The thing about writing and vlogging about horsemanship lately is that I feel like everything has been said already.
That’s not exactly true I suppose but often times it seems like it because mostly my recent revelations are about WHY stuff works and why the masters old and new have said certain things.
Take my understanding and application of a soft feel for instance. It’s turned into a tiny obsession with the image of a horse’s hind legs as hydraulics. Buck has said about a million times that the soft feel needs to go all the way to the hind leg and every dressage master I’ve ever read has talked about how everything valuable gymnastically originates from the hind legs.
Over the last six months or so I’ve really been able to observe and feel a horse being uneven (or unbalanced) horizontally. (Imagine the wings of a pegasus.) I think often times this gets talked about in terms of a shoulder falling in or dropping. In more advanced discussions it’s talked about in terms of the horse being crooked laterally.
Real vertical flexion to me has zero to do with my horse’s head. When I say vertical flexion I’m referring to the compression of her hind legs. I’ve become obsessed with my horse bending one hock or the other to even herself up.
If, let’s say, my horse is going around to the right and her hindquarters are washing out to the left, she’s light on her left hind leg. So that leg is straighter, that hip is higher and she’s probably stepped heavier on her right hind before catching her balance on her right shoulder.
I’ve noticed with both Willow and Daveena that this regularly comes with a little (or a lot) of concern when changing eyes.
So using the example of my horse on a right handed curve: Let’s say she’s seeing something out of her left eye that catches her attention and concerns her. As she comes around the arc and she has to let that thing go through her blind spot, she may want to pick it up in her right eye as soon as possible to keep track of it. I’ve seen this repeatedly create a loss of balance onto the inside hind leg then the inside shoulder. At canter, I’ve seen both my mares (yay for talent) swap leads in the back.
Watching them do this has been a great illustration of balance for me because the more disciplined they become, the less of a leaving the arc it is. I can’t even really say that it’s a washing out of the hindquarters at all. It’s just a shift of weight horizontally that is created by one hind leg flexing vertically more than the other.
Once I figured out what was happening I could look up at my horse’s hips from the ground and see the vertical unevenness appear consistently. When riding I could flick my mind backwards and easily feel my seat listing one way or the other.
As some of you know, one of my mantras over the last year or so has been that the horse has to move her own body. Great gymnastics, a velvety soft and energetic result MUST originate in the horse’s mind. It’s the only possible way.
This is a huge part of my obsession with the core idea of horsemanship. It’s communication. The idea MUST pass from my mind to my horse’s mind. THEN she can fire the electrical signals in her brain to execute the engagement of muscles and the movement of bone.
The hardness, the yucky quality of movements, the brace, comes from conflicting ideas in my horse’s mind. That conflict comes from either a misunderstanding of what I asked of her or a cross thread between her instinctual self preservation and a desire to do what I’m asking.
I think for me the concepts of horizontal balance (we could say lateral balance as well) and the soft feel are intertwined with high level communications because horizontal balance is an intricate adjustment. That level of refinement is impossible to force. When we get into trying to force our horses we accentuate conflicting thoughts and it becomes an exercise in futility. Those tiny, intricate physical adjustments have to be initiated by the horse herself.
The thrill of a spectacular horsemanship moment comes, for me, in a flashes of pure understanding and execution. It’s so amazing! It’s some intoxicating mix of telepathy and acceptance and cooperation.
It’s all been said before. It really has. The deeper into it I get, the more convinced of this I am.
However, for me, it’s like a life size 3D game of tetris where I’m standing in the middle of the falling pieces and a sixth sense is required. Yes, the pieces have always been there. They’re all being talked about. They’ve been written about for hundreds and hundreds of years. We have some incredible teachers among us today as living examples.
It’s the personal experience of fitting it all together that fuels my compulsion to just keep going. It might not be new but it still sets my mind and heart on fire.
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