Sometimes, when I ride I am in a state of complete mindfulness of the feedback coming from the horse that tells me when the horse is moving as required. This state demands that I be vigilant about my awareness and responsible for the communication. When being vigilant, I am keeping careful watch for undesirable changes in myself and my horse, but also for that effortlessness that shows up when we are in harmony. When the effortlessness is happening it is almost indescribable. There is a wonderful flow in our two bodies moving in harmony and there is no need to hold or manipulate or apply pressure. This is the place that I want the majority of my riding to exist. I want to feel the freedom of complete togetherness. It is difficult to describe, it sometimes catches me by surprise and the moments can be fleeting but when we are in it, one thing for sure, it is glorious.
How do we increase the amount of time in this state of glorious freedom? It shouldn’t feel like we are driving a truck without power steering, or pushing a load uphill.
Recently taking dancing lessons I have had to learn a lot about following. I’ve learned that I need to trust the leader. I need to follow the signals given by him so that I know what to do next. Sometimes I am enjoying the moment and the movement so much I totally disconnect and start dancing steps of my own creation, purely because I feel good. My leader may accuse me of taking the lead, losing the tempo, making incorrect steps. Luckily, we laugh it off and I get back into the follower’s roll of waiting, feeling, stepping in response to the cues.
However, I have considered that a moment of talk, mindlessness and not being vigilant about following can actually disrupt all of the hard earned coordination. The leader stops us and we reset, or I make efforts to get in harmony - again and frequently.
I am amazed to think that this is what my horse experiences when I am the leader in the ride and how similar it is to me being the dance follower. I am even more conscious of those experiences when I’m switched to another dance leader who is so different than dancing with my mate.
Does my horse find moments when it’s just plain enjoyable to be cantering off - to be trotting strong and feeling the power of his body - to be walking and stretching with free flowing muscles? Can I say “yes” to that for a few moments the redirect? How long can I as the leader expect my horse to simply maintain the working gaits? I don’t want to get him to the point where his muscles start to scream, his brain begins to look for distractions, he shuts down and gets robotic, or worse, rejects my leadership! How many changes in tempo, direction, gaits and frame should I request to break the monotony before my horse stops finding those changes to be welcomed interactive conversations? Am I a worthy leader if the conversation is too complex or to repetitive or too confusing? Am I accepting of the horse’s feedback through tempo changes, incorrect steps and resistances?
Dance lessons have taught me how important it is to have a fair, competent leader who matches my energy and who can stay cognizant of the decision making necessary for us to achieve some harmony and enjoyment. It is built step by step over time. It is vigilant assessment - continuously.
I am aware of what it takes to be a follower who stays “in the moment” continually reading and responding to my leader so that we both end up enjoying the activity together. I am hoping that my horse becomes that willing, attentive, expressive partner that I aspire to be in the dance.
I feel safe when I’m held by a confident and knowledgeable partner.
I feel trusting when the communication is clear, effective but not intrusive.
I try consistently when I am rewarded with appreciation, confirming words and actions.
I am willing to dance again when I’ve rested, ever so briefly, after completing a movement.
I am responsive and I appreciate the leader who knows and accepts my “try”, to get it right. We enjoy a dance together then we part ways and take a break. Stopping at that right moment leaves me feeling accomplished, improved, not over used and ready to repeat the experience at a leader’s request. The dance is still enjoyable.
Riding has so often been described as a dance, where the cues are the unseen language between the rider and the horse. Although I thought that I understood that phrase I now more fully understand it. Even though I have had occasions of the glorious ride, the perfect stride, a freedom in connection now I understand what my horse has given me in order to experience that from this journey of learning to dance. My horse has given me a total surrender of his body and his mind, trusting both to my leadership and care. I am in awe of that, aware of the responsibility in holding that and my heart is full.