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February 28, 2016: Hold Yer Hosses

What is to be said about today’s riding lessons? I’d like to put the subject on the back burner because today I had my fill. But I must write about this (as you must read about this) – if I am at all a good teacher it’s because I’ve sat down at after every lesson I’ve ever given or taken and written about it. This has caused many ideas to stick. Most of what I’ve learned has come back to me when I’m teaching.

My first lesson (at high noon) was with Dick Stoffel, riding Jokla; Matty, riding Mariah; Jonathan, riding Kohlfaxi; and Dylan, riding Karmen. Matty, Jonathan, and Dylan are teenagers – Kohlfaxi, Karmen, and Jokla are Icelandic horses.


Dick with Jonathan

We got off to a very low key and slow start. I mean, really slow. We began by doing stretches/exercises and so everyone got very relaxed. Brit Lively (the arena owner) soon joined us – and I included her in on the stretching, working on the tension/release exercises. Then we did some ball tossing – the purpose was to show them how doing this raised and lowered energy levels. After, I talked about diaphragmatic breathing followed by a brief lecture on assessing a horses’ readiness to work. One thing I did was get in Jonathan’s space, shaking his hand and not letting go, as a way of showing all how we need to respect a horses’ space. This worked really well – Jonathan actually looked alarmed when I did not stop.

The energy level was by then so low that all were up for what followed – some groundwork. Jonathan was reluctant to get on Mariah – this was after Dick told him that she’d bucked him off, putting him in the hospital. So he began walking her over obstacles and the others followed suit. I then suggested we play follow the leader, with Jonathan being the leader. He soon had the other riders going over the obstacles, and repeatedly suggested they breathe. This worked amazingly well.

All then mounted up – Jonathan was concerned about Mariah, so he and Matty switched mount. This turned out to be the absolute right thing to do. I’d considered their doing this at the beginning, but as it was, it was far better for the kids to have made this decision on their own. It fostered what I hope will be an ongoing spirit of cooperation.

I then left this group and went to work with my second group. This group consisted of Heather, Susan, and Kerry Rose, all adult riders. We began as we began with the first group – this time, though, the ball exercise didn’t work very well. Susan tied her two horses to the same hitching post. This was near where we were ball tossing. The horses got excited so we stepped away from them. They remained excited and the two tied together spooked with one leaping on top of the other. Amazingly (and I think that I was the only one to notice this) the energy level remained low after this event.

We next did as the other group did – obstacle work and follow the leader. This was appropriate, given that Susan was sore from being broadsided by a wave while on a recent vacation.

After a bit, the three women mounted up, and we did more of the same, again the focus being on diaphragmatic breathing.

And so, this was the riding day. The above all took a long, long time. All the while Dick and his crew just kept riding and doing groundwork with their horses. I had to divest myself of their doings in order to work with the second group – a tough but necessary thing to do.

What I learned today is that I can raise and lower the energy levels of riders, in part, by being calm, and in part by having them do specific exercises. My new term for the latter is human groundwork. I can liken it to horse groundwork and tell people that it’s a good way to get relaxed and focused. I should have said that I do what they all were doing with my horses before I take them out for a ride.

The riding lessons get off to a slow start, doing things the way I do them – but I am totally convinced that a slow start is a good start.

 

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