I’ve been riding Raven for over a year. Most of it’s been bareback.
I like bareback. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy-the only thing I have to clean up after a ride is my breeches. Riding bareback means I’m warm while aboard.
If I had an ego, I’ve been given plenty of opportunities for it to be huge. I can’t tell you how many people have expressed grudging admiration of my ‘ability’ to ‘really ride’ when they see me bareback.
Especially when Raven spooks. So far, every time, I’ve ridden it out, ending up, exhilarated and a bit amazed at how bloody fast that horse can move, big as he is, and amazed that I’m still on top of him. Maybe it’s been dumb luck, so far, that’s kept me aboard.
But I’m old enough, and wise enough, now, to know that ego is insecurity dressed up in blowhard drag. Karma has never failed to kick my ass when my head’s grown too big.
So I tell my ‘admirers’ they’ve got me all wrong. I’m not an expert rider, I’m not an expert at anything. In fact, it seems, the more I ride, the less I seem to know how to do it.
The reason I went back to bareback was because I disliked what I felt in myself when in a saddle. I found myself hanging onto the reins, and we all know that is Not Good. So I told Sue to keep the Hulsebos off his back when I’m riding and would she please lead me?
I wanted to be led so that I could take the reins away from myself, and concentrate on hearing what Raven was saying.
There is no better way of feeling silly, childish and appearing to be afraid, than having ‘everyone’ see you being led on a horse. It makes you feel like you’re six all over again. You feel as if you’re imposing terribly on the person leading the horse.
But I wear big girl panties, and don’t give a rat’s patoot what people think of me anymore. I don’t HAVE an ego, and have nothing to prove. I will never be a Grand Prix rider and don’t want that.
Sue is patient, understanding, and wise. She knows she is very far ahead of me in terms of riding ability, and yet, she is honest with herself. She has no ego, either, just a heartfelt desire to be a better rider.
By riding bareback, I wanted to learn how to be comfortable and relaxed aboard a horse, without artificial help.
The first several rides being led, I put my hands behind my back. I also closed my eyes.
Now you know why I wanted to be led. No reins, hands behind back, and closed eyes? It puts the responsibility of the horse in Sue’s competent hands, and I-I can listen. I can hear Raven. I can listen to myself.
It’s amazing. The first time I rode with hands behind my back (which improved my posture tremendously) and my eyes closed, I felt as if I were on a rocking ship. The urge to open my eyes passed and I began to relax. By removing the tactile (hands) and visual (eyes) input, I forced myself to listen to other parts of me, for instance, seat bones. What a DUH moment that was: all this time I thought I’d been riding on my seat bones, but no, I’m not sure what I was riding on, but it wasn’t them. I was forcing…no, teaching myself, to sit on a horse without balancing on my hands or my vision.
It got to be fun, honestly. I found my ‘ears’ sharpened. Sue would back Raven up, allowing me to feel what a collected horse feels like. Hands behind my back allowed me to really sit in him, not on him.
After, oh, five rides like this, I took the reins back and discovered: that I no longer depended on them as props. I was comfortable in my seat. I was balanced. I felt comfortable, relaxed, and happy.
I admit, at this point, all I’ve done is walk. But the walk is an important gait. It gives one time. Raven loves to go fast. I don’t know if that’s because he’s half TB, or if it’s because going fast means he can avoid having to do what he’s asked. I suspect it’s the latter…he can be pig headed, and I’m learning that unless you ask correctly, he won’t do it. He’s a good teacher. He makes me EARN every “good ride’ I get from him. That sort of honesty is more rewarding than any ribbon. If he does it right, it means I asked for it correctly.
But it got better. One day, riding bareback, I slipped into that amazing zone of silent communication. I forgot about breathing. Every trainer I’ve ever heard says don’t forget to breathe. I forget it all the time and am still conscious, so I wonder, at times, if breathing is all that important when communicating with a horse. I forgot about reins, inside, outside, whatever. I ‘asked’ Raven with my mind: please, haunches in. Bam, his sturdy butt was on the wall and we walked the entire length of the arena that way. Please, stop-and he came to a perfect four square halt. I would like to go left, please? And with a light pressure from my right knee, we turned left.
I was amazed. That clarity of mind, that distillation of thought, was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
Sadly, as seems to be the case, it didn’t last for long-but now I knew what it felt like. Now it seems to come more often, and with less effort.
Today I had a most informative ride.
Sue has been attending a series of clinics based on Sally Swift’s “Centered Riding”. I can’t afford the clinics, so am learning vicariously. She told me about my spine being the central pivot point, pointing my navel in the direction I want to go, looking between his ears.
The last is so hard for me. Having ridden motorcycles for years, I learned that you look…hard…in the direction you want to turn. This leans the bike over so that you don’t have to muscle your way through a tight turn, like the ones in a cloverleaf.
Horses are not motorcycles, and I don’t need to turn my head to turn him. He has legs, not wheels.
After being instructed by Sue, I walked out (we’re way past my being led by now) and bless her, she shut up. I imagine my spine being integrated with Raven’s-and felt the most amazing thing.
I felt as if I were two halves. I had a left half, a middle spine, and a right half. My spine was connected without a seam to Raven’s. My two sides were independent and yet comfortably balanced and relaxed. I could do anything with them-push back with my right shoulder, turn ever so slightly at the hips, my left shoulder steady, and my hands were quiet, soft and almost negligible on the rein.
My legs felt as if they were merely two light pieces of flesh, feeling his intake and exhale.
I was ‘around’ the horse. I felt a part of him. My mind and his were one. It was an incredible feeling, so much so that I stopped and just dwelt in the moment of being two of me atop one horse.
What I learned today is: every ride is a step. Sometimes it’s a sideways step in that you don’t gain, but you don’t lose, knowledge. Today’s amazing feeling of being two and one at the same time? That was a large step forward.