So, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Between moving to a new house and starting a new job last month, I’ve barely had time to dart to the barn for a quick ride a few times a week – let alone to write about riding! However, things have started to settle down again lately and I’m ready to get back to reflecting on my rides.
I’ve had some really interesting rides over the past month – some great, and some not so great. Because I don’t have the time or memory to reflect on all of these (and because I’m sure none of you have the interest!), I’m going to focus on one or two major things that have been helping things to go right lately.
One big thing is applying ideas covered in my yoga classes to my riding. This is sort of a retroactive realization, but I think it’s useful nonetheless. This evening I did a hip opening class on yogatoday.com, and I really had a few “aha moments,” where I was able to breathe into my discomfort and completely relax.
Similarly, with riding, things are often uncomfortable and messy if I don’t relax. I’ve had a few tense and uncomfortable rides (for both horse and rider) in the past few weeks where I tried too hard to force things, to pull, and to hold Gordon up. I was trying to make things happen forcefully, when I should have taken things back to basics and let them happen naturally. There’s no point pulling your horse into a fake frame that ends up making them have short, choppy movements.
I think part of the problem that leads me to do this – and it’s embarrassing to admit – is that often when there are other riders at the barn watching, I get impatient for things to happen more quickly. Since this will also be the case at shows, I really need to learn to let go of what other people are thinking of me and my riding. It’s more important to put my horse’s health and happiness over my ego. But I digress.
To return to what I’ve done to combat this is teaching myself to just let go. Literally. My last few rides have started without any use of the reins. I toss them away and just hold on to the buckle. I warm up at a completely loose, low trot, steering Gordon into lots of big shapes and figures using just my seat and legs.
The beauty of this warm-up is that when I do pick up the reins, I remember that they shouldn’t be my primary aid. They’re just there as a support and I don’t need them for steering, cranking, etc.
Beginning with this laissez-faire attitude has allowed me to start “working” with a more laid-back attitude. I relax and swing with Gordon, leading to his becoming authentically round and light from my seat. Breathing deep and relaxing leads to a much better experience, just like with yoga.
More relaxed seat = more relaxed horse.
That being said, working outside has been a big challenge for us lately. After working inside for our never-ending winter, and cold, unpredictable spring, Gordon is still having trouble focusing outside – and our first competition is next weekend! However, I think with a few more solid training sessions and a relaxed attitude next weekend it should be a fun learning experience.
In any case, the best thing about trying to keep yoga principles in mind is that after a relaxing, connected ride you can actually end with that blissful, yogic feel too. An experience that is certainly more rewarding than the frustrated, guilty feeling that accompanies rides that end up being a tug-o’-war match.
Let me know how you relax in the saddle and what sort of impact it has on your horse!