A river flows in the direction it most naturally wants to go. I find this imagery helpful with my riding. My horse is at the pinnacle of beauty when her natural movement is unrestrained. If I block her flow of energy momentarily for collection, I must allow the energy to release upon her response or I disrupt her balance which then creates tension. Tension takes a lot of effort to dissolve, as we know, so I like to avoid it as much as possible. Breathing helps. If I forget to breathe, so does my horse. She will hold her breath. This makes it nearly impossible to relax my seat and impedes her movement. A chain reaction. Two or three deep belly breaths and we are moving along nicely again.
Autumn in the mountains is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. I could stare at the foliage for hours. I wish I had that kind of time. Each leaf is uniquely colorful and exquisite. I don’t have favorites because in nature everything is weighted equally. Having just one leaf type wouldn’t work or capture my attention.
I recall a question I asked Steffen Peters a few years ago while auditing his clinic regarding my horse taking over during flying changes and becoming quite bossy with them. Steffen’s response was brilliant. He said that I should do flying changes at the very beginning of my ride, right after the walk warm-up. Steffen found that these flying changes were often the best. I wrote his advice on a slip of paper, put it in pocket and kept it.
I’ve often pondered why this theory works, whether it’s flying changes, trot half passes or really anything I seem to be challenged with. A well trained dressage horse should have the opportunity or really the freedom to be spontaneous. Have a go at running up a steep hill for yourself. The first time you run up that steep hill full of energy and with relaxed muscles, it’s fun. Really, really fun. The second time might be fun too, but by the third or forth time it is hard work and your heart rate is probably elevated. Hard work can be very gratifying and if done correctly build muscle and endurance, but it can also be taxing. It is important for my horse to understand what she is capable of producing and have the opportunity to discover her own unique natural gifts. Staying true to the words of the master, I have the best movement in first 20 minutes of my ride because I have trained my horse to produce quality over quantity. I keep work sessions short, lots of breaks and praise often. And if timed just right, I can see my horse smiling back at me as we leave the arena for a walk down the driveway or hack & snack.
Remember to look up and enjoy the ride! Nature’s simplicity is just awesome!