Saturday, September 17, 2011

Zen and the Art of Jumping (long)

or, Overthought and Underpaced: Why I Love My Horse

So it's been a really stressful last four-six weeks around the Rinsie household. I've been sick, my girl dog has been sick, and I've been entirely off my game. I've been riding and enjoying it, but I haven't been hitting on all eight cylinders. My head is either completely not in the game, or it's too much in the game, and neither is a prescription for riding success.

This week's lessons are about focusing on a line, really riding that line and keeping rhythm and balance, and did I mention the line? The exercise MT set us really exposes all the weaknesses of both horse and rider. It's a series of poles on the ground or verticals, and MT teaches that it's a canter exercise, not a jumping exercise (drat you, blogger! Here, have a fancy Paint image):

So we'd go through, first starting with 3 2-3-4 1-3-5 2-1. The goal is to keep straight and keep rhythm, kind of like a grid, but with anywhere from 2-4 strides between fences in the diagonal lines, something like 6 between the horizontal lines. Okay, easy enough course, but I was all over the place, balance and position wise. Poor Rev knocked a bunch of the rails down because I wasn't doing anything to help her. My head was not really in the game for the first two runs. My stomach was kind of angry with me for the Chinese food the night before, and my brain was somewhere between ACK and derp. Un. helpful.

So our second course was 5-4 1-3-5 4-3-2 5-3-1. This time I got the LEG ON TIGHT message, and the jumping got easier. But we were still getting really awkward in the lines, like trotting, jumping from almost a standstill, balance getting a bit awkward, etc. Sigh. My head was way too in the game for this one -- I was really focusing on Getting It Right. Didn't help. Narrating just gets me to overthink everything. MT asked me to work on letting go of her face and not slowing her down over and between fences -- fair enough. Overthinking=going slow, when you're me.

The last course was 4-5 4-3-2 5-3-1 2-3-4. Yoiks! Tight turns after the third and before the fourth lines. And this time, MT told me what I needed to hear: I was so underpaced that Rev was having real trouble and that I carry a stick for a reason. So this time, I focused on keeping her moving forward. And holy crap amighty, it worked! We jumped like we know what we're doing. Until the end, when we did fine but not great. Rev can handle those turns pretty well, so it's not a huge deal, but I could have done better. And she got a nice, even 3 strides between the fences on the diagonal lines, a nice forward 3. Good girl! Good me. Anyway, my mind had both calmed down and woken up, and I was able to really pay attention to riding and pacing, cantering FORWARD.

The whole point of recounting all this is the mindset that I managed to achieve in the last go-round. I've read it written that "there are only two emotions that belong in the saddle: patience and a sense of humor." I'd add to that that a sense of Zen and mental balance is really important too. There's a particular mind feeling that I get when I ride correctly and even well, and it's like balancing a lever perfectly on a fulcrum. It's difficult to achieve and can be broken, but it's also relatively easy to maintain with little work. It's the fine line between laser focus and relaxation.

Sort of like the mental equivalent of Sally Swift's concept of soft eyes. You take it all in, even though you're not trying so hard, and yet you're focused on your goal and the path you're going to take to get there.

I don't think I can state how grateful I am to my horse for putting up with me until I reach that point. Not just for the hour span of the lesson, but in general. Getting to that point improves absolutely everything else in my life. The stress that'd been jangling in my brain and in my muscles dissipated more easily, and I was feeling MUCH better about everything when I dismounted.

I told TW later that my life would be much harder if I didn't have a horse. Seems counterintuitive, but it's true. I wouldn't have the opportunity to reach that point or feel that in harmony with another creature. When I did martial arts, sometimes I'd notice that I'd achieved that point -- it'd surprise me every time, too. It got me thinking about what it means when people say "leave it all at the door, don't bring it onto the mat." I don't know that I can explain it, in aikido or in the saddle, but it's definitely true. It takes a bit to get to that mental balance, that Zen state, but once you're there that's all there is. There is you, your motion and your study, and everything else just drops away.

I'm so grateful to Reveille for helping me reach that point today. I needed it.

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