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Discussion Starter · #101 ·
your excitement reminds me of how greedy and excited I get when I go to an art supply store; I am all into buying this or that new materials, for trying new techniques, new papers, new paints, new brushes, .. . etc. I just LOVE the gear and the dream.

and then, it sits and takes up space in my room. it takes me forever to actually use them, and what I really need is to just draw, draw and draw. quantity over quality, for a while.
If I had the ability to just ride, ride and ride that surely would be the right answer.

I'm very limited in that right now - so to carry the metaphor forward I end up doing a lot of staring at galeries, researching composition and technique books, and reading art critique. In the end, it won't make my hands do what they need to do - but the hope is that it can help make my practice more informed once I get a chance to actually practice. I agree entirely that the ratio I have of practice/study right now is badly lopsided towards study. This is true even for someone like me who really likes study and tends to employ a lot of it. But the reality is that I can only increase the 'practice' side so much with the access I have, so 'study' is the option I have available to work on.

That said, in my opinion: Budget permitted there's nothing wrong with buying art supplies (or horse gear) if that's what brings you joy - even if they might sit on the shelf a bit (presuming they won't spoil). If you find you get more joy from thinking about buying art supplies than actually doing so then by all means stop at that step. But I'm of the opinion that joy is a precious thing that should be nurtured, even if nurturing it doesn't always lead to the most logical or efficient processes.


...

As a note: I can't actually think of a good way to indicate how much adopting that last statement as a philosophy has changed my life for the better. Am I being bit silly with all this? Definitely. But I'm also excited and enjoying it deeply. For me that's worth being a little silly.
 

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Sounds like fun!

Hello, I'm a re-rider (and apparently still learning to post messages because my last reply was lost...) after 20 years and having a great time! It's inspiring to read your journal, thank you for sharing.

A book that has very much helped me is Centered Riding, which offers very technical instruction, but you can take a few pointers to each lesson.

I personally love being around horses and the people at the barn where I take lessons. As soon as I step in, everything else drops away, it's a great feeling! My trainer tells me that I often "overthink" and she is right. Maybe others do too. I'm trying to leave the "overthinking" to outside of lessons and just do the work in the practice ring each time I ride. For me it's like learning anything new, the outside work and research is very helpful to reinforce what I learned that day.

And when I'm on the horse, I feel joy. Have fun! We are all so lucky to have the opportunity to include horses in our lives.
 

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Discussion Starter · #104 ·
To both @Mimi2016 and @tinyliny :

You may both laugh a little, but actually “Centered Riding” by Sally Swift was literally the first book on horses I read - at the recommendation of @egrogan earlier in this thread.

My original plan in buying the recommended books was that I would work through each one and afterwards I would write up my thoughts in a sort of an overview/commentary format. Centered Riding actually threw a bit of a kink in that plan. This was because I realize I actually wanted to get a little farther along in riding before commenting on it too much. It really seemed to me a far better book on refining technique rather than a how-to, so I wanted to give it a good shake.

That said, now that I'm back to thinking about it and it's come up again it may be worthwhile putting down my thoughts in a post.
 

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Yes, would love to hear your book reviews, as I'm already working on getting some of the ones that I've seen mentioned here in your thread, but will now wait until you tell us what you thought about them. Thanks!
 

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you will find that as you go along, you go back and reread books, and you get more out of them every time you read, and as you know more about what they are talking about.

you know, it's the old thing where you don't know what you don't know in the beginning, and as you go along, you begin to see how very much you DON'T know, . . you know what I mean.

all I can say is that the Centered Riding is a good one to keep for a later reread, in a year or two.
 

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you will find that as you go along, you go back and reread books, and you get more out of them every time you read, and as you know more about what they are talking about.

you know, it's the old thing where you don't know what you don't know in the beginning, and as you go along, you begin to see how very much you DON'T know, . . you know what I mean.

all I can say is that the Centered Riding is a good one to keep for a later reread, in a year or two.
Yes! I have a library shelf of riding books and anytime I revisit one, I understand a concept a little better than the last time I read it. And I always keep reading. Sometimes something is worded in a way that you understand it so much better when one author says it than another.
 

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Discussion Starter · #108 ·
Yes, would love to hear your book reviews, as I'm already working on getting some of the ones that I've seen mentioned here in your thread, but will now wait until you tell us what you thought about them. Thanks!
Awesome :). I will start posting them as soon as I get a chance - probably Monday or Tuesday. I actually have my one for Centered Rider mostly written up. I just didn't post it because there's a huge chunk of 'I don't feel qualified to comment on this'. This will be incoming.

you will find that as you go along, you go back and reread books, and you get more out of them every time you read, and as you know more about what they are talking about.

you know, it's the old thing where you don't know what you don't know in the beginning, and as you go along, you begin to see how very much you DON'T know, . . you know what I mean.

all I can say is that the Centered Riding is a good one to keep for a later reread, in a year or two.
Yep and agreed. At a bare minimum I want to re-read some of the sections after I actually have learned the foundations of the skills she talks about in each section. I.e. reading her section on the canter after I actually learn to canter to see how things come together.

Yes! I have a library shelf of riding books and anytime I revisit one, I understand a concept a little better than the last time I read it. And I always keep reading. Sometimes something is worded in a way that you understand it so much better when one author says it than another.
:) I am kind of a reading addict honestly. It's one of the ways I really tend to approach learning. I have 7 equestrian books thus far, 3 of which I have read and 1 of which I'm working on. It's coming along. My favorite thus far has been Riding and Schooling horses by Harry D. Chamberlin - recommend by @bsms. It just really made some things click for me. I'll write up some stuff on that one as well.

Honestly, I would love to see (and maybe should start a thread somewhere) peoples book reviews/recommendations. There's so much good (and bad! - and just controversial) stuff out there that it's really interesting to hear different people's favorites/least favorites.
 

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Discussion Starter · #109 ·
Lesson 4 and Volunteering

Today was a sort of generally awesome day of riding and volunteering.

