Friday, July 18, 2008

The Brain is Mightier Than The Pony

My ride on Wednesday night was the first time I'd ridden in almost two weeks. Mainly because I'd been at camp for a week, then I was too tired to drag myself out to the barn, let alone ride.

But it was a really, really good ride. I could feel things shifting in the way McKinna and I interact when I ride -- it was cool.

She's now consistently stretching down at the walk. I can manipulate her stride length by how much or little I move my back with her step; I can get her to relax into the bit just by exhaling and sitting a little deeper. I'm getting used to gently bending her around the squeeze of an inside calf rather than poking her over with a turned heel.

Then we picked up a trot, and it's much of the same. She's relaxing into the bit, and for a few strides here and there, she brings her back up and I can feel the lift and the briefest "hang time" in each step. She's starting to bend without dropping her inside shoulder, move off of my leg without dropping the outside shoulder, and in general just straighten up and carry herself.

So I asked for a canter. She picked up the wrong lead, I brought her down to trot, and we came back up on the correct lead.

She was pretty anxious by this point, though her canter was fairly nice.

When we came back down, we started to fall back into that old familiar pattern: her trot was rushed, her head relatively high, she resisted bend with her neck and body, when I used an opening rein to make her bend into some circles, she dropped her inside shoulder to resist the bend that way.

But then all that thinking that I've been doing paid off.

I did something magical, right? A special cue that I've learned, or I threw my reins away and immediately she was fixed, or I stopped for five minutes and when I picked up the trot again she was nice and relaxed?


I didn't do anything. I just rode her, but here's the difference.

Instead of riding like I was riding a tense, rushing, resistant horse, I rode like I was riding that same relaxed, obedient horse I had ten minutes ago.

I can't describe it as anything specifically that I do. I just stop riding a rushing horse, and start riding the responsive one I had earlier. And then she turns back into that responsive horse. My legs are supportive, and she politely moves off of them. My hands are relaxed and steady, and she stretches into them. My legs and hands guide her through loops and circles, using inside rein to outside rein and expecting her to stay upright, without dropping her shoulders -- because she can't. She can't move like that when I am giving her all of the support and guidance to go correctly.

It was really, really cool. I stopped reacting and started thinking.

Here's where I give you the little disclaimer that says: just expecting your horse to do what you want her to do is NOT going to fix all of your problems. It's taken McKinna and I quite a lot to get to this point.

The point of this blog is that you need to THINK while you are riding. Think about your problems, think about solutions to them, and then TRY them on your horse. I was so busy thinking about the ideal movement I'd had minutes ago that I automatically recreated the feeling with my body, and she followed.

I like this whole thinking thing.

By the way, we finished out the ride with a few more really nice relaxed canters, and we kept that calmness throughout the whole time. It borders on the Zen sometimes, I swear.


ORSunshine said...

Happy Sunny Sunday!

We just got back from a trip down your way to play with Charlie some more. He'll be moving up to our barn near Salem in just a couple more weeks!

I've been trying to put together some thoughts for you about this blog. Mainly trying to find some analogies I think you might understand. (Forgive me and the dog analogies I'm likely to use, but I am a dog trainer.)

There's a connection that I'm happy you're beginning to find with McKinna. I believe it's what Sally Swift tries to get across in "Centered Riding". Riding in unison isn't about just moving in the same direction, it's about having the same mindset and sharing the same energy. It's not about thinking about what you want the horse to NOT do, but what you DO want the horse TO do.

Focus on what you DO want. As a positive dog trainer, I will focus on the behavior I do want vs. the behavior I don't want. Say, my dog is jumping on me for attention. I'd rather my dog sit before giving the attention. Therefore, I reward the dog when he sits and only when he sits. Eventually, this will translate into my dog always sitting when he wants attention because attention is the reward. So when McKinna is dancing a jig and being "silly", don't reward her. Don't focus on her negative behaviors, keep concentrating on what you DO want her to do, give the correct cues and she'll get it.

In human terms, we talk about this in a hippy-hoodoo sort of way. We talk about energy and intent. Today with Charlie, my daughter was having a hard time getting him to move forward into a walk. She was getting frustrated and probably giving Charlie mixed signals. So, I told her to look out between his ears and project her energy forward. And guess what! Charlie moved forward and moved out with longer strides than before! What really happened? She focused and relaxed and in that process, she communicated with Charlie.

When I was your age I was a barista. Often, we'd get short lived rushes where everyone would basically order the same thing. Maybe one hour it would mainly be vanilla lattes. Maybe a couple customers would come in and order vanilla lattes. And, as soon as they leave and are out of sight, another group comes in and orders vanilla lattes. And it continues and continues for roughly an hour and oh, about 100 people. Now, there might be a few other drinks mixed in, but the majority (and I've tallied it before) will be vanilla lattes. There really is something to the "group mindset" thing. Some people call it "living in the moment". Well, that can't fully be right as you were bouncing around like a pogo stick in that moment. Really, whatever you want to call it, it's communication through energy and intent.

Synchronicity. That's what you want to find and keep with McKinna. It's how I can think a thought and have my dog obey the command even before it's spoken. In that case, it's some very subtle cue that runs down her lease translating my energy to her. Just as your energy runs through your legs, seat and arms to communicate with McKinna.

Work on that, dear, and I'm sure you'll find McKinna "getting it" more often and much faster.

manymisadventures said...

My goodness, you've given me a lot to think about! Thanks very much for the insight -- and I'll think about checking out that book, I've heard a lot about it over the years but never actually read it.

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