(Ringo looking perky, even in the nasty weather we've been dealing with)
It hasn't been without a little bit of heartache and a lot of sweat, but I think I've had 3 solid epiphanies in the past 3 days. Like most of the breakthroughs I've had in the past year, the conclusions I've come to in the past days seem tragically common sense in retrospect, but isn't that always the way? Here's what I've been discovering:
1. Control the Shoulders, Control the World... Squash Edition
All right, all right, this one isn't riding related, but bear with me. I've started playing squash again in the past month with my new coaching gig at my high school, and it's been great to get back into the game. In general I've been happy with the fact that, despite not playing in four years (I didn't play at all besides a handful of social games in college), my skills have come back pretty much unchanged, and in some cases improved with a few years more strength and muscle (I was a seriously wussy stick figure in high school). But there are a couple basic elements of my swing that I've always struggled with.
(I have no photos of me playing squash (and they would be tragically not badass compared to this one if they did exist), so here we are)
Today, however, I was hitting the ball on my own, and had a massive breakthrough with my swing mechanics, involving (as it so often does!) controlling the shoulders. Now, usually I'm thinking about controlling my horse's shoulders, so it was a bit of a meta step to think about my own shoulders so carefully. But wow, what a change! Not only was it fun to hit the ball with some awesome newfound power and accuracy, it was a good reminder to be really conscious of my body. I'm hoping to be able to transfer this better body awareness that I've been finding in squash into my riding! (we'll see.)
2. Remember the Half Halt
On Sunday, I got to have a catch ride on a very special horse. You may recognize her:
Kiki!! I obviously don't ride Kiki much any more, since her lessor Robin is enjoying her so much (yayayayay!), so it was great to be reunited with her again. In general, she feels quite good, and Robin has done a great job with her. One thing that still remains elusive with her, however, is a good connecting half halt.
I had reread the basic principles behind Jane Savoie's famous 'demystified half-halt' the day before, and holy geeze, having those clear steps was super helpful. I've watched Jane Savoie's tapes before but not in many years, and honestly was pretty sure that I had the half halt down, so it was a bit of a revelation to have these simple steps work so well. Kiki got better and better with each half halt I applied, and was going gangbusters by the end. A definite reminder that returning to basics is often best!
3. Less is More
This last epiphany came this evening, and was by far the biggest and toughest to digest. I had lessons with Kim on both Ringo and Ky (more on Ringo's tomorrow - it was awesome!!), and my lesson with Ky was... rugged. He was very tight and up from the beginning, and I was really struggling at getting him to relax into the contact. It felt like one of our first rides all over again, with him bouncing off the contact and constantly lugging behind my leg.
When he gets like this, my first reaction is to press him forward. On days where he's being naughty like tonight, my goal of 'forward' becomes gogogogoogogo, with the result that he's running off his feet, tense and mistrustful of my aids, and worse than ever. My instinct, in this case, is WRONG. Dead. Wrong. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I often fall back to the this strategy, rarely with good results. I think this habit comes from my time with laaaaaazy Stanford schoolhorses, perhaps the only type of horse that this "light the horse's hair on fire" strategy is remotely helpful for. I found it work for them, and then got into the habit of using it whenever I ran into issues, regardless of the horse underneath me.
The problem is, though, that for a horse like Ky who is somewhat tense and nervous, constantly jabbing, spurring, and otherwise ambushing him into a sewing machine pony trot is in many ways the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I should be doing. With a horse like Ringo who gets fast and electric, I know to be calm and soft as much as I can; but with a horse like Ky that feels 'lazy,' I go to a place that is WAY too harsh and mean. I need to chill out, get zen, and let him settle into a rhythm that he's more naturally comfortable with and let him relax and push himself forward naturally.
I got very frustrated in my lesson, and Kim offered to get on. She did exactly that: quietly encouraged him to relax while letting him stay more in his comfort zone tempo-wise. It was huge to watch: he transformed, and was using himself beautifully in a few minutes. I was humbled, but focused. I definitely know where I need to go from here!
Meanwhile, here's Ky in one of our better moments before the nagging, frustration, and Kim getting on:
I just need to remind myself of how far he's come in two months whenever I get annoyed... And of how adorable he is! :)