I know the forward motion of my horse under saddle is at times blocked, mentally as well as physically. I know I am not the origin of the problem, but I am an integral part of the solution. I need to identify and eliminate braces in my own body of which I am unaware, but translate loud and clear to Decadance.
The three main junctions of the horse's body that most affect mobility and performance are the poll-atlas junction, the neck-shoulder-withers, and the hind-end. Consequently, these are the area where stress and tension are most likely to accumulate. Decadance is no exception. I've been focusing on therapies to release this stress and tension: acupuncture, laser therapy, the Masterson Method, massage. I can see visible releases during treatment: snorting, sneezing, yawning, shaking of the head. I know it's working. I've been treating the symptoms, not addressing the source of the problem.
Could the problem, in fact, be me?
I've ridden with James Shaw, author of Ride From Within, before and contacted him to see when he might be in Florida. James utilizes his knowledge of Tai Chi, Ba Qua, and other martial arts to improve the balance of the rider, resulting in freedom and power flowing through the horse, cycling to and from the rider. I knew he would shift the focus from Decadance to discovering what we could improve about me. James told me he would be in Englewood, FL, the first two weeks in January. I arranged to attend a clinic, and scheduled some private lessons with him to enlist his help with Decadance.
Alas, my strength is my weakness, when it comes to Decadance. A classically correct equitation can still create tension when maintained by tightly contracted muscles, tension of which I am blissfully unaware until it is reflected by my horse. Time for a position recalibration, and an exploration of new possibilities with a completely open mind.
As I walk around the arena on Decadance, James has me focus on my breathing, bringing my awareness to within. Breathing in through the nose for four counts and out through the mouth for five, breathing deep into my diaphragm and filling up my lower back, I can feel the tension leave my body. Decadance's head drops lower and he in turn relaxes.
James brings my awareness to my seat bones, making me conscious of my balance right to left in the saddle. On a circle to the right, my inside seat bone should drop slightly more than my outside, but my weight has shifted to the outside, to the left. Why is more or less irrelevant; think less, feel more, and correct. I breathe into my lower back and my right side, my inside seat bone drops, and Decadance steps up underneath me. The steps grow longer and move more freely as the movement shifts into three dimensions. We unlock the rotation of my pelvis: as my seat bones lift and lower, I concentrate on turning my belly button from side to side. Decadance begins to swing through his back as I remove the blocks in mine!
As my lower back unlocks and my seat bones connect to the hind legs of my horse, my concentration shifts to blocks in my upper back and shoulders. As I tense, Decadance feels the change, and flips his head up and down in protest. I didn't realize I was holding, and I exhale and let go. James has me think of rounding my shoulders slightly to counteract my leaning back. I use the image of embracing the sun, hugging it in my arms, and I can feel the energy flowing forward through the reins. I am not the only one! Decadance lifts up through his topline and his neck arches forward, reaching for the contact. For him, that acceptance is huge!
As we walk around the ring, and later trotting, I can tell when I use strength or leverage instead of balance. Blocks in my shoulders or back travel through my seat and reins and are communicated directly to my horse. Decadance mounts an immediate protest. This is how he has previously been ridden, it awakens his defenses. He will match me brace for brace, having learned the stronger opponent always wins. As I became quicker at identifying when I am holding, blocking, bracing, I can channel his energy more effectively and direct it almost effortlessly. He might still try an evasion, but I can feel his intent and redirect it without resistance. We are moving in harmony; we feel as one.
I hadn't realized how much I contributed to the imbalance of my horse, but subtle changes in my own balance and position yield major change in Decadance. I take a moment to thank my horse, I am grateful to him for starting me on this journey. The lessons I am learning are invaluable. He has caused me to rethink all I thought I knew, and seek out the infinite amount of wisdom that I lack. I am glad I connected with James Shaw, his approach is exactly what Decadance and I need right now. It reinforces the path that I have started on; it is the next step in that progression.
I can't wait for another lesson!