Cassie and I had an interesting ride last night. We had to deal with a difficult situation and afterwards it really made me think on how I use my energy when I ride her. Cassie is not an easy ride. She is very sharp in her reactions and she can blow up quickly and without warning. When Cassie gets hot and flustered I try to balance and diffuse her by breathing slowly and deeply and by keeping my own energy low.
Last night we were coming up a narrow boreen when we met a jeep reversing towards us, so we had to turn around because there was no space for the jeep to get past us. The reason the jeep was reversing soon became clear; there was a young boy on a tiny pony coming down the boreen. They were accompanied by a girl with a longe whip and what was obviously the father driving a van behind them. Next there was a car, followed by a tractor. A whole procession coming down what is normally a very quiet country lane, and it was all bearing down on Cassie, who was not impressed.
After the jeep passed us the father got out of the van and led the little boy on the pony to a spot a bit further up the road behind us, where he tied the pony to a tree. Then he got back into the van and proceeded to drive past us. The girl had gotten into the van and was now waving the longe whip out the window. I called for them to put the whip away, but they mustn’t have heard me, so as the van passed us Cassie had to cope with a pony behind her, a longe whip waving in her face and, with the car and tractor coming towards her, there was nowhere to go. She was like a coiled spring ready to go off and it took all I had to keep her more or less together. I must have lost several pints of sweat while Cassie was practising her piaffe and other assorted movements. When the whole procession had gone and the way was finally clear it took me ages to bring Cassie back down and get her to relax. Then, interestingly, I couldn’t get her back into an active walk again, so I let her choose her own speed and we ambled our way home.
When I got off to walk beside Cassie for the last few hundred yards as I normally do, I realised how wrecked I was. I barely had the energy to walk and I wondered if the fact that I had no energy left was the reason I couldn’t get Cassie back into an active walk after she calmed down. That made me consider the possibility that I keep my energy too low for too long and so inadvertently block Cassie’s. Mark Rashid has a story in his book “Whole Heart, Whole Horse” about a woman and her horse who can’t go faster than a slow walk. He advises the woman to study how she moves and the energy it takes to speed up and slow down. So, this morning I went for a powerwalk, to try it out for myself.
I love walking, but I never pay attention to how I actually walk. To walk without either looking at the scenery or being wrapped up in introspection was a revelation. Here are the things I noticed:
- Before I start to walk, there is a small, upward surge just below my stomach, just before I exhale.
- As soon as I let my mind drift and start thinking about things, I slow down. I have to really focus on maintaining speed.
- If I don’t tighten my stomach muscles, I end up falling forward. I wonder if this is how horses end up on their forehand? I also noticed that if I keep my stomach muscles tight and my shoulders back, I carry myself better and lighter.
- I needed to breathe much higher than I usually do when I ride. I tend to breathe deep into my belly because I find it helps to keep Cassie relaxed, but to bring up the energy to powerwalk I need to breathe higher in my ribcage
I can see how it will help my riding if I can incorporate these things. It might even help Cassie to find and maintain an active walk.