"The connection with the horse is guided by delight and shared joy in connection."
"Great riding comes from harmony and balance."
"Every moment is a sweet interplay between your best self and your horse's best self."
The difficulty is that practicing our riding like this seems at times like a romantic notion or perhaps even a 'thing that other people can do'. There's often a feeling that we can either have a good relationship or ask for specific actions from our horses. Harmonic connection is certainly not the experience every moment. When we're first learning how to do the work, moments of real connection are rare and it can seem like these classical ideas are all just pipe dreams and theory when the horse repeatedly breaks the connection.
It's easy to replace your vision of love and harmony with a sense of adrenalin, ambition, intensity, even anger, These intense feelings 'feel' strong. Uncertainty 'feels' ...uncertain.
So we want to skip out of uncertainty and go right to something stronger.
I will make this dratted horse do what I want.
So how do we make harmony and peaceful connection real?
The deep work begins with serious balance. You must, must, must do the seatwork that gives you a real seat on the horse. This serious balance allows us to begin to have moments of real connection.
The deeper learning is in how to identify when we have lost that balance.
And the deepest learning comes when we begin to delight in the earliest sense of uncertainty that loss of balance brings. That loss of connection is an invitation to practice recovering the connection. And that practice, the practice of recreating and rebalancing, is where the amazing work begins.
So the best place to put our energy is into learning to recognize earlier and earlier the beginning of the loss of connection. We lose connection when the horse's mind wanders, when the horse loses its balance (even a little), and when the horse presses against us. We lose our balance when our own mind wanders, when we lose our balance (even a little), or we pull on the horse.
We humans, believe it or not, are crazy good at this. You are too. It's just that it gets lost in the story and emotion that accompanies it. Instead of getting lost, we can learn to feel the unbalance of weight or the resistances of force as it shows up on three levels-- three 'bodies' we might say.
In our mental body, in the language center of the mind, maybe the beginning of disharmony shows up in feeling of confusion or negative mental chatter. "I'm not getting this, the directions make no sense, this horse is such a pill, I"ll never be as good as so-and-so, did I remember to turn off the coffee pot?" The intellect seems to think its primary role is to assign a narrative to discomfort.
In our emotional being, maybe the beginning of disharmony shows up as a slight (or not so slight) feeling of fear, or a sense of being daunted or sad—or equally as a sudden ‘rush’ of adrenaline. Any emotion that’s a loss of balanced, calm, easy connection.
In our physical body it may show up as a specific and clear sensation of being out of balance or leaned against. Our over-riding minds and emotions can obscure the physical signs.
These are arbitrary distinctions, but they work—the feeling of losing balance shows up as a recognizable change in cognition, emotion, or physical being, and this becomes a ‘red light on the dashboard'. The sooner we notice it, the easier it is to re-establish the lost equilibrium. So instead of feeling lost and diving down that rabbit hole, we notice--oh, I'm feeling lost. Maybe if I re-establish my balance, and help my horse to re-establish hers, things will get better.
And they do.
Noticing earlier and earlier in the process when you begin to lose the horse’s connection with you is the key. If she’s off balance or braced against you, she can’t follow your touch. And that will send you into a posture of defense, mentally, emotionally, physically. And she will return the feeling of armoring. It just devolves from there.
Catching it when it first begins means a tiny correction replaces the whole. So it's invisible to an observer, and actually delicious to both rider and horse: like your sweetheart touching your cheek just as you had a moment of loneliness begin.
So don't stress that you're not perfect. Work on learning to identify the loss of connection earlier and earlier to help return the conversation with less and less effort, and more and more precision and joy.
Because THAT is real riding, And THAT is why this way of working is such a pleasure.
Mary Anne Campbell