The Lesson
Lesson started with herd-catching Dragon. That went pretty darn well actually. The halter I used was a lot stiffer and slid on quickly and effectively. The same two little treat-beggars as before came to bother me, but backed off fairly quickly once I threatened to thwack them.

Walking back towards the gate, actually a bit away from the herd, I did get rushed at a little by… I think Bronze? He came over somewhat speedily at me from having been quite a ways away from the rest of the group, seeming like he was going to run pretty near me (though I don’t think into me - hard to explain how I knew that, but the body language wasn’t quite straight-on). I just had no patience for it. It was early. Perhaps I should have been more impressed or concerned - but I just really wasn’t. I got the rope ready to seriously clock him, and about the time I finished doing that (at which point he was probably 15’ away) he changed directions abruptly and took a considerably wider path around us. He never even got in range.

Tacking up went smoothly - though slowly as I was doing all of it this time. I picked out Dragon’s hooves again (the joy of being first lesson). I chatted with Jill a little idly.

The lesson itself went very well. After warm-up we spent the first two thirds of it mostly on posting trot - which is becoming much more reliably solid. I have gotten out from falling into being ‘behind the horse’ and the whole motion feels less rough and more reliable. I had much better speed control - I think largely because I’ve gotten better at shuffling around rein length without being so distracted that everything else falls apart.

We then went on to picking at my form a bit on the lead line, and I was formally taught two-point.

Two point just sort of clicked. I found a balance with the leg position which was just very comfortable and secure and was able to get into it reliably. It apparently looked pretty good from the ground as well. I was able to stay up there for a lap around our small lead circle without being forced out of it. Ironically, it actually felt better and less likely to fall forward than some of the times I’ve posted trot.

We also did some lunge work involving focusing on stability/quietness/position of the hands in posting trot while holding imaginary reins and balance challenges. Airplane torso-turns remain my weak area - not dangerously so, but annoyingly so. I need more work on them.

Then my trainer had me two-point along the straight stretch in the arena and practice trot->two point->trot transitions. I tend to not be ready to immediately post after coming down from two-point… or maybe I’m just timing coming down wrong. Whatever, we weren’t picking on it today - just introducing the concept.

Then we did a whole bunch of no-stirrup work at the trot including a whole lot of drop-and-catch stirrups. Jill seems very intent that I get this skill down solidly. I usually catch at least one within a second or two and the other takes me a little longer - but despite being told I’m doing quite well at it she continues to drill it to the point where I’m wondering if it’s a serious safety-critical thing.

We haven’t yet gotten to posting trot without stirrups, but I see it coming.

Jill seemed very pleased with how things went today. I mentioned to her I was thinking of possibly trying to do a quarter-lease or something on a horse to practice with and she immediately volunteered that when I was ready we can look at doing that for one of these horses in the winter - while making it clear that I am not ready to lease one of these horses yet. I agree with her and was unsurprised - but flatly excited that the possibility might exist in a timeframe that would include her winter arena season.

Of course, after all that I am nearly an idiot and distracted. I do a great job un-tacking the bridle without missing anything or ever leaving control of the horse (Dragon is very forgiving, but other horses here may not be) but after that I get ahead of myself and start walking Dragon out with her saddle still on. Yes, seriously, I am that much of an idiot. :oops:.

Jill asks me what I’m doing, and I shamefaced realize my foolishness and start rapidly heading back. I remove the tack and lamely explain to the next lesson (who’s finishing their own tack-up and looking at me like I’m crazy) that this is my fourth lesson and I am an idiot. She reassuringly tells me I’m doing great to be able to tack/un-tack the horse at all at this point.

I then forget the horse blanket, but honestly consider that a much more fair error considering I wasn’t even sure we still wanted her blanket on as it was getting warmer.

I will say that a lot of times it seems that Jill is nowhere in sight/mind until I do something wrong/stupid, and then she’s right there catching it. I really do like that about her.



Volunteering
After the lesson I rushed off to grab a quick deli sandwich in the nearby town and then drove out to the Rescue Barn. I would have missed it entirely were it not for google maps, which kindly pointed out that the long driveway with the ‘barn closed’ sign really was where I wanted to be.

Open volunteering time had a lot of volunteers. The sign-in sheet had 25 by the end of the day - plus the longer-term folk who I don’t believe bother to use the sheet. About two thirds of the volunteers there were youths and teenagers, with another third or so being adults. A lot of people seemed to know what they were doing, and I felt a little awkward trying to figure out who was in charge and who I should be talking to.

I turned in paperwork and was asked if knew anything about horses. I explained I had just started taking English lessons but had no real experience with horse care of any sort - though I’d be happy to learn. I was asked if I knew about basic horse safety. I said ‘don’t get behind the horse’ - that was apparently good enough.

It was explained to me that everyone inside right now was actually pretty well behaved and safe - but that every unfamiliar horse here should be treated as potentially dangerous until I knew otherwise. This made perfect sense to me, especially given that this place specifically takes in horses confiscated for abuse (amongst other sources).

The setup there included a number of areas - the largest barn included a small indoor arena surrounded by stalls on three sides. Some of these stalls had paddock areas which surrounded the barn and others were indoor-only. My understanding is most of those indoor-only stalls were occupied by horses with lameness issues, excepting one very scared mule who was with a friend in one of the big stalls working on being around people and the only horse inside I didn’t really interact with - who was cribbing basically the entire time I was there and seemed to be a source of discussion amongst the senior volunteers.

There were some sad scenes. The worst of these was a horse missing an eye that was still very fresh. I was actually warned I may not want to look, but not being at all squeamish I did. He was actually incredibly sweet - not the sweetest of all the horses there, but still shockingly polite and friendly given that he looked a bit a mess. I believe he was one of the thirty or so ‘permanent residents’ who the shelter has no real intention of adopting out and are here for a peaceful retirement.

