12.06.10: I AM the Center of the Universe

The theme of the weekend became apparent quickly. "I AM the center of the universe" was Brian's response when asked how his lesson went, "I figured out what I always knew, but now I know what to do about it!" We laughed, but the truth was real.
Each one of us IS the center of the universe. If we do not live as such, then it will not be so. Horses live this every moment of the day. For them, they can't turn it off or ignore it. Each horse is different, but every one of them experiences the world with this awareness. This central awareness is a part of us the same way that every other kinesthetic sense is - its always there, the difference is how much awareness we bring to each one of those senses at any given time. Kirsten pointed out that we do not choose to hear, or choose to see, or even choose to taste. Our senses are always providing us with information, what the brain does with it determines how many sounds we hear, or how much we see. Our brains can "turn down" background noise, or ignore noises that don't mean anything (I have to consciously think about the gun range to our southeast in order to hear the sounds, however, people that have never visited before often comment how loud it is). Our vision, too, can be tuned and adjusted - hard eyes cause our peripheral vision to close down and our focus narrows to exactly where we are looking. We can "zone out" and completely miss details of what is happening around us, both visually and auditorily. Our sensory awareness is much the same way, except that most of us have been taught to 'turn it off' from a young age. We've been taught to ignore the signals that we are capable of receiving from a distance. Our gut instinct, and our heart energies, are both able to give us information from great distances, and yet we don't use these senses actively as part of our daily lives.
Kirsten encouraged us to lay claim to the 360 degrees of space around us, using our energy to raise our own awareness. Creating a bubble of space that is ours, we are each able to increase our presence and awareness of what is going on around us. When we claim the space, horses are less likely to be invasive and push into us. As we were standing and talking, Julius reached over and rubbed his face on my shoulder. I laughed and said that I guess I didn't have any space over there. So Kirsten suggested that I put some over there, so I slowly concentrated on feeling as if I was pushing something away from me with my hand on that side. I didn't move at all, but slowly, ever so slowly, Julius stepped away. 
This concept is an expansion on the boundary concept that Epona teaches. Not only is it setting a boundary, but maintaining a certain energy field around yourself and using it to receive information. Going over this information in an earlier lesson, Kirsten said she tried to sneak up on Cindy from behind, and she couldn't do it, Cindy knew she was there when she was still far away. I asked her if this applied when driving a car, she laughed and said oh yes, she now drives from the back seat! She spends a lot of time driving from lesson to lesson, and found that her awareness when driving was pressed up against the windshield, so she shifted her awareness to feel as if she was driving from the back seat. When she claimed all the space around her, she has found that people do not cut her off anymore. She also found that this kind of awareness creates a fluidity in accomplishing things, traffic is no longer an issue against time. She's able to get from one appointment to the next without running late, despite what happens on the road, and things seem easier. 
This connection of awareness helps our body to move from conscious competence where each change requires the receiving of information, information gets sent to brain, brain thinks up an action, sends action back to body, body applies action, lather, rinse, repeat into unconscious competence, where the body is able to react and bypass having to receive explicit directions from the brain. It creates the beautiful sense of harmony and fluidity that looks so natural, and creates a faster reaction time. She reiterated that we KNOW all of the techniques, we know how to apply them, now the key is applying them without thinking about it. This is the challenge that I have dealt with when I ask her to please explain what she's doing when she is riding - often, she's barely able to explain it because things are happening so fast and they are all interconnected. She compared the horse to simply a force of nature. When one surfs, there isn't a choice of which wave to take, or an option to get offended when the wave is to big, or too small, or the current changes and the waves stop. The water just IS. When you hike, every day, the trail and terrain are different. Step to step the ground changes, wet, dry, bumpy, smooth, muddy, rocky, slippery, and on and on. The next day the same section of trail may be different completely from what it was the day before. It just IS. The horse is simply a force of nature that should be adjusted to every moment. Maintaining center and balance is the key principle that applies everywhere, regardless of the changing conditions, whether they be a horse, or the trail, or riding a wave. 
She began to give us guidance on how to apply it to riding and working with the horses, it applies as much in the saddle as it does on the ground. Nancy set off riding, and Kirsten sent me off walking with Storm since I was still on the ground. She encouraged that developing this sense has to be done with reinforcement from physical aids. It isn't enough to simply stand there wishing and hoping with your eye squeezed shut that a horse is going to move away from you, or move off your leg, or shift their weight. There must be a physical follow up to the energetic feeling. As I started making laps of the arena, I added rope between Storm and I and asked him to walk along the rail, while I walked in from him. I had to really remind him to stay out and away over there quite a lot in the beginning. I would swing the rope towards him to redirect him outward again, and continue forward. Kirsten would periodically call and ask me if the space on my left was the same as the space on my right. I gathered quickly that if she had to ask, then it wasn't! I don't know exactly what she was seeing that was enabling her to know that something had shifted, but she could clearly tell what was and wasn't working. She encouraged me that I needed to be as big as Storm, because Storm's bubble is large, and everyone respects it. In order for him to respect my bubble, it must be equal to his or greater, in size, quality and balance. I continued to make laps and search for that balanced feeling of awareness all the way around me and I continued to let out the rope so that eventually I was walking at the end of the 12' line, and he was staying close to the rail. We were still very much connected, despite the distance between us.
