boing material.

I was distracted by Dan and Rowdy who were tearing around the arena. Rowdy was Rowdy. She is a young mare, and everything is of interest to her. Everything. She badly wants to be where the action is. I again, immediately began working with Dan on clear intent – as previously, bringing his attention to his core – this time, not with his hands, as we did before, but rather by having him envision the ball in his pelvis, tipping it forward and back. This in addition to soft eyes. Interesting, Rowdy seemed to have energy surges – she’d speed up and then slow down, even going so far as to put her nose to the ground. I pointed this out to Dan, and also noted that the more relaxed moments were growing longer. This, I hoped would in Dan’s mind affirm that this was what was happening. It did seem to work.

Melting trochanter didn’t work for Dan because the release on the outside muscles brings about tension on the inside muscles. Could be good for lazy horses.

I took the reins, freeing Dan to think more about clear intent. Pete appeared and he walked Ruth’s horse Curly. Tried the eyes closed – didn’t work for Ruth, who got dizzy. Worked a bit for Dan – Pete saved the day by having Ruth use her soft eyes. I did the same with Dan.

Ruth was left to work on her own as I continued to work with Dan and Rowdy, who badly wanted to race to the end of the arena where everyone had gathered. She was also distracted by another rider, who was cantering willy nilly around the entire arena.

I had Dan do circles. I had Dan go over poles. I had Dan go over the raised platform. Would’ve had Dan go around cones, but I didn’t see that any were handy. Dan did a really good job of anticipating what Rowdy wanted to do next, and coming up with something else for her to do.

I repeatedly told Dan that his Rowdy’s a good horse for him to be working with because she’s a bit scattered and he is very focused. And I added that he was providing her with much-needed direction. Additionally, he is a confident rider with a good seat.

I’d like to think that this lesson did him and Rowdy some good. In the end, both were far calmer than when they started out. As in the beginning, he let her loose. Rather than running around, she went and hung out with everyone, going and saying hello.

The best thing that I could have done – and did, was to have the body awareness session first thing. I am going to keep doing this. If people come who don’t have horses, they can participate and perhaps after, assist. I won’t be able to do this in next Saturday’s pony club mounted adult session at the Sindorf Center because the riders come into the arena on their horses, ready to go. But perhaps I can get a few together next Friday and we can do some of this work beforehand. It will be far easier to do inside – people will also be able to do the Nagel poses lying down.

Next: 4. 1/4/16: Off Center

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