Beyond the main barn there were several different pasture areas in which groups were turned out, each of which had fairly solid free-standing shelters open on two sides with water-hoses next to them. Then there was a whole separate barn which was occupied entirely by mules, donkeys, and a couple goats. That barn also had a lot of turnout area - but the animals seemed to crowd around inside more than the horses did. One goat kept asking for attention, but I didn’t want to risk getting nipped.

My first job was topping off water-troughs, which was mostly doable from the isles but did involve getting into a few of the stalls. Then I swept the isles for a while, and contributed my tallness towards helping take down some of the summer fans.

The stable overall was in the early stages of preparing for winter, and a lot of things were getting pulled out and checked on. Some of the biggest news was the discovery that one of the storage barns containing blankets had sprung a leak during all the obnoxious wetness that we had been having recently. This had wetted some of the blankets and led to mold. Unfortunately, as mentioned by the lead organizer “I have too many horses with respiratory problems to take any chances” and there was a considerable operation underway to clean, dry, sanitize, and throw away anything that might be impacted.

I ended up getting picked up by that team. Due to the fact we were dealing with mold and were being very careful in how we handled things it was only adult and older volunteers. It was a surprisingly big job that would end up taking our little team of four the entire rest of the volunteering day - every single blanket had to be pulled out, inspected carefully, and if any mold at all was spotted tossed. Anything where mold wasn’t spotted but which was close to any items where it had was slated for an even more careful inspection, and the items which neither had mold nor were close to mold were hung up to air out in the breeze. About a third of the supply was just trashed entirely. Someone was brought up to talk about how the leak would be fixed, then everything that was deemed safe was carefully folded, sorted by size, and re-packed onto newly labeled shelves now sitting on pallets up above the floor.

“Team Blanket” was a lot of hard work, but was also fairly satisfying. I ended up getting on well with the lady who seemed to be leading it up (I think a chief volunteer?) who started talking about things like events she wants to organize in upcoming weeks. They seemed pleased to have me there - and I was thrilled as well.

Notably, one thing some of the more experienced volunteers did seem to be doing was working on desensitizing the horses and a little bit of work in-hand. I’d really like to get to the point where that is on my skill list. That said, that’d be more an item for the future.

So overall - great day with the horses. Another lesson to come tomorrow - though I am not expecting anything terribly exciting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #110 ·
Lesson 5: Learning to Share

I woke up sore this morning and realized the cost of my decision to add the rescue work in the same weekend that I added my back-to-back lessons. Keep in mind that an entire lesson of posting trot still leaves me a little sore as it is. Barn chores also result in soreness. I’m in pain and we haven’t even gotten to the lesson yet.

While I understand that daylight savings time is a real annoyance for some people it was my savior this morning. I woke up early to force myself through a full 20 minute stretch routine, grabbed a protein-filled breakfast, and then stretched some more. Finally, I gave in and took a painkiller - I’m going to be paying for this, but I’d like to pay for it while sitting at my desk job tomorrow instead of during my lesson time.

When I arrived at the lesson I was very confused… there was another student there. I was wondering if one of us (perhaps me, perhaps her) had managed to screw our times up. She went out to catch her lesson horse, and I sort of tentatively walked forward until Jill told me to go catch Dragon.

I just kind of went with it. Catching Dragon at the beginning of feeding time was both easier and harder than prior attempts. On the plus side, no one else bothered me at all. On the downside, Dragon actually required a bit of effort to get away from the food. She was utterly polite in letting me mess with her, but as soon as I went to lead her away from the hay she actually took a fair bit of assertiveness. I also didn’t bring a treat out, so she hadn’t been pre-bribed (though oh I spoiled her during grooming… she DID miss breakfast after all).

I ended up tacking up a little hastily to try to keep up with the other obviously much-more-advanced student. I skipped hoof picking due to time. This is probably where I should have asked what was going on - but to avoid being awkward I just focused on getting myself ready and figured my curiosity would eventually be satisfied and if I had any issues with it I could talk with Jill about it privately later.

As to what was going on: well, I got to learn what it was like to ride Dragon with another horse around. I’m not completely sure if this was by planning or because the other student had a lesson to make up - but either way it ended up working out very well.

We very much were on two separate tracks doing entirely different things. Her lesson was Pepper, who if you recall from my second post had just come in from off the track less than a month ago. They were focusing quite a bit on flexibility and balance while doing tighter turns and at the tail end the smallest bit of jumping - while dealing with another horse in the ring. My lesson was mostly spent trying to clean up and polish my posting trot and two-point with the new element of dealing with another horse in the ring.

… It was a probably unhealthy amount of fun.

Probably a third of my lesson was spent just trying to learn to really control corners while posting trot. Another third was spent working on weaving around fences while another horse also was weaving around fences - working on both steering and environmental awareness. The last third was spent on ‘fun’ stuff - two-pointing and cavaletti, now set up much closer together.

For the most part Dragon was absolutely fine with another horse around - it was clear this was very old-hat. There were a couple times where she sort of tried to ‘latch on’ to the other horse and I had to gently pull her attention back but I suspect this was much more a challenge for the rider on Pepper then it was for me.

The weaving around each other was just a tremendous amount of fun. I was the less experienced rider, but Dragon could turn on a dime if I needed her to in order to avoid a problem (and I have no problems staying on when she does this). The more experienced rider was obviously much more familiar with this exercise but Pepper didn’t do nearly as well with tight turns or following turning cues. Overall the exercise was just challenging enough to be really enjoyable, and neither of us ended up needing to halt our horses to avoid disrupting each other.

Going up into two point the first couple times went beautifully. My assessment from yesterday was right - I just needed to find the right moment to come down in order to be ready to start posting immediately. After I 'got' it this clicked into place a couple times in a row.

