Thursday, June 15, 2017

Summer of the Horse: The Torso, the Whole Torso and Nothing But the Torso

Head up! Head up!

It seems as if the only body parts not involved in riding are the feet and the head. And of course these are the parts that keep making mistakes.
"Use your calves! Don't use your heels! Keep your legs by the girth!"
"Chin up! Head up! Look where you're going!"
Every week, there is a riding lesson but also a personal lesson: For lesson four, it's my lack of concentration. I find riding on the back of a horse very relaxing so my thoughts tend to drift; actually, I stop having thoughts. It's really nice, just to ride along there, thinking about nothing, just rocking with movement of the horse. Hey, there's a pigeon up there, and how nice it's not raining today --
"Don't lean into the turn!"
"We're going into a corner! What reign are you on? What leg are you using?"
"Let's do that again!"
 "Now stop."
"Let's do that again."
"Be firm with him! You sound too nice. You want him to stop so make him stop. Squeeze with your legs! Pull back with your elbows! Don't lean forward!"


I can't believe how tired my body is after this morning's lesson. It feels like my legs and feet and arms are vibrating which means it's both a tiredness and an energizing -- I could lie down for a nap then go for another ride. An hour of concentrating for both body and mind is exhausting but a good thing; it means I worked hard and learned something.
Dawn Helm, who owns and instructs at Galloway Stables in Linden where I'm learning to ride, was away today so Ashley stepped in to do my lesson. It's good to have different instructors because each one has a different style. Ashley pushed me hard and filled me with information. She made me do my stops until they were done properly; she made me do the corners until I was doing them properly.
And she kept asking me what was written on the back of Dakota's head that was so interesting! For some reason, I can't remember to keep my head up and look between his ears yet it makes such a difference to my control of the horse when I am looking where we're walking, instead of down at what is walking me there.
"Shoulders, belly button and hips, that's all you're using," Ashley told me. "Use your torso. That's what's controlling the horse."
I think I understand. I could feel the subtle change in movement in Dakota when I curved my shoulders into our turn, and I could feel how effective my stop became when I tightened my hips. I could feel how my seat changed, for the better, when I kept my legs forward at the girth (which runs under the horse's belly to hold the saddle on) instead of hooking them back towards his hind legs (and my weak ankles didn't hurt this week).
Torso, torso, torso. All my control comes from that part of the body. My legs are instruments of stop and go. My torso determines where we go and how we get there.

With Ashley as my instructor today, the learning curve was steeper, the do-overs more intense, and my landing after dismount more painful after a hearty hour on the back of Dakota but even though I feel overwhelmed by what I know, and what I don't know, this reinforces the fact that if you want to learn anything -- to ride a horse, to paint, to play an instrument, to write, to cook -- all it takes is practice. Do it again and again and again, and eventually you will become proficient at it. As with all activities, and dreams, the more you work at it, the more you get out of it.

I said out loud to one of the other riders tacking up their horse that "I wish I'd done this twenty years ago" but as the words came out of my mouth, I knew they were wrong. I'm learning to ride a horse -- and learning to be confident and in charge, to be firm and in control of both my body and the horse's -- at the right time of my life. Twenty years ago, I was an insecure young woman utterly lacking in self-awareness; now I am wiser and humbler, and I don't mind someone yelling at me.

Look at me on my borrowed horse in my borrowed riding helmet and holey Bog boots! Who gives a shit what you're wearing or whether you are doing it correctly right from the start? All that matters is that you get up on that horse, you draw on that page, you get in that canoe, you step onto that stage.

You are never too old to pursue that one thing you've always wanted to do. Trust me, nothing makes you feel younger, like a kid again, than learning something new.

Practicing Whoa. Look at that torso!

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