Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Relax, Soften, Breathe

I have to admit that I am not the most accomplished rider at all. I have owned and ridden horses for the past 25 or so years, but for most of those years I was just a passenger having fun. I was very lucky I've had some very good horses over the years and although I have taken my share of falls, I haven’t been hurt. It has really been since I’ve started keeping a horse at Benvelle and riding with my friend, Max – who has ridden and trained horses all her life – that I have become a better horseback rider and have learned so much.

The first horse I started really learning on is my Arabian gelding, Will. In some respects he is hard to work - he is basically very lazy and his conformation makes it hard for him to truly collect. But he was a great horse for me to learn on since he never gets mad or fights me and never even thinks of rearing or bucking. I had to learn to use a lot of leg and seat with him, exaggerate my cues and, yes, wear spurs. We accomplished a lot together and have had a lot of fun over the years.

But now I have primarily been riding my mare, Joon, who has a lot more ambition, movement and ability. I feel like I’m learning all over again! I remember the first time I tried to ride Joon I couldn’t even get her to trot – I was so used to Will and was using so much leg on her that she kept trying to canter, thinking that was what I was asking for. I was getting her so confused that she was getting more and more upset and the more upset she got, the more uptight I got. It seemed like it was a long time of just riding her at a walk with Max telling me “relax, soften, breathe!”

Horses are so good at reading their riders’ emotions and tensions; if a rider is tense and nervous, many times the horse will be also. Max can tell from how Joon is going that once again I have gotten tense. Not too long ago, Max was helping me with the canter as I couldn’t seem to keep Joon in a relaxed, easy canter. I was riding in a large circle with Max in the center, coaching me, when she said “tell me what you just did; did you feel her slow down?” I had to admit that I had taken a deep breath, sat back and tried to relax.

Joon and I have come a long way together but we also have a long way to go, too. I would love to take some dressage lessons with her – she has the ability and I have the desire to learn, but I must remember to “relax, soften, breathe!”

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