Then as things got a little more exciting I discovered a new problem - I would go into two point and Dragon would speed WAY the heck up. I think we were still in trot - but it was a trot at a speed I have not ridden in any other context. The first time she did this I aborted my two-point shortly after she drove forward - which put me trying to slow her down from the seat during a quite bumpy (but secure enough) ride. The second time I just stayed up in two point and tried to slow her down from there, which worked better (but led to me discovering that she steers quite beautifully from two-point because I was running out of arena-space). To be honest, this is now something I will need to figure out. I am pretty sure there’s something I’m cueing wrong that’s telling her to do this, or that she’s taking as an excuse/permission to do this. Jill indicated I’m giving her too much rein - so that’s the next item to work on.

Posting over the cavaletti was still very rocky. Jill gave me permission to two-point over them as an experiment and admittedly I found that a lot more comfortable. Then I kept doing it and Jill called me out on doing it because it let me avoid trying to post trot over the cavaletti… she was right. I was no longer allowed to two-point over the cavaletti until I can properly post trot over them.

There’s something weird happening with my timing and Dragon’s timing whenever we go over them. It always ends with me a little off-balance forward as we step off the last one, and then coming down a little late. I asked Jill and she basically told me that while she could pick at the timing the best way to get this one will just be to keep trying it until my body figures it out - but at the same time we can't just drill it repeatedly mostly for the horse's sake. So we're going to work on getting the foundations of posting solid and then keep coming back to this exercise until I have it smoothly.

By the time we were done both Pepper and Dragon were genuinely tired and well worked. Dragon was sweaty for the first time I’ve ridden a lesson with her and we got to do the ‘we just really had a workout’ un-tacking with grooming. This involved re-curry combing her out, especially around where the saddle was. I also got around to doing her hooves at this time - though they didn’t need it nearly as bad as they had previously. Then I spoiled her some more.

She got to be put into one of the stalls to get her own private breakfast and relax a little. I believe she had another lesson in an hour or two. For my part I am exhilarated but for the first time during a lesson my body really has been tested - my legs feel a little jelly-like and I am really just wiped.

A nap may be in order.
 

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Discussion Starter · #111 ·
Centered Riding - by Sally Swift

Overview
This book, on the whole, does not teach you how to ride. There are countless excellent books that do just that. What I do here is offer all riders a new approach to riding based on some mental and physical images that I have developed over many years.
That is the first line from the first chapter of this book. It’s an apt description. Centered Riding will not explain the basics of how to canter for example - what it does is promote a mindset that it claims will deepen a rider’s understanding and skill at riding, building on the foundations of at least a novice’s skill and presuming to assist a more advanced rider to “gain that special magic - that something extra - that makes the difference between competence and excellence”. Primarily it aims to accomplish this through the introduction of basic meditative techniques and visualization exercises which help explain or correct common errors which occur during different types of movements when riding. Some of these are general (foundations) and some of these are area-specific.

The first six chapters, conclusion, and one outlier (Chapter 15 “Forces of Energy”) go over those foundations and basic mindset. The remaining thirteen chapters and 3 appendices address specific skills.

Sally’s method starts with what she calls “The Four Basics” in chapter three. They are:

  • Eyes - Cultivating what she calls ‘soft eyes’ - which is a gaze generally aware of surroundings but without fixating on any given point (to oversimplify some).
  • Breathing - Breathing rhythmically through the diaphragm (and visualizing breathing lower)
  • Centering - The way this is defined lies somewhere between finding your physical center of balance and a more meditative concept of ‘center’ (“Most of us tend to be top and front oriented. We also fuss too much about details, do a lot of over-organizing, and breathe mostly in our chests.”)
  • Building Blocks - In essence, this is a way to think about posture and lining up posture.

In Chapter 4: Learning the Brain she details how she feels people think and should think: introducing a right-brain/left-brain concept; the idea of the ‘Inner Video’ (a way of mentally rehearsing or reviewing activities); talking about cultivating the ‘true’ form of concentration (which she describes as focused and relaxed); and also the mentalities most useful for awareness and self-exploration.

Chapters 5 and 6 go through anatomy and details of posture - including numerous visualizations and stretching exercises (on horseback) to try to achieve the relaxed and correct posture she is promoting.

Throughout the main sections (chapters 7-14 and 16-19) she focuses on individual gaits and skills - primarily by introducing explanations and visualizations. Her visualizations are imaginative and can often be somewhat fanciful. For example, in her section on finding the correct balance in posting trot, she describes this exercise:

The feeling of stability acquired by riding within the parallelograms can be enhanced by imagining that your legs are growing longer, so that your feet are resting flat on the ground - ground that is soft, warm summer mud (Fig.73)



Let it ooze up between your relaxed toes; enjoy the warmth around your feet and ankles. The pleasure of letting your feet down in the mud has the effect of softening the legs, knees, and ankles. Your seat will deepen in the saddle while lengthening, quieting, and stabilizing the lower legs and feet. Any pinching by the knees will disappear.
These visualizations are presented both when explaining concepts and as exercises to be followed. They are paired up with more conventional posture commentary to form the bulk of the advice given throughout the specific-technique section of the book.

In Chapter 15: Forces of Energy there is a brief digression to explain, delicately and cautiously, the concept of ‘energy’ (or ki).

The Japanese have a concept known as ki (pronounced ‘key’). It is the extra energy derived from awareness that allows you to do more than muscles alone could possibly do. If you use your muscles to do what ki can accomplish, the result would be rough and strenuous, owing to the kind of extreme effort you would have to put out. Using ki, you can find energies beyond your measurable muscular output. Your ki is in action when you and your horse are moving together with a minimum of effort - resulting in lightness, vigor, correctness, and beauty. Just as the energy and power of all the martial arts comes from your center, so does ki.
There are then several visualizations given which focus on working with ki which include dropping a chain and recycling energy.

The book finishes up with 3 appendices - Riding a Dressage Test (Which is more ‘better mindset going into a dressage test’), the Instructor’s Guide to Leg-Lengthening (a set of assisted stretches to relax and lengthen a student’s leg) and Quick review of Useful Images (a quick reminder sheet of the visualizations and views described in each section of the book).



