Sunday, August 15, 2010

When the Student is Ready, the Master Appears

In the "L" Program study material there is a diagram depicting three different cycles. One is a bicycle with the tagalong bike behind, that two people can ride. One is a standard bicycle. And one is a unicycle. There is also another set of diagrams. One depicts the commonly seen drawing of a horse travelling on a bent line, with each foot falling as though the horse was a train on train tracks. Haven't we all been told that's how our horses should travel? Like a train on train tracks? The other depicts that same horse, but with the inside hind leg and the outside foreleg setting tracks down onto a single line, as though the horse was moving on a bent tightrope. The point of these diagrams is this: in order to gain greater access to all the parts of your horse, you must be able to narrow its base of support. The inside hind leg and outside fore leg must adduct towards the midline of your horse when travelling on a bent line. The only part about the train on tracks being correct is that you want your horse to do this without leaning in or out, and all the carts on the train have to stay in line. If you only ever ride your horse with the hind feet following exactly in line with the forefoot of the same side, the most you can ever hope for is a level balance, you will never get your horse's forehand lightened enough to develop an uphill balance. So how then do you get that horse's balance uphill and keep it from leaning in or out? Well, in addition to narrowing the base of support, you also must shorten your horse's base of support...you have to slowly, step by step, bring the center of mass over the inside hind leg until your horse feels as though you are riding a unicycle. That sounds hard, doesn't it? Why would we want to bring our horses to such a fragile state of balance? Well, to gain access to his body. When we can keep our horses working towards a shorter, narrower base of support, that inside hind leg, then we have ultimate control over what happens next. And amazingly, when you really have your horse balanced over that inside hind leg, that quest for lightness of the forehand just happens.
I rode in a clinic with Crystal Kroetch this weekend, my second clinic with her. It was the first time in all the lessons I've taken that an instructor brought up that concept of bringing the inside hind and outside fore more onto a single line. I'd already been struggling with it, after studying it in our first "L" session, trying to figure out just how to make that happen. Turns out the missing ingredient was getting Charisma's base of support not just more narrow, but also shorter, and not by stopping the front end, but by riding the hind legs more and more underneath her, a little bit more every step, a little bit more every circle, a little bit more every day. Did she get-WE get-a little wobbly at times and feel like we might tip over? You betcha. That's where that core strength must come into play. If you tip the balance bar(the reins) too aggressively, you will fall flat. Little adjustments...a little outside thigh here, a little inside calf there, a little more push with the seat and calves-but don't get tight!, a little vibration on the rein she(we) like to hang on, et voila! ...a few steps of heaven. Bask, then, back to work. I remember looking in the mirror at one point during the lesson, while working shoulder-in. I was getting good feedback from Crystal, and in the mirror, Charisma suddenly looked just like a video I've never forgotten of Edward Gal riding VDL Prestige in shoulder in. The massive stallion suddenly looked very tall and slender. Now, we are certainly not in that league, don't get me wrong, but it's amazing how an image can stick in your mind, and you don't know why, and then one day it becomes "crystal" clear why it was so inspiring. Edward Gal had narrowed and shortened that mighty stallion's base of support so much that he was balanced over the inside hing leg just as though he were sitting on a unicycle. I remember being awed at how easy and light it looked. Now I know why.
I have said it to my students a million times...if you want to be a tourist, buy your husband a convertible, park yourself in the passenger seat, and watch the beautiful world go by. Dressage is not an easy discipline. You have to ride a 1300 lb animal, be precise, consistent, fair, strong, soft, flexible, and all the while keep breathing and look like you are doing nothing. Best learn to ride with your mind and not your might! You will make mistakes but that is how you learn. Mark Twain said "Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned." Stay humble and willing to leave your comfort zone. As for me, I plan to buy a unicycle for crosstraining :)