Do you ever notice that what you resist only gets bigger and takes on a life of its own? Have you noticed this with your riding? When you focus on where your horse is resisting, you just get more resistance. What can you do instead?

Ride with presence, and ride from your center. There is a place outside of what is going on that can see, observe, and be able to have a choice in what happens next. This your “center”, the place where you don’t have to REact, you can simply be, observe, and ACT from a place of freedom and peace.

How do you find this place?  Notice when you are in the middle of reacting to something.  For example, you put your leg on and instead of the horse moving off it, the horse moves into your leg.  Notice how you respond to that situation.  What are you doing?  Is there a different way of encouraging your horse to move off your leg?  Just by asking these questions, you are NOW in your center and have a way of choosing to act, instead of just reacting.

It has taken me a while to get to this place in my riding, but what it has done for my horse is amazing. My horse used to be anxious and concerned about what she needed to do next. Now she has learned that we are only concerned about what is happening in this stride, right now. This new way of being for me and my horse even carries over to when others ride her. They are amazed at how my horse behaves in such a friendly, calm, and accepting way. They are amazed that when they get on, even if they make a mistake, my horse still stays calm and works to do her job. Things that frighten other horses don’t bother my horse because she has learned to trust her humans and know they will make sure she doesn’t get hurt.

Spend some time seeing if you can find this place of peace and observation. See if you can bring this to your life and to your riding. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at the changes you find happening without any resistance to the change.

English … Western … Can’t We All Just Get Along?

In the spirit of post Election Day reconciliation, it seemed a good time to discuss our differences.  English riding versus Western riding?  Why does it have to be one or the other?  Why can’t we see the value in both?

To say that horse people have strong opinions on this topic is an understatement.  English riders call Western riders lazy and sloppy.  Western riders call English riders uptight and prissy.  What escapes notice is that both groups are accomplishing the same goal, just in a different style.

The first goal of riding is quite simple: keep the horse between you and the ground.  After that is achieved, the basic principles are the same no matter what tack you’re sitting in: relaxation, balance, feel, and timing.  You can’t move with the horse if you’re not relaxed.  If you have to unlock your hips to move with the horse’s back, you have no hope of sitting with him and allowing him to do his job.  Without that relaxation, you will never find your balance.  Your muscles will fight the movement, constantly tipping you one way or the other, and preventing you from finding the ease that comes from being balanced atop your horse.  If you don’t have relaxation and balance, you will never be able to get past what your body is doing and feel the subtle shifts in your horse’s body.  Without a feel for those subtle changes in the horse, you will never know when to give a correction, and when to release that correction so the horse understands he has done his job.

At the core is the interconnectedness of these factors that will get us to our ultimate goal: being a partner for our horse so that together we can move in harmony and accomplish more than we could have separately.  It doesn’t matter if you achieve that goal in a large saddle on a loose rein, or in a small saddle with constant rein contact, what matters in the end is the harmony of the partnership.

Peaks and valleys

We crave the peak experience.  We hang onto days where everything feels great, life is exciting, and we’re in “The Zone” like a shipwreck survivor clings to flotsam.  We assign the quality of “good” to days like this, and “bad” to days where things don’t go our way, to days when we have sand in our mental shorts, and everything we do turns into a biggeer mess than when we started.  Yet where does this striving get us?

If life is one long peak experience, then what becomes a peak?  If there are no lows, then how can we tell we’re at a high?  How can we treasure the days when we feel cruddy just as much as the days when we feel like we’re floating through life like it’s effortless?

For me, it is realizing that my valleys define my peaks.  I can’t always say that I can immediately see the “good” in where I’m at, especially when it seems painful or frustrating.  What I can do is turn my awareness to this process of categorizing things as “good” and “bad”, and instead let go of the value judgements to simply be with what is there.

Is this easy?  Does it come naturally to me?  Of course not … I am human after all.  What I can say is that I’m not giving up and that I keep returning to this inquiry.  That is what this blog and this community is all about … continuing one step at a time to try again, to acknowledge the glorious imperfection of humanity and embrace this as what helps make us great.

I encourage you to try this for yourself.  Does setting aside the concept of a “good” or “bad” day help you gain perspective?  Do you work at taking small steps to create something new?

“Seabiscuit” exemplifies getting back in the saddle

Back in the Saddle:

This story exemplifies getting back in the saddle. People think it only happens in a Hollywood movie, but that’s not true. Here are the photos of the actual people (and horse) who refused to give up. It shows that set-backs do not have to determine the outcome of your life.

Originally posted on Going Forward:

I decided rather suddenly this evening that I needed to own the movie “Seabiscuit” on DVD, although I’m not sure why a nearly 10-year-old movie about a nearly 80-year-old horse has been so much on my mind lately. I don’t even like horses!

But as I watched it, I remembered why I love that movie. First, there’s the affable and generous Charles Howard, who bought, rehabilitated and tirelessly promoted this undersized thoroughbred with a champion racing bloodline but very little to show for it before he came into Howard’s care.

