I'm riding in a lesson with James Shaw, author of "Ride from Within." James is not a dressage instructor; he is a martial artist who applies the principles Tai Chi to refine your balance and develop a better connection with your horse.
I have been focusing on releasing any blocks or braces in my body that translate to my horse. Focusing first on my breathing, finding my center, feeling the movement of my horse travel through my body, I am able to relax into my riding. We walk around the arena, in perfectly straight lines and supple round circles. Our leg yields are fluid and effortless.
James tells me to think trot. Decadance darts to the left. I counter with left leg but Decadance pushes through it. James laughs. "Too late! He won that one," he says.
It's Decadance's favorite evasion. When anxious or faced with a challenge he'd rather not meet, he spins to the left, exiting the arena or driving me into a corner. It's the last remnant of his past I have not been able to overcome.
What happened? My body tensed in anticipation of the evasion, and my sensitive horse responded in kind.
Rule Number One: Use the mind, not force. The mind directs all action, but in this case, I fell victim to the unconscious actions of my body. I tried to salvage the situation with leg and rein aids, but to no avail.
Rule Number Two: Never oppose force with force. The bigger stronger opponent always wins, in this case, Decadance. Confronting his force with my own is to lose, time and time again.
Rule Number Three: Yield and overcome. Rather than match force with force, yield and redirect the energy. Harness the power of the horse.
We start again. I regain my balance, my center, and relax into the rhythm of the walk. I feel Decadance's hind legs in my seat bones, and breathe into my right side, gently pulsing my right fingers and I capture and recycle the energy of the hind legs in the reins. I think trot while maintaining my relaxation. I feel his intent; he wants to spin left but I maintain my position, staying true to the line of travel, thinking of my dropping right seat bone. Instead of stepping left, he steps up and under my seat. James smiles, "Well played."
My attention waivers, and the next point goes to Decadance. We dart left and I go with him, then immediately shift my weight and balance and circle back to the right.
As we progress, I remain conscious of my breathing, my weight aids. I feel the thrust of the hind legs grow more confident. I give the energy of the hind legs back to Decadance through the reins with an elastic connection that he stretches out to. He starts blowing out, releasing tension both mental and physical. His head flips up and down, up and down, violently. I trust him enough to let go in the reins, maintaining the rhythm of the gait and the line of travel. He is surprised, yet relieved; he expected restraint, not release.
All of a sudden he lets go, I feel the surge of energy travel through him. I am but a conduit, directing the energy he offers. We are in harmony, Decadance and I, I feel the movement flow and circulate from him through me and back again. It's a gift, it's a dance, I am a centaur!
I feel Decadance tire, and I bring him to the walk, amazed at what I had just experienced. James bows and nods. He walks to Decadance and praises him.