I spent all last week not riding because of the rain. I found a million other things to do to convince myself I was simply too busy to ride. Well I truly know that “too busy” is in fact internal shorthand for “not enough of a priority”. As it neared the end of the week, the itch of irritation at not having worked with the horses rose from a subconscious irritation to an identifiable sensation. I realised that the issue was not the weather but was within me. My resistance to riding in the rain was generated by my subconscious denial of the end of summer and my dread of another british winter. The Permadamp is coming screamed my brain! (thanks to the lady on Facebook I have shamelessly stolen the word Permadamp from).
The wonderful thing about owning your thoughts and feelings is that you have the option to change them. And so I did. I took a deep breath and welcomed all the beautiful aspects of autumn, dug out my warmer socks and driest coat and got out there with the horses. I had a wonderful time with both Berty and Lali and came away from the session refueled with the joy of exploration in movement.
How about the resistances in our horses? My mentor, Mary Anne Campbell, helped me see them as a wondrous place to find when training your horse. She calls them “the working surface”, a place as movable and ephemeral as mist. Each time you play with your horse the game is to find that very first “working surface”, and then welcome it. Be glad your horse trusts you enough to show you where in its’ range of movement it feels vulnerable. And then see what happens when your mindset is of curious engagement rather than of irritation or needing to overcome the problem.
Try this with your horse: place your hand on their nose at the level of the nose band. Breathe in and out slowly. Become aware of how you are standing. Oh so very gently ask your horse to flex her head to the left. Use so little pressure that you don’t even dent the skin with your fingers. Follow the movement as much as you guide it. And at the very first moment that you feel any resistance, pause. Welcome this invitation to help your horse find greater ease in movement. See if just the act of pausing, respecting this first “no”, is enough for your horse to offer further flexion. If not, the try stroking the hair of the neck either from ear to wither-wards on the inside of the bend, or from wither too ear-wards on the outside of the bend. Follow whatever safe movements your horse gives you, even if that is complete immobility. Some horses take a couple of tries to realise you aren’t making them do anything in this exercise, that there is a two way conversation happening.
Once you’ve got the hang of this in hand exercise see how you can apply the same mindset to any other resistances your come across. Let me know your questions and findings in the comments below.
********N.B. Of course, as with all things horse related, please use your common sense and keep yourself in a safe position at all times. Yes, maintaining connection with the horse is ideal, but safety first!!********