Lately, my rides on Harley have been about relaxing, partly for him and partly for me. This has been driven by my mood more than a training regiment. We have still been working on the exercises from our last lesson, but with a larger dose of joy than determination. Our focus on relaxation has not been without energy and our rides have been quite peppy in tempo; it is just that I started work again last week and feel the need to be comforted by my horse and riding time. I just want to enjoy it and the beautiful autumn weather, before we change the clocks back and the cold creeps in. I want my horse to enjoy himself, too. I am sure that he has noticed the sudden decrease in my barn visits. Harley is attentive, but not an overly affectionate horse. Recently, he has seemed a little more so. Sorry, boy. Gotta work to pay your feed bills! We are lucky that we get so much time together during the summer months.
During our last relaxing ride, we had a wonderful trot warm up. Harley's strides felt sweeping and fluid. We changed direction with lots of variation: tear drops, small figure eights, large figure eights, three-quarter circles that change direction at the rail, and looping serpentines. I practiced holding the reins a little more up and insisted that Harley maintain his energy with taps from a sturdy whip (rather than a "whippy" whip, as recommended by my teacher). I really started feeling what my teacher meant about the horse slipping into the "on the bit" groove. I was getting better at transferring the responsibility from one inside rein to the other with each change of direction without locking my shoulders and Harley was getting more and more fluid in his strides. This was all done in rising trot. How would it feel while sitting?
After a break, I asked Harley to trot and remained seated. Harley felt pretty good, but something about his movement was different. There wasn't the same fluidity and surge. I tried riding a few circles and transitions to see if that would help us regain our forwardness and balance, but it still wasn't quite right. I thought about what I was doing and realized a big difference in my riding. When I was riding all those changes of direction in rising trot, my eyes had been looking ahead and tuned into our next destination. Where were my eyes now?
Staring at my horse's neck and, worse, at my hands! Oh dear.
No wonder Harley was not feeling it. My intent was gone. I was not thinking forward. I needed to ride the sitting trot exactly as I rode that lovely, flowing rising trot.
I tried it again, but after a few strides of looking where I was going, I found myself staring at Harley's pretty neck again. Darn. Why was this so difficult? I struggled with it a little longer and than took a break.
I thought about what I was doing. I knew where I wanted him to go, but I had stopped thinking about how I wanted him to go, at least beyond the part of him that I could see. I thought about his feet. I needed his hind feet to step energetically forward, lifting his back and freeing his shoulders to move with those big sweeping strides that I had felt earlier. I decided to imagine that the only thing I was riding was his hind feet. I even imagined that his hind feet were stepping from my belly. That sounds really silly, but it did wonders for my position.
I started off with a couple short trot sets, the length of the short side or halfway down the long side. As long as I pictured his hind legs stepping through my stomach, I kept my hands up and my chest open. I stayed more on the back of my seat, because it felt like I had to make room for his hind legs. I remembered to keep my belly button back toward my spine, even though I was sitting taller.
The result was beautiful, flowing movement from my horse. He felt like he was in rear-wheel drive and the transitions back to walk kept that forward feeling. I tried it in canter and imagined my belly cantering behind my horse's shoulders. The sensation was so carefree that I couldn't stop grinning. Each time we surged forward in trot or stepped into the canter, my horse felt light and easy and so much fun to ride. Every single time that we lost that wonderful movement, I lost my image. This was most likely to happen in the trot after the right lead canter. I am not sure which one came first, but they were definitely influencing one another. My eyes dropped, my position dropped, and my horse did the same. When I succeeded in holding that image in my mind, my position felt rock solid and I finally had the feeling that I was riding my horse uphill in the sitting trot. My hips even felt like they were ahead of my shoulders, but I do not think that I was leaning back.
My horse was quite happy to carry me this way. I was being rocked along as his hind legs stepped through me. Relaxing is not the word. It was mesmerizing.