Thoughts

So it’s worth recalling that I first was convinced to pursue riding as an interest while chatting with some long-time friends at a meditation retreat. A lot of the concepts laid out in Centered Riding are fundamentally formed by taking foundational meditative concepts and applying them to equestrian arts.

Her four foundations are right out of a meditation class. The concept of ‘soft eyes’ she discusses is called ‘soft gaze’ in meditation - though her general description goes even a bit beyond that to suggest something more like adopting a light open monitoring meditation mindset. The breathing section is likewise right out of foundational meditation breathing - including the exact visualizations described. Specifically - while she keeps referring to eastern practices in the text, her visualizations root from a more modern and westernized method of visualizing - which is almost certainly the best way to introduce the concepts to her audience as they’re better targeted towards them. Her section on ‘centering’ seems to waffle a little between the physical concept of center-of-gravity and the energetic/spiritual concept of ‘center’. I think she’s stretching a little to try to tie the two together, but that’s not at all uncommon in some philosophies of meditation either (just a pet-peeve of mine personally - and one she manages honestly better than most). Her Building Blocks would be just posture - which is another meditation foundation - except that her version is on a horse and combined with general riding posture - and thus is completely different from sitting on the floor which is how this is usually (initially) taught.

All throughout this section and the book generally Sally Swift really seems to walk the line on how ‘mystical’ she’s willing to get - constantly working to keep the book concrete enough and rooted in the physical so as not to come off as whacky, while at the same time trying to draw and pull in insights from a multitude of sources. In her attempts to do this she dances on the line of one of my personal annoyances by misstating science a little (her right brain/left brain commentary for example) and wading into controversies without indicating she’s wading into controversies (saying t’ai chi ch’uan is the precursor to all of the Oriental martial arts) but the book was published in 1985 and I am honestly far more forgiving of statements like this made before the advent of the internet and easy research. She also doesn’t do it often or in a way that threatens the credibility of her statements without these appeals to authority. To judge it as a book on meditative practices (which also sometimes do this) she manages it better than most.

The trade-off with trying to avoid delving too far into the potentially weird is that she ends up skipping a lot of explanations that would be helpful in being able to take her descriptions and put them into practice. To my reading there are two distinct styles of visualization she uses - the most common is designed for the body to physically ‘follow along’ and then a few are designed to be more purely energetic (“ki”) in nature. Now, many people just ‘get’ visualization in the first sense - they do a visualization and their body instantly responds. If I say ‘imagine a string coming from the top of your head and pulling you towards the sky’ and you find that your neck extends and your shoulders drop, then you are probably one of those people. In this case, the majority of her instructions will probably make sense to you and have potential use.

I suspect far fewer people (though definitely some) just ‘get’ the sort of energy work she’s talking about in chapter 15. The ‘drop the chain’ exercise is more commonly called ‘grounding’ and her explanation of it is, in my opinion, definitely not detailed enough to really do it if you don’t already know what she’s talking about. You might luck into it, but it will require a fair bit of natural intuition. Of course, saying that, a variant of this exercise (specifically “Grounding and Centering” - not designed to slow or stop the horse, but just to facilitate connection between myself, the horse, and the earth below us) was literally the first thing I did when I first got up on Dragon my first lesson in order to gain a sense of balance, calmness, and awareness of what was going on. I believe it was incredibly helpful and credit a fair bit of my first-lesson success to it (especially in my ability to tell how Dragon was reacting to things and having a 'feel' for her intent). So personally I think this is an incredibly useful set of exercises - but I don’t think I could follow them from just what was written in the book without any prior familiarity with meditative work.

Another favorite of mine is what she calls “videotape” - which I usually call “visualize->do”. I was trying to describe this in a response to @StephaniHren earlier in this thread, but the author does a much better job I think generally describing it and more ways it can be useful. I actually haven’t run into this as much in meditation - but in sports - though it applies to both.

So in the areas where my knowledge already overlapped with the book’s points, I obviously think they’re pretty useful - though her explanations are only really going to ‘click’ for a portion of the population lacking any further explanation. Personally, without some background, I probably wouldn’t have been on that list. It took me a very long time to ‘get’ this sort of mindset and I did not find it very natural without a considerable amount of time spent.

That leaves me looking at the material which is genuinely new to me - all the parts specifically about horses.

Of the book’s chapters, there are only 3 that actually detail things I can currently really do - the walk, rising trot, and sitting trot.

At the walk, one of the exercises (‘stubby legs’) I am currently playing with extensively right now and seeing how much it makes things better/worse. So far I am not sure of my results and don’t feel right commenting. Letting my body follow the horse is useful (and something I was working on during that trail ride) but I will need more practice with. It does make an excellent warm-up exercise though - and I’ve found also helps to open up and relax my hips during my way-too-early lessons. I haven’t had a chance to try the third arm-above-head exercise because I haven’t had a good chunk of unsupervised riding where it wouldn’t look silly.

Most of the trot exercises are either correcting problems I don’t have (I don’t tend to bunch around my chest, I lean back too much instead) or I have yet to see results from - but I believe it’s only fair to give them a better shot at what they’re supposed to be doing - which is perfecting an already developed gait rather than just teaching how to do something in the first place. I think I need to get reliable in the basics before trying to apply them.

Much of the rest of the book is talking about things I can’t even do yet at all - let alone work on ways to clean up - so I feel unqualified to comment on their usefulness even to myself, let alone anyone else.



Conclusion

So overall my impression of the book is very positive and I would strongly recommend it to most riders looking for an alternative approach to polish their technique. Some of the explanations may not ‘click’ for everyone (especially around Chapter 15) but the offering is unique enough to the market and potentially useful enough that it’s likely worth giving a shot. This is doubly true if you’re the sort of person who finds illustrative visualizations useful in general.

Personally I suspect I will be coming back to this book for a while as my general riding level improves and I get to the point of trying to polish things. I plan to try out the exercises as they become relevant and keep the ones that prove useful. Until then I really can’t comment much on all the techniques I haven’t tried - we’ll see how things shake out.
 

