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May 20, 2020: The Riding Life: The Power of the Pause

What I have to say about the power of the pause, in regard to our relation with horses, isn’t new. Robyn Hood, in her TTeam newsletter, addressed this. And Mark Rashid, in several of his books makes note of it. But maybe as I write I will have some additional insights. This is a topic that I have been thinking hard about for some time.

The pause, with the breath, it’s that stage between inhalation and exhalation. It can be voluntary or involuntary. When it’s voluntary, we lengthen or shorten it upon will. It is that sacrosanct place between the cessation of one activity and the beginning of another. It’s the space where thoughts reside.

 Spiffy post ride
Spiffy post ride

I have already paused a half-dozen times in writing this much of this dispatch. I am like a forager, gathering my thoughts on this all-important subject.

I am becoming more reliant upon the pause in working with the horses. I became more aware of it during my yoga class. For me, this began with the three part breath, an inhalation in which you focus on your core, midsection, and upper sections of your body, then on the exhalation, in reverse. I began doing this with the horses, in the Playground of Higher Learning. I’d been having a problem with Tyra, who, in anticipating what to do next, would rush forward, giving no thought to the immediate task at hand. I discovered that wedging a pause (which took the form of a stop) in between the inhale and exhale focused us both. This better enabled us to move our footfalls in unison.

I began using my three-part breath when riding. The horses are now becoming attuned to this, which is my becoming lighter when inhaling and heavier when exhaling. The inhalation means to them that I am going to ask them to move forward or speed up, and the exhalation means that I am going to ask them slow down or stop.

Yesterday, I rode with my friend Sarah. We did two rides, the first, a short one, took place on our loop trails. The second, a longer one, took place to and from Grizzly Camp. Raudi and Spiffy both are older, very wise mares. Both also have a lot of trail riding experience under their girths. Spiffy has a longer stride than Raudi – Raudi compensates by catching up, going into a smooth easy canter.

We did a leisurely ride because it’s still the beginning of the trail riding season. We were beset with a challenge, coming down the Grizzly Camp hill. Both mares knew they were then headed in the direction of home, and therefore picked up the pace.

The last time I rode with Sarah, Spiffy was a bit anxious. Sarah repeatedly slowed her down using a one rein stop. My thinking was that this, a momentary solution, maybe good for one outing, but not good for the long haul.

We had not spoken of this. I didn’t bring it up because I wasn’t then sure what the alternative might be. It was Sarah who found an equitable solution. She began building pauses into her downhill ride. She had Spiffy do serpentines down the hill, then every so often she gave her rest breaks. I then began doing this with Raudi. This, I later told her, was the absolute right thing to do. The horses were both given a few moments to lower their heads, graze, and activate their parasympathetic nervous systems. And the same held true for us.

We arrived at the base of the hill on relaxed horses. Both continued on at a fast walk in the direction of home. Neither attempted to bolt or go at a faster than desired speed.

The pause, I am glad that again, Sarah and Spiffy brought it to the forefront of my attention.

Next: 141. 5/21/20: From the Annals of the Impulsive/Obsessive

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