In that CR clinic, with Susan Harris and all the others watching and critiquing each other and ourselves, we had ridden two hours in the mornings and two hours in the afternoons. We had done lots of work over cavaletti, low jumps, and grids. We rode with our arms crossed over our chests, we rode with only one stirrup, we rode in two-point, over and over. We rode with only one hand, the other arm stretched in various positions. We did the Three Seats exercise, wherein you post ten strides, sit ten strides, and two-point ten strides, the goal being to be able to do these position changes without any change in your horse’s way of going. We also spent a lot of time riding with a soft/loose leg, seeking a connection from the rider hip to the foot/stirrup. Susan would come up to us while standing and run her hand from the inside top of our thigh down to the lower calf, then softly pull/allow our leg to be longer and more draped. Then she would tap the bottom of our feet. It was really crazy how different this made my legs feel.
All of these exercises were extraordinarily revealing. It was particularly helpful to watch the other riders and to see how their horses responded to the work and the position changes. Remember, I was watching people riding horses I had ridden and taught on for several weeks. I saw the horses respond, change, get softer, rounder, more forward. I admit, sitting and watching and listening to the riders exclaiming this and that would never have done it for me. In fact, some of the Navel Gazers were embarrassing. "Yes! Yes!" they'd cry, as they experienced some sort of real or perceived breakthrough. Oy. There was always a lot of 'Me! Me! I am SO CENTERED' hoopla going on. I had to give Susan credit. She kept everybody focused on their positions and while encouraging to all the Gazers you could tell she wanted them to keep the focus on *riding*. No, it was watching the *horses* respond to the position changes that was the shocker. Horses don’t lie. Ever. Nor do they have agendas or placebo effects or Things to Prove. They just are. And I could see, over and over, how they changed when the rider body changed. And it’s not like half the time you could even really see anybody do anything. But you saw the horse change, and then you realized that the rider body had changed. Wow.
By the third day, I was really physically tired. I was riding the mare I most often rode in my lessons with Sue Payne. She was quick and somewhat hot, an honest jumper but she had a spook. Remember also that this was my Terrified Phase, and so I was always anticipating that spook and bolt. The last ride of the last day we spent a long time on the Comparable Parts and the Three Seats concepts. As I rode around the indoor, I listened to Susan Harris tell us over and over to drop in to our feet, to release our knees and drape around the horse. To keep our shoulders soft and back and down, to lift our tummies and tip that pelvis. I think I was just getting too tired to pinch any more, but be that as it may, as I two-pointed around that last ride on the last day, I felt it. I was supporting my upper body on the neck and letting my legs really go down, feeling how deep in the stirrups they really could go, how open my hips could really be, how soft my back could really get. And ya know, that mare got sooooooooooo balanced. So up, and forward, and round, and blowing softly. Suddenly, I was a Centaur. I went from two-point to posting, concentrating on keeping that long grounded leg. No change in the mare. I sat, using my tummy and releasing my lower back. No change in the mare. She was swinging, light. She was not spooking or looking or rushing. She seemed to be in the same happy zone I was in. I broke rank and turned her to trot one of the grids that we had been working over.. Susan had been watching me and she knew that I was having one of the This Cant Be Happening To Me moments. She just smiled and let me go down the grid. That mare never rushed, never spooked, I had virtually no rein. We bounced happily down the grid and when we were through we just cruised around the indoor.
I know this will sound dramatic and silly. But when we settled to a balanced and perfect walk transition, and that tense hot mare was just as soft eyed and relaxed and blowy as before, I cried. I couldn’t help it. The relief and the awareness and the joy of that break through was so amazing I just puddled up. I knew that my riding life was going to once again be what I thought I had lost forever.
I had been that kind of rider as a kid. Saddles were for sissies. We rode for hours bareback with no bridles, we swam the horses, we camped with them, we vaulted and jumped and roman rode and never thought twice about anything. But not only had I lost the joy, I had developed the fear.
But now I could see that it could come back. That I could *learn* it this time, rather than just have come naturally. And I was happy.