One of the exercises I focused on when riding Ichobod recently involved sending him straight forward into pretty strong left-rein contact to get him connected enough on that side to release and stretch into my hand. Compress, compress, compress, loading the spring by lifting his back and asking him to push from behind into a firm hand. Then the magic connection happens and that loaded spring expands into an exquisitely balanced, elongated, elastic spine. It was the same exercise I coached a student through recently on her lovely Azteca mare, who is finally supple enough to actually start to telescope her heretofore stubby neck. And the student has developed enough feel and a stable enough seat to load the spring and soften just right when that release happens. Contact and connection in that fascinating and frustrating balancing act.
When I was done with my ride and cooling out, I got to thinking what a paradox correct riding presents. I know from my own journey of learning and from working with students in many disciplines how many of the basic skills are completely counterintuitive. How nuts must it seem to novice riders that they have to compress in order to lengthen? Maybe if they are students of muscle physiology, it’s completely understandable. But for the rest of is, it was hard to make that connection – mentally and physically.
Let’s see, what other paradoxes can we present? How about the way bending and lateral work are so imperative in creating straightness. Or how you need to shift the horse’s weight back in order to send him forward in balance? Geez, no wonder it takes so long to learn to ride. I’ve been at it for (don’t tell anyone!) 42 years, and I feel like I’m just starting to have a meaningful and useful understanding of the physical process in the horse and the human.
Along the way I’ve had a whole string of “ah, ha!” moments, some of which I remember vividly even decades later. One of those was the day a very hard-working dressage clinician (who had bravely agreed to teach a bunch of western riders!) instilled in me the importance and correct application of the outside rein. What? I have to keep my outside rein solid, solid, solid to pursuade my chunky quarter horse mare to soften and stretch into my inside rein? Mind-blowing stuff to someone who had pretty much only ridden made horses that neck-reined with micro-pressure.
So, what was your biggest counter-intuitive challenge – the riding or groundwork concept that made (or still makes!) your brain feel like it’s twisting inside out when you apply it?