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Discussion Starter · #112 ·
I just found out from an update on facebook that the horse I mentioned in my earlier post with the missing eye had to be put down tonight.

Apparently a biopsy came back cancerous and she was showing signs of neurological damage. It was explained that there was no good quality of life expected for her. Her friend, who had been rescued from the same auction, was suffering from white line disease to the point where she apparently didn't have much of a foot left. I am afraid (but not positive) that the horse they're talking about was the one in the adjacent stall - who was the sweetest horse I spent some time with. I knew she was stall-confined due to lameness, but I hadn't realized the severity of the situation. The rescue group opted to let both of them go together.

I had forgotten this really sad part of animal rescue volunteering.



Note: I had mistaken the horse with the eye issues for being a gelding - I realized from the announcement she was actually a mare.
 

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Thanks, Cammey, for that great book review! I love hearing that it is "meditative" and covers "visualization", as have much belief in those techniques for improving things. Sounds like a book that I need to have, and being old, probably easy to find used, so will head now to Amazon.com.... love it!
 

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Discussion Starter · #114 ·
Thanks, Cammey, for that great book review! I love hearing that it is "meditative" and covers "visualization", as have much belief in those techniques for improving things. Sounds like a book that I need to have, and being old, probably easy to find used, so will head now to Amazon.com.... love it!
Glad I could help!

I may post a few more of these as I come to them mid-week. Hopefully they'll be interesting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #115 ·
Lesson 6: Meeting the Horse-Eating Monster

I was still feeling not great this morning from being on the recovery-side of a nasty cold/flu, but was determined to make it to lessons and (if possible) volunteering as well. So I made myself some hot tea (to deal with sinus congestion), forced myself to eat a little protein, and hauled my rear end out the door.

Catching Dragon has now become fairly routine. I no longer twist up the halter and can put it on fairly quickly. I know how to chase off treat-beggars. I am learning who is always going to be a pest and to what extent. I’ll probably have this figured out right in time for everything to change when we move indoors in a few weeks (and thus no longer are herd-catching). I also bought a pair of muck boots, so even though the ground is finally hardening up a bit what mud there was worried me less.

This morning Dragon was a bit peppier than I’ve seen her in a while. She looked at me curiously when I came over with a bit of a ‘my turn?’ look, made it very easy to halter her, and didn’t hesitate a second even though I was pulling her away from breakfast with no treat-bribe. She didn’t even bother to stop for a drink of water on the way out.

I mentioned to Jill that she seemed a bit more awake today. She didn’t seem to think too much of it, but mentioned that Dragon had been ridden hard yesterday and had a busy day planned today so she had actually been stalled overnight and fed a bit of grain to ensure she was ready and well-rested, and thus had only been let out a little while before I had gotten there.

We warmed up briskly, with Dragon not making it full lap of walking before she suggested we speed up. When I let us into the Western Jog she did it beautifully - keeping a slow but strangely energetic pace without the slightest speed change, headset perfect, pushing herself into corners with barely a suggestion, and generally making us both look very good. I’d love to take credit for this - but I don’t think I did anything terribly differently. We jogged happily through a pool of falling autumn leaves - it was lovely.

Then, on our second lap around the arena, she jumped sideways.

If I hadn’t had stirrups I would have been in serious danger of falling - I DID go off-balance for a fraction of a second and felt my seat start to slip slightly before I caught myself - but in the next instant I was back square and solid. Jill started rapidly issuing commands at me regarding getting Dragon going in a tight circle, though I did not get as much a sense she was going to bolt at that point.

So apparently what happened is there were some new decorations (fake halloween headstones actually) leaning against one of the jumps which Dragon decided was a sufficient excuse to spook. I say ‘excuse’ because apparently Dragon has a very old habit where when she got very energetic and bored she would decide to spook at something utterly random in a fairly dramatic fashion. At first, this was worrying to people and got her treated like a nervous hot thoroughbred - a lot of sympathetic gentle acclimatization work. This was apparently a mistake, because it makes the behavior much worse and made her do it much more often. It mostly went away after it was realized she was doing it for attention/fun and started treating it as more of a behavioral problem. She hadn’t tried it in a long while. It’s been over a year since the last time - and with that it was almost always specifically in the indoor arena when she was stalled with no turnout for a while and would get very pent up.

So the first bit of the lesson time was dealing with this spook and trying to teach Dragon that the headstones were not, in fact, horse-eating monsters. We circled them a bunch, spiraling in closer - with the eventual goal of getting her to smell them. Jill would have preferred I been much stronger with her on this point, but honestly I wasn’t strong-enough handed (or willed as her back arched up) to keep her from walking past them. This horse can be hard to stop in the best of times.

But after long enough of her dithering “Oh you want me to sniff THIS fence over here, NEXT to the thing I’m complaining about? OK!” I was losing patience (I believe this was try #6. This was getting old...) I went through and after she pushed through my halt command to turn to walk right on the other side of the same fence - I made her back up to where I wanted her to stop - step by step. She didn’t like this one bit - but not in an ‘oh I’m scared’ way, more in an ‘ick I hate this exercise’ way.

It was slow and painful - but it worked. After we got back to line-of-sight on the spooky object it was mysteriously completely and utterly uninteresting. There was no acknowledgement that it was OK - it just sort of ceased to exist. Jill and I were both watching it a little (Jill would later tighten my girth a touch just in case) but the only acknowledgement I got from Dragon after that point was decidedly not looking in its direction - and even pushing her shoulder out a little bit towards it as we walked by and turning her head away slightly (which is what Jill was asking me to make sure she was doing so she wouldn’t keep rubber-necking at it… but Dragon was doing it before I was aware that’s what I was supposed to be doing…).

So that was interesting.

