The ground portion of the clinic started around 9:30 and the two hour lecture was crammed into 90 minutes due to the late arrivals. Deb was pleased with such a great turnout for a Monday. We had 14 horse/riders and 5 auditors. We all introduced ourselves with a quick "discipline, what I want to walk away with today, etc." we got the run down on what centered riding is:
- Breathing - and breathing properly. How to use your diaphram and how using it correctly or incorrectly effects your horse.
- Soft eyes - using your peripherial vision; finding visual awareness. How staring and or fixating effects the ride.
- Building Blocks - aligning the rider improving straightness, balance, and unimpeded movement.
- Centering - finding you core and learning how to use it for strength, power and control.
Deb asked us all to stand and asked us all to take a deep breath. She then asked how many of us felt our shoulders move upward. 95% of us did. She then had us take a deep breath in while pushing out the diaphragm and no one's shoulders rose. So when we take shallow breaths, we stiffen our bodies without realizing it.
Soft eyes she went into a little deeper when the riders sat on the exercise ball. Most riders have a tendency to fixate their eyes on something. Usually the horse's mane or its ears. Strangely enough when we stare or fixate on something, we stop breathing. Stop breathing, we tense.
While we were standing she had us all put our thumb on our belly buttons and the back of our other hand on our back directly across from our thumbs. Deep inside the body is your center. This is where your strength and power comes from.
One at a time she asked the first two riders to sit in a dressage saddle perched on top of an exercise ball. I thought sitting on one of these balls was tough enough, but to watch Deb J finding her balance, it looked tough. Here's a pic of Deb M and Deb J.
Once Deb J found her balance, Deb M (the clinician) placed her hands on the rider's shoulders and said "don't help" I'm going to move you. With that she gently pushed down on the riders shoulders to mimic a walk; then a trot. With each step the ball would collapse a little and then return to normal. She then asked the rider to stop breathing. When she tried to push down, the rider and ball did not move. She did a few other little tests like asking the rider to curl their toes. In this instance rather than a straight up and down movement at the trot, the movement became more erratic and the rider bobbed a little to the left a little to the right, etc. When the rider curled her right toes her body would bob to the left; and to the right when she curled her left toes. Wild! With the second rider she asked her to fixate on one of the auditors and when she did, Deb could not move her. Again, the rider stopped breathing when she stared at the subject. No breathing = tense body; tense body = no movement.
The next exercise she had us partner up with another person - one being the horse, one being the rider. The rider placed their hands on the rib cage of the horse, mimicing the legs. The horse shut their eyes and let the hands guide their direction. Deb asked the riders to do different things as they directed the horses. One, stop breathing. Two, stare at something. Three, collapse your shoulders, etc. I started out as the horse and it was amazing as I would feel tenseness or too much pressure in my ribs and react. It was interesting to hear each time I would stop or hesitate to hear what the rider had just done. We then changed places to get a sense on how what happens in our bodies effects our entire bodiea s and how it translates to the horse.
Have a clear objective when you ride. When you have clear objectives, it helps to give clearer cues and direction to the horse. So often riders are giving mixed messages because they don't have any direction when they ride. No direction = confused horse.
I could kick myself as I didn't bring a notepad, so there was a lot of little things I'm forgetting for sure. Guess I need to repurchase Sally Swift's Centered Riding book to pick up on it. Good reason why not to sell your books!!!
I didn't get many pics, and didn't ask anyone to take one of us (I know stupid) but it was just too hot and I really didn't want to ask Mary (the clinic organizer) to do one more thing, lol. So here's one of the other few pics I took. Deb J and Rebecca on Racie & Patticake with Deb Moynihan. Oh and the new mirrors on two of the walls - wish those were there when we were!