Seabiscuit and Charles Howard

Seabiscuit and Charles Howard

Howard and his old-school trainer, Tom Smith, saw the ragged little horse’s potential in his fiery eyes, and they agreed that “you don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a bit.”

Seabiscuit and Tom Smith

Seabiscuit and Tom Smith

This story is all about second chances–for Howard, coping with the tragic death of his 15-year-old son…

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For Better Heart Health Exercise Harder, Not Longer

Back in the Saddle:

I am on a mission to LIVE “back in the saddle” in ALL aspects of my life. I was recently side-lined from my regular exercise program with a shoulder injury. It is healing up to the point now where I will be able to re-start soon, but my two top reasons for not re-starting an exercise program is that it takes too much time, and I don’t see any results. I know I need to dial down the intensity from what I was doing (P90X), but I also know that when I was exercising intensely, my body was in the best shape ever since it was finally getting challenged. I will be working to strike a balance between intensity and conditioning to avoid injury.

I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did … it gives me hope I’m going in the right direction.

Originally posted on Health & Family:

The general advice for most Americans is: Get more exercise. But the question is what kind of exercise, how intensely and for how long?

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Those who can do … teach

Passing knowledge on from one person to another is one of the most difficult challenges we face in communicating.  As an instructor, I hate it when someone quotes: “Those who can … do.  Those who can’t … teach.”  The person quoting this must be going through a tough time with their instructor, and I have the profoundest sympathy for their experience.  However, I would like to offer up an alternate axiom for great instructors: “Those who can … do.  Those who can do it so well they can explain it to someone, demonstrate it, and help the other person master it … teach.”

This is a key point to understand.  When you are teaching a subject, especially a physical skill, being able to perform the skill, and being able to teach the skill are two completely different processes.  People can be very competent at doing something, like playing the piano, painting a picture, riding a horse, shooting a basketball, and so on, but they may not be able to teach the skill to someone else.  How is that possible?  There are several reasons.

The first category of people who are great at doing something, but not good at teaching is because the skill comes naturally to them.  If you have a friend who has an amazing jump shot, and you ask them, “How do you do that?”, and their response is, “I don’t know, I just do it,” you will be facing a tough time if you ask them for help.  If you know someone who is great at math because they can just “see” the answer, they won’t be much help with your homework since they can’t explain how they got the answer.  You need someone as an instructor who is at least aware of the process and understands it thoroughly.

The second category of people who can do something but not teach it are those who have mastered the skill, but never figured out how to explain it in a way that makes sense to anyone else.  We horseback riding instructors can be very guilty of this.  Every world has its own vocabulary, and the horse world has hundreds of specialized terms.  We may have learned how to half-halt down the long side as we do a slight haunches-in and prepare our horse for a beautiful canter transition, but if you don’t know what any of that means, it’s not going to help.  Or your instructor could shout at you, “Feel the horse’s shoulder in that transition!”  If you don’t know what to feel for, in which shoulder, or why, or how being able to feel what is going on with the horse’s shoulder is going to impact the over-all performance of the horse, then the instructor just wasted their breath.

A good instructor needs to be able to do the following:

  • Have a thorough understanding and mastery of the subject.  Don’t be fooled … your instructor is still learning (or should be), but at least they need to have mastered the skills they are teaching to you.
  • Be able to explain the subject in multiple ways.  Repeating the same instructions over and over won’t cut it.
  • Be able to figure out what makes sense to you, and use that to customize their instructions to fit what you already understand.
  • Be able to explain a skill or task so that you understand how it contributes to the greater whole, and to your progression to more advanced levels.
  • If the instructor is teaching a skill, they need to be able to demonstrate the skill.  Seeing what you’re trying to do for one minute can cut through ten minutes of verbal descriptions and fiddling around.  I know of a few riding instructors who are fantastic teachers, but are now so old they cannot ride due to health reasons.  However, these instructors compensate by their decades of experience in teaching, and have so many ways of explaining the concept that they can usually find a way to reach their students.
  • The instructor should be able to show you the incorrect ways of performing the skill, as well as the correct ways.  It can be really helpful to see a comparison so you can see the impact on the over-all performance.
  • The instructor MUST create an atmosphere where it is safe to try AND to make mistakes.  We learn as much or more from our mistakes as we do from our successes.  If we do not allow ourselves to make a mistake, we seriously handicap our ability to grow.
  • The instructor MUST invite questions and feedback.  If you are a visual learner and can copy what they do exactly, you need to let them know.  If they spend the whole time talking, they are not able to adapt their teaching style to the method that best fits you.

This is what I strive to bring to my students with each lesson.  I welcome your insights on the qualities you most appreciate in your favorite teachers.  Sharing will help all of us grow as teachers and students.

Any ride you can walk away from …

Horseback Riding: Good for Your Health?.

I am re-posting this blog entry since it is so appropriate for the Back in the Saddle community.  Many people who enjoyed horses when they were younger took a break from them out of fear.  They had such a negative experience that they just couldn’t face the idea of riding again.  This post puts you into that world in a way you can experience it fully.  I also commend this author for not giving up, and still finding ways to be around horses.