I’m back in the saddle. I tried taking riding lessons last winter, but the situation didn’t gel. I still love horses, I need joy as much as the next author of happily ever afters, so I try, tried again. The process now is very much one of remediation, as in, “The horse goes on the bottom, Grace!”
Good to know! Little known fact: In order to work efficiently, a horse has to be relaxed. Even if he’s putting out a lot of effort, he should have a rounded, fluid silhouette over his back, he’ll be fighting his own physics with every step.
I was trying to get my mount round and relaxed at the trot, which meant he’d be pushing from behind, but still moving smoothly. Up one side of the arena we went, around in a circle, down the other side… and me being out of shape meant my signals to the horse became increasingly noisy as tired. I was bouncing around more, banging on his back instead of managing my own weight. Over-relying on my reins, and generally doing a worse job the longer I kept at it.
My horse was not going round. “OK,” I says to myself, “time for a walk break or this will just degenerate further.”
Now, at a certain sophisticated level, the rider thinks, “Walk,” and a smooth, balanced transition from trot to walk happens. The horse floats into the slower gait, the rider remains poised and elegant in the saddle… but the third lesson back is not that day. I’m in the saddle thinking, “Eyes up and soft, weight balanced over both seat bones, reins in connection, don’t forget to breathe, and–ARE YOUR EYES UP AND SOFT, GRACE?!–elbows at your sides, inside shoulder back and down…” while my noble steed is be-bopping good-naturedly around in the trot.
From the center of the arena, madam instructor expostulates, “THERE! You got him round! That’s wonderful, look at him. What did you do? Because this is the frame you want.”
We came down to the walk about a quarter of a long-side later, and I thought back: What had I been doing when the horse had relaxed, stepped up behind, and begun to work through his body? What had I been doing? What? What? WHAT?
“Nothing,” I said. “I was too busy planning my downward transition. I just… sat here?”
The instructor smiled. “You got quiet. You gave him a minute to process what you were asking, and stopped handing out orders.”
On the next trot set, we tested the hypothesis: If I waited for a few seconds between asking and expecting a result, did the horse produce the result? Yes, he generally did. He needed time to process, without me offering reminders, encouragement, footnotes, and other assorted noise. He need ME to listen to HIM. He needed ME to adjust to HIS mental pace.
What a concept. Do you need processing time? Do you get it? Are there people in your life who might benefit from being allowed a little more of it? Are there situations where to get what you want, you have to be quiet and listen? To three commenters, I’ll send an Advanced Reader Copy of Not the Duke’s Darling, which releases on TUESDAY!!!