After we worked for a bit, I prepared to climb up and get on. He was reluctant to give me the saddle at first (maybe I lost my space?), and I had to ask him a second time to put himself in the correct position. I climbed up and settled into the saddle and began trying to find that same open balanced feeling. He wanted to walk off a bit, and it took me a minute to really get settled and connected, and so we began walking. I had to concentrate hard to get the same feeling, and discovered that my left side is the "weak" side, and I can easily loose all awareness of what is going on over there. It makes sense, and I am not surprised, and I know I am in for a challenge to reclaim that. I knew that Storm was reacting to whatever it was that I was doing up there, because he was moving differently and was experimenting himself. A few times he offered a trot, I am sure because he felt that I requested it, but I wasn't sure quite how I had done that. I was also pleased that I was able to breathe him down to stay in the walk fairly easily. We mostly stuck to the walk because we were both very busy working hard trying to organize this feeling, and stay in balance. 
Kirsten was giving Nancy some guidance clarifying the fact that the horses also have a focus area that they can get stuck in. Both of our horses (and is common with most horses) get stuck forward and down. When their weight shifts onto the forehand, and their head drops, they get sucked into the forward and down. One of the keys is not getting sucked in with them, and reminding them that they must come up and back in order to find their balance and move easily. As Kirsten was working on helping Nancy to identify what was going on with Julius, he was walking along and suddenly fell straight down onto his knees. Nancy was centered enough that all she had to do was put her hand down on his neck to prevent herself from falling over his neck, and Julius sat there for a second with a stunned look on his face, before popping right back up onto his feet, still blinking with surprise. Kirsten pointed out that is what happens when the horse is allowed to go down into their own focus. Julius literally was so relaxed, and so focused down and forward that he fell on his knees! She clarified that this is why it is necessary to remind the horse that they must come to the correct position of balance, and that you won't hold them up. A horse that leans on the reins and goes around on their forehand must be held up by the rider in order to function. If a friend is about to fall off a cliff, Kirsten pointed out, she would do everything she could to save them, even if it meant grabbing them by the hair or their ear. It would hurt like the dickens but they would be grateful for the pain that saved them from harm. She went on to explain that it is the same with the horses, sometimes they need to be picked up roughly and firmly in order for the horse to pull themselves back from the edge of the cliff and find their balance again. The action should justify the correction, if the horse dives down hard, then they should be picked up with equal energy, if they are falling slowly, then they can be slowly corrected.
As we continued to ride, we were beginning to get a better feel for things and stay more organized. Kirsten encouraged me to think of picking Storm up and back so that he could engage his hind end and really shift his weight. Simply thinking through this application with an energetic awareness that was balanced produced a very light result that was very easy. We worked to the right for a little longer before changing directions to find a completely different world. I knew that the left was my challenge, and Storm knew it too. It took a lot of work for me to stay balanced, and he began testing me harder, falling more on the forehand and weighing so much in my hands that it hurt to hold onto him. I found myself bracing to try to hold him, and Kirsten reminded me that I could use all of the tricks in the book including half halts and complete halts to bring him back to where he needed to be with his weight and balance. We simply don't travel that way anymore, and it must be clear to him and for me that it needs to be corrected immediately. I was able to have an easier time correcting him when I asked him to shift backward as we were moving forward, through using more leg and reminding him of his hind legs with the whip. When I asked him to stop completely it was a challenge like trying to stop the titanic from sliding into the iceberg. It hurt my hands, and took a lot of strength to stop his forward motion since he was on the forehand by that much. 
We came back to Kirsten and had a bit more conversation about how this applies and then called it a day, despite the fact that we were quitting early. It was hot and humid, and despite the fact that the horses had only walked for the entire lesson with a few short stretches of trot, they were both dripping with sweat. Storm had it running down his legs in rivulets, and dripping off his belly. We called it a day for both of them, and headed up to untack and rinse down the horses. I tried to get as much of the sweat out of Storm's coat as I could, and then let him dry for a bit before taking him to the arena to roll. I knew he would enjoy it, and I was right. He had a really nice roll and really scrubbed himself around in the deep sand of the arena. I let him graze for a while before putting him away for the day. I was pretty worn out too!