This weekend I attended a Centered Riding clinic. For those unfamiliar with Centered Riding, this is a style that helps you gain a more balanced seat and reach a better partnership with your horse. It will help you with all disciplines. Below you will find reports from each day of the clinic.
Tonight was mostly a get to know you session. We talked about our horse experience, our fears (if we have them), injuries, and our desires.
Then we did a breathing exercise.
Breathing properly is integral to Centered Riding (CR). So it was in through the nose and deep into our center (lower abdomen); out through the mouth but allowing the breath to go down our backs and into our seatbones and tail bone. Allowing that section to get more connected to the earth and more centered.
This morning we spent exploring the four aspects to Centered Riding.
Breathing, Soft eyes, Centering and the "building blocks" (ears, shoulders, hips, heels in a line). By teaching these things through exercises it is hoped it will allow us to translate them onto the horse.
I think a lot of this is rather self-evident, but it still gave time for self-reflection and getting more in-tune with my body. The one thing I noticed was that of the four, the one that allowed me the most relaxation was the soft eyes and not the breathing.
The afternoon was divided into 4 different riding groups and I got to be in the first one. During our hour to hour and a half time, we took those four components and practiced them on horse back, really feeling the movement of the horse and allowing our bodies to get into their rhythm. At that point the instructor began having us work to influence the horse, using tension, balance and movement of our centers. Because I am used to feeling my body, in many ways it came more easily than I thought it would. And of course, I have had wonderful instruction in this from Stephanie.
Again, I found that focusing on my breathing did not relax me the way I had assumed it might, BUT the soft eyes did! I was amazed at how soft I got, and therefore how soft Tapestry got, simply because I went all soft eyed. This cycle of soft eyes, relaxation of me, relaxation of Tapestry allowed me to be more in tune with her and it became a real cycle. Definitely a case of self-fulfilling prophecy!
The one thing I had more trouble with was the way they wanted me to whoa. The day before I had worked with Marcy with whoa-ing Beau and it is quite easy. Exhale, soft seat, bring shoulders slightly up and then back and down, which aligns my elbows with my hips. This causes a very slight tension in the reins, but not a pull. He stops and I release quickly. When I whoa-d that way today, I got strong correction! "No pulling" I was told. "Heavy elbows, light wrists, lift your hands UP!" I will say that Marcy cautioned me about letting my hands sag downward in a whoa, but they really wanted my hands to go UP. At one point my arms were almost straight up to get Tap to stop. This was confusing to her, and to me. Because I am not 100% sure that this was really what they wanted (it could have been an exaggeration to make me more aware of keeping my wrists from sagging), I will be interested to see what it is like tomorrow.
However, all in all, I feel that I came away with great inner leg connection to the horse and more relaxation.
As with yesterday, we began the day on the ground. After going over what we had learned and listening to questions/observations/thoughts etc. we did a couple of exercises to help us become more body aware and learn to connect to another being.
The first was called "dolls" and one of us stood, centered, closed our eyes and relaxed; they were the 'doll'. The other person was the positioner and, once they were centered, would begin to move the 'doll' while still maintain her center and balance. As with other exercises I found that our breathing synchronized. Being moved was interesting because you were giving control of your body up to, and trusting in, someone else. Being the mover was realizing how much the 'doll' needed to trust you. With both, it felt like a dance.
The next exercise I had done before and it was where one person was the "horse" and held the bit in their mouth (hands), while the other rode. Because of my previous experience it did not bring total revelations to me unlike it did for my partner. She hadn't experienced this exercise and was really amazed at how it felt. I feel it is a wonderful refresher anyway, and for those who have never done it, definitely worth a try. It simply makes you more conscious of how that bit feels in your horse's mouth and why balancing on your hands in NOT a good thing.
After lunch break we went to the arena and did one more exercise. Here we paired with the partner from one of yesterday's exercise. This time, one of us was behind the other's back and placed our hands under their elbows. For the first part we were simply to guide this "horse" around...no centering allowed. Then we were to center ourselves and mindfully plan where we were going. Again, once synchronized, it felt like a dance. Definitely something to strive for with your horse partner.
Then we went onto riding. Today was not as easy for me as yesterday as I got to ride a different horse (who's name happens to be Beau, but not *my* Beau). This horse was not a subtle horse, and for the hour or so I was on his back, I was not going to be able to soften him or cause him to become subtle. Everything I did had to be done, not just decisively, but strongly and with HUGE energy (for me) behind it. This made it difficult because I have always striven for softness and "less is more" with my own horses.
Anyway, we practiced the exercises from yesterday and then we began to work more with speeding up the horse by knowing when he was stepping under himself with his inside leg and applying more of our own inside leg to get him to stretch his stride. Then we shortened the stride by stepping into our inside stirrup, which necessitates our inside seat bone to become heavier. This was *particularly* hard for me. I was pushing down with my seat bone so hard that I was in danger of off balancing myself. Finally he responded! Phew!
Next we worked with direct and indirect reins...steering our horses off the wall and back to it by using our seatbones, and the direct/indirect reins. This led up to our turning the horse completely around using an indirect rein and our focus (and therefore seatbone and leg).
So, I did learn some useful techniques that I can carry with me even if it was slightly frustrating to use a horse that was a bit deadened to all but the deepest of connection.