We got to ride with Abe & Margaret who was one of the pairs we used to trail ride with here and there. Deb M has never worked with a gaited horse so she wasn't quite sure how to handle it. She had a hard time grasping the "my horse doesn't trot under saddle" statement. Instructor: "You mean he doesn't know how to trot?" Me, "No, he knows how to trot, we just don't do it under saddle. When we ask for more speed we get flat walk, step pace, rack or running walk. He does a beautiful trot at liberty and on the lunge line." Instructor: "So why wouldn't you want him to trot under saddle". Me "I bought a gaited horse so I would never have to post again lol". Okay, we got past it. I was amazed that she asked me to correct two things. One - I allow myself to collapse my core by collapsing my sternum. So she asked me to bring it up, but not in a military fashion like I had a pencil up my back. Now I'm sitting taller, my sternum is open and I'm breathing freely. She then asked me to start thinking 1-2-3-4 in a nice even tempo. I did. Not so fast she said. Start with a slower tempo. As I did this G seemed to relax a little and I thought I noticed his tempo being more even. I then brought up the tempo in my head and he started to walk faster. Here I felt G stiffen a bit and he felt like he was rushing. She said "see how he is trying to push past you?". She then asked me to not allow him to push my hips side to side but to concentrate on the forward to back motion only. Now take it a step further. Rather then letting his motion direct my movement, breathe deeply and allow my hips to rotate back and forward. Like pedaling a bike backward. This really felt weird, as now the motion wasn't just in my hips, but I could feel the movement in my legs. When I said this outloud, Deb said "exactly! - Remember when I said, too many riders think ear, shoulder, hip, heel and never allow their bodies to move?" Yes?? "What do you feel now she asked". I kept my eyes soft, my breathing filling up my diaphragm and lower back; my sternum forward but not puffed out; my hips pedaling softly......and then I felt it. G was connected back to front, he was on the bit in a beautiful frame, and he had a pure yet powerful 4 beat walk going on. He wasn't rushing, he was soft in my hands. WOW! It was a pretty incredible feeling. She asked me to keep working on the walk, changing the tempo, etc. as she worked with Abe & Margaret.
When she got back to me, she was happy with the improvement but she wanted to see him gait. "Show me what he does". So we did. We step paced, we hit a little rack; I brought him back to a medium walk and with all these new arrows in my quiver I asked for the flat walk. He really was striding nicely. But then I fell apart. By this time I'm sweating profusely as G is radiating heat. The breeze has kind of died and I'm thinking its 95 in the arena at least. This was the kind of day I wouldn't have even thought about riding him, but since we paid for it and it wasn't cancelled due to the heat, I tried not to push too hard. Time for a break. When we started walking again she asked if we could canter, and I said yes, let's do it. Our first right canter depart wasn't very clean, but I know it was me trying to think too much and stopped feeling all that she just showed me. The second was better, but as we came down the long side he fell back into a walk. I don't know what it is about this particular arena, as we don't have this problem in the new outdoor arena at the new barn, but inside this one he quits on the straight. Hmmmm? We reversed direction and he picked up his left lead beautifully and his rocking chair canter emerged. I kept him on a 20 meter circle for a few revolutions and brought him back to a walk. Good boy G. By now we're both way too hot so we walked on the rail as Abe & Margaret got to canter.
Forty-five minutes went by really fast, even with the stinky hot, lol. As we were finishing I rode over to Deb M and asked her what else I needed to work on. She said, nope, only what I showed you.....keep breathing; your sternum and using your hips better. Really? My eyes are soft? Check! My hips are open enough? Check! I'm sitting balanced on both seat bones? Check! Woohoo! I really truly thought I would find out I have more to work on. I guess that's a good thing though. I can tackle two things at once. Five? I'd be in trouble!!
Even with the stinky hot humid weather it was a great day. It was fun going back to the old barn and seeing our old friends; and having G so relaxed at a clinic was just wonderful. By the time we got back to the barn it was almost time for dinner so I left him in. He went right to drinking water and eating night hay. Oh, and he got an oatmeal cookie before I left....he really was a good boy today.