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February 18, 2016: A Private Lesson

Today I gave a private riding lesson at the Saddle Up arena. This was with Claudia, who was riding Katla, her chestnut Icelandic mare. I was looking forward to this because Icelandic horses are my breed of choice. And I know something about the mindset of chestnut mares.

In a way, working with Katla was like coming full circle. Had anyone told me a decade ago that I’d have been giving someone a lesson on this particular horse, I’d have been incredulous. This horse was not considered by those in the Icelandic horse community to be a gem because she’s not a natural tolter. I also did not foresee that I’d be taking up riding instruction. Will wonders ever cease?

Claudia and Katla

I first write out my lesson plans in my Centered Riding spiral bound journal. I then revise these notes, writing them out on notecards, which I take with me to the arena. This way, I don’t risk losing the notebook, which now contains notes about all the lessons I’ve given, as well as notes about my body work sessions. I did one time nearly leave it on a barrel; that was a heads up – best to leave it at home.

Claudia and I began by doing simple standing/stretches/exercises, the one’s that I learned in doing Qi Gong (internal martial arts) classes. It is interesting – Jay and Jen have been working with me on the nuances – the finer points involved in stretching – so my tendency is to have riding students do the same.

I have had to internalize the fact that others, just like me, learn things in an incremental fashion. We actually started the lesson by tossing one of my large balls back and forth—me attempting to get the idea of lightness across. It didn’t seem to go very well – next time I’m going to have the rider or riders step back and forth, and see how it feels to do this toss in differing places.

We next worked on breathing. I showed Claudia where her diaphragm is and had her raise and lower her energy level, using her breath. I also had her breath in yellow chi (sunlight) and told her to think of her abdomen as holding a bowl of light.

I don’t know if Claudia got it, meaning, whether she saw the importance of centering and stretching before riding. My take on this matter (as everyone now knows, ad infinitum) is that the day’s ride will be better if both the instructor and the student take the time to do the above. Presumably, the primary equation is that the lesson is 75 percent the student and 25 percent the horse. And the secondary equation is that the lesson is 75 percent the rider and 25 percent the horse. Go figure. And go try and work with those odds.

I’d someday like to work with long distance riders prior to a ride and have them go out and ride having done no centering-type exercises. Then, I’d like to have them go out and ride after a single session of centering-type exercises. I’d then like to see if I notice, or they notice any differences. At this point in time, knock on wood, all the lessons I’ve taught have gone well – I attribute this to my insistence upon taking a few minutes to get centered, and having the students do the same.

The actual lesson was icing on the cake. This is an apt phrase. We worked first on going over the basics, beginning with clear intent and then covering the others. I also used imagery, going from the head down with Claudia. I did not jump around – and I used images that I thought would be useful to her.

Katla was feeling anxious because she was alone – her yearling was out at the trailer – so she neighed repeatedly for him at the onset of the lesson.

Claudia and Katla worked in the far half of the ring, first at a fast walk, going in circles, reversing direction, going from one corner, diagonally, to the next. Then I had her pick up a trot. What followed was the high point of the lesson. I had Claudia envision a ball in her pelvis, and added that the ball could be large or small. Claudia later told me that she pictured a ping pong ball. I told her to tip it forward when she wanted to speed up and to tip it backwards when she wanted to slow down. This worked.

I then had this brilliant idea, which was to tip the ball to the outside when going in a circle. This, at this moment seemed like a good way in which to get this rider to remain centered in the saddle. She noted that in going to the right that it was harder to tip the ball to that side. Seeing that this worked, and that there was also a stuck point, was good for me to see in that I foresaw that I’ll be able to integrate this into my general lesson plan.

By this point in time, Katla was not neighing for her offspring as much as previously. Rather, she was now focused, forward, and doing the job she was meant to do. I give Claudia credit in that she did a good job in redirecting Katla’s energy in using circles and turns.

I next had Claudia go through weave poles and over the trot poles. We then called it good. Then I suggested that the pair work on tolting. I wished after that we quit while we were ahead. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Claudia tightened the reins and raised her hands, bringing Katla’s head up into a more forced position. My thinking is that Katla tolted because she was “physically” collected—she could not tolt previously because 1. She is not in good tolting shape. 2. Claudia’s saddle is too tight on Katla’s withers, and 3. Claudia’s seat needs work.

It’s now late winter, and most of the riders I know are heading for the trails, or at least thinking about heading for the trails. Claudia too. So I think that my teaching season may be winding down. I am looking forward to having our home arena done and having riders come and ride here.

Today’s lesson was my best yet. I was really pleased with how it went. I really enjoy giving private lessons. This way, horse and rider have my undivided attention, and I’m not playing traffic director.

Next: 49. 2/20/16: Driving Ms. Hrimmi

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