The rest of the lesson was frankly a lot more routine. We did a lot more posting trot (it’s getting better! It’s also getting a lot less exhausting.) and more two-point (including at the walk, which is surprisingly hard). There was more stirrupless riding and stirrup-catching exercises. I played around with what Jill called ‘pattern work’ which is weaving a series of pretty tight turns while maintaining good form and a solid posting trot.

We did post-over-cavaletti - this is getting MUCH better though it’s definitely not there yet. I confirmed it’s not just my imagination - she rides very differently over cavaletti poles than she does over the ground even if she’s still technically just trotting. The pace is the same but amount of up-and-down motion is noticeably increased and it subtly affects the timing/position of my butt coming back down onto her back (so it seems to screw up the timing to me - but it’s not). I also got to learn to intentionally get a little behind-the-motion going into the cavaletti series to keep her from excitedly rushing into it. Apparently with her (and with several horses like her) at the beginning of a day/course of jumping you may have to energize/encourage her going into jumps/exercises but after just a couple you will almost always have to work to contain her instead - learning how to partner with a horse and how much to energize/hold back will be one of the key things to work on as I go into learning about jumping courses.

We did more lunge-line work - notably some new and I believe supposed-to-be-harder balance exercises (hugging myself, more various arm motions). The trickiest one was hands-over-head while posting trot, straight into two-point from there (so hands come down right into position), then back to posting trot. Getting as far down the neck as Jill wanted my hands (so no curling in on myself or slipping my legs back) without actually needing to touch/balance on the neck was genuinely really hard - but fun. Jill likes my feet and legs in two-point but is working on getting me to flatten out my back more.

We did a little bit of sitting a much more active english-style trot. Jill told me she wants this very solid as preparation for the canter. :D

Of course, the world seems determined to ensure that I don’t make it through an entire lesson without doing something hilariously wrong. In today’s case it was trying to dismount. I underestimated how weak my legs would be (... I’ve been pretty sick...) so when I went to lower myself down my stirrup-leg unexpectedly had muscle-failure part way through and sent me down pretty hard. I ended up off balance and stumbling backwards, nearly (but not quite) falling on my behind. At least I managed to dropped the reins before I would have yanked them - so small victories in checking my reflexes.

Overall it was a really fun lesson. I am honestly a bit glad to be over the hurdle of my first spook that involved the horse doing something seriously weird (rather than just freezing up and rushing like the trail horse did). I was honestly expecting speed-control to be an issue today just with how peppy she was - but I was caught very off guard by the spook. (I mean, I had been by that exact spot twice prior in the past 5 minutes). I am pleased both that I stayed on, but also that it didn’t rattle me too much - though I will confess I had to fight my instincts a bit to keep pushing her back so aggressively to the spot that was “spooking” her. I had kinda hoped this was basically how this would go.


Volunteering Day 2
So after the lesson I was flat-out-exhausted and seriously debating if I wanted to go in today. But I had said I would show up to discuss some future event stuff and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so I hauled my pathetically-weak behind in.

I volunteered for a nice calm job cleaning out and organizing grooming gear. I spent most of the the day scrubbing dried mud off of less-used gear to try to get it looking decent again and combing hair out of brushes. Some brownies had been brought in for ‘team blanket’ for dealing with the shed as a thank-you (Seriously? It was not that bad) but other than being on my feet and inhaling an awful lot of dust (which normally doesn’t bother me at all, but was misery today) it wasn’t too physically demanding.

I did get asked what I did career-wise and upon explaining it ended up in a conversation that went something like this:

Her: “Do you know anything about computers?”
Me: “Well… yes…”
Her: “What about websites? Could you teach me how to update our website?”
Me: “Um, I could probably figure it out. Are you guys using a CMS? Style Sheets? Raw HTML?”
Her: “You are speaking Greek…”

So after a bit of discussion I may end up helping out updating the website, because apparently it’s horribly out-of-date and they have a very hard time keeping it current. They have a lot of cool ideas on what they’d like to do (sponsor a horse stuff with monthly updates on the horse for example) but so far they’re having trouble just keeping the actively adoptable horses listed on the site and taken down when they’re no longer available. There’s someone else who volunteered to do content/pictures but has only minimal technical skills (... I am tempted to try to fix that).

Honestly, it’s been years since I’ve done any real website work - and I said as much, but I doubt this is tricky. Scanning the source on the main page it looks like they’re using some sort of hosting-provider provided CMS. I will spare this forum a bunch of techno-babble on the pros and cons of that approach, but at a minimum so long as we’re just updating things it should be hilariously easy to do. I will hopefully get to see the back-end sometime over Thanksgiving week when I have some time off and thus can do a mid-day meeting with the organization head (who is apparently currently trying to maintain the site herself).

This sort of thing comes up a lot to tech people who get anywhere near nonprofit organizations, so it’s not that surprising. I am a little surprised how fast I was asked about it though and there’s a little part of me that wants to go into a security rant. On the other hand, they sound like they’re in a tough spot where the site is hardly ever getting touched so I can understand the drive to get something happening with it quickly.

This will not, of course, help me learn anything about horses… but it’s an awesome cause and hopefully this won’t end up with me committing to more work than I intend.
 

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Very interesting book review of Centered Riding.
It was enjoyable to get your perspective, and I realize that many of the things you wrote are what I vaguely thought when I read it the first time but wasn't able to articulate.

While I agree with a lot of the book, and many of the visualizations can be helpful, there is one major point where I part ways with the ideas in the book. The idea of riding with your upper legs only (pretending your legs stop at the knees), softly flowing down into your lower legs, and et cetera work just fine if you are planning to only do dressage. These concepts will not give you a solidly secure seat if you are galloping, jumping, or if you ride a horse that spooks and spins.

What helped me far more was a quote from George Morris "your security is in your lower leg." In reality, to ride the rough, tough and fast things you must have the ability to get your weight distributed all along your leg and into the stirrups, using your proprioceptors. Only using the proprioceptors in our upper body does not give us enough advantage when a horse moves out from underneath us faster than we can blink, and our upper legs do not move enough to react if they are loose and do not have any muscle tension as we sit on the horse.
Proprioceptors detect any changes in physical displacement (movement or position) and any changes in tension, or force, within the body. They are found in all nerve endings of the joints, muscles, and tendons. The proprioceptors related to stretching are located in the tendons and in the muscle fibers.
STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY - Physiology of Stretching
Well, it's a favorite subject of mine since it has helped me learn to stay on many horses in many situations.

Congratulations on riding the spook! Great job.

So very sad about the horses at the rescue. I'm glad they were able to end their suffering.

Yes, going over cavaletti can change the trot into a very big movement that is difficult to stay with. It can really help with your two pointing and preparation to learn jumping because it helps demonstrate how to stay with a horse's motion and not get behind or forward.
 

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Discussion Starter · #117 ·
While I agree with a lot of the book, and many of the visualizations can be helpful, there is one major point where I part ways with the ideas in the book. The idea of riding with your upper legs only (pretending your legs stop at the knees), softly flowing down into your lower legs, and et cetera work just fine if you are planning to only do dressage. These concepts will not give you a solidly secure seat if you are galloping, jumping, or if you ride a horse that spooks and spins.

What helped me far more was a quote from George Morris "your security is in your lower leg." In reality, to ride the rough, tough and fast things you must have the ability to get your weight distributed all along your leg and into the stirrups, using your proprioceptors. Only using the proprioceptors in our upper body does not give us enough advantage when a horse moves out from underneath us faster than we can blink, and our upper legs do not move enough to react if they are loose and do not have any muscle tension as we sit on the horse.

Well, it's a favorite subject of mine since it has helped me learn to stay on many horses in many situations.
I confess, that is very high on my priority list right now - learning to stay on the horse. I've accepted that my path is likely to make that an absolutely critical skill to pick up quickly and solidly. Today wasn't my day to go off a horse... but let's be realistic: with the path I'm on right now, that's an inevitability and I am getting a little old to be bouncing off the ground too often, so I'd like to make it as rare as is reasonably feasible.

I will look up George Morris and any thoughts/advice you have in this regard would be greatly appreciated. I've seen some of the crazy stuff you've stayed glued on for (love your youtube btw).

Yes, going over cavaletti can change the trot into a very big movement that is difficult to stay with. It can really help with your two pointing and preparation to learn jumping because it helps demonstrate how to stay with a horse's motion and not get behind or forward.
Yep. This is why I have a love/hate relationship with them right now - though leaning far more towards love because as I've seen some small improvements I have a lot of hope. I honestly wish I could 'drill' these more than I actually reasonably can in a single lesson (for the horse's sake) but all of it will come with time. There are thankfully a lot of things to work on right now.

Thank you for the feedback, appreciated as always :).
 

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I will look up George Morris and any thoughts/advice you have in this regard would be greatly appreciated.
It might sound baffling, but that quote which made a big
difference in my riding is one of the few things I like about Morris. He is a bit heavy handed for my taste, and really believes in forcing the horse into what you want, albeit with a strong and secure seat.

It's a tricky thing, learning about horses. For me it's been a long and difficult road to find out what I believed and what worked and didn't for me personally. There has never been a trainer or guru I followed completely, because agreeing with one thing does not mean you will find anything else they say true or helpful. There is lots of good advice on this forum, and as with anything, science and logic and compassion for the animal are faithful guides.

Something that has helped me is watching videos of cross country riding and seeing how those riders keep a secure seat. There are keys as with anything athletic to staying supple yet with the appropriate amount of muscle tension, joint flexion, etc.
 

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Discussion Starter · #120 ·
It might sound baffling, but that quote which made a big
difference in my riding is one of the few things I like about Morris. He is a bit heavy handed for my taste, and really believes in forcing the horse into what you want, albeit with a strong and secure seat.

It's a tricky thing, learning about horses. For me it's been a long and difficult road to find out what I believed and what worked and didn't for me personally. There has never been a trainer or guru I followed completely, because agreeing with one thing does not mean you will find anything else they say true or helpful. There is lots of good advice on this forum, and as with anything, science and logic and compassion for the animal are faithful guides.

Something that has helped me is watching videos of cross country riding and seeing how those riders keep a secure seat. There are keys as with anything athletic to staying supple yet with the appropriate amount of muscle tension, joint flexion, etc.
Yeah, I'm finding a lot of use in videos of various sorts - my early riding experience would greatly suffer were it not for youtube. Watching videos of horses 'playing up' is something I've started doing some of as well - just to watch how skilled riders react to it in order to properly stay in place.

As far as finding trainers: at this point I'm really just absorbing information from a lot of sources to store up as approaches to try when the situation emerges. I'll form opinions on it later, after I have a broader base of experience to draw from. Most of the really impassioned differences of opinion seem to be centered around horse-training rather than around rider-training (where there are controversies, but they seem less passionate) which is mostly what I'm focusing on at the moment.

To be honest, for training I am probably going to end up starting with a baseline of learning what my trainer uses - because in all likelihood I'll be working on her horses as I hit that stage in my own development - and her horses, her rules. I'm genuinely comfortable with that because I like her results both in horses and riders. Her horses seem healthy and happy, seem to like people and riding, and while they're perhaps a bit 'spirited' for some people that has an awful lot to do with the types of horses she starts with. Her riders seem a bit more on the adventurous side as well - but that fits with me.

My suspicion is that a lot of the differences in approach come from how you view the psychology of horses, the human/horse relationship, time spent in training, and eventual goals. My opinions are still fluid on all of the above at this point.


Look up Lucinda Green!!! She is an awesome cross country clinician!
So I've been trying to find good stuff by Lucinda Green/Lucinda Prior-Palmer. I see a few books, but they appear to be mostly autobiographical. Trying to find the clinics I've had only some success with. (My favorite video is below). Any favorites of hers which can be done without attending a clinic? She looks awesome.

 
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