09.09.28: Centering the Ride

Through Jim McDonald we made arrangements to have Heidi Potter, a Level III Centered Riding instructor, and also a CHA Certified Instructor do a clinic at Graham. We struggled putting the clinic together to get enough participants. When it came down to the wire, Heidi really wanted to continue on with the clinic even though we only had 3 people signed up. At the last minute one of those people canceled due to her father getting hospitalized. Thankfully Jim McDonald ended up riding as well, so there were a total of four riders and three auditors. One of the women that was signed up needed a horse to ride, so we made arrangements for her to ride Dix, a Walking horse that belongs to a boarder here. She emailed me and let me know that she was going to need a hotel room and asked for a couple options in the area. I wrote her back and told her that since Heidi was planning on staying with Jim McDonald she could just stay with us. She was very grateful, and offered to bring all kinds of food and things to share.
She arrived Friday evening and we chatted for a long time talking about all things horse, and she was very jealous of my trips to the Parelli ranches. We really clicked, and had a good time talking until we finally crashed. Saturday morning arrived too early, and I got up and started to get things organized. Debbie arrived with her horse, and I got her set up in Storm's stall with her mare and then continued to get things ready. We decided that with such a small group working in the house for the lectures made the most sense, so we moved things around a bit to have room for everyone. The rest of the auditors arrived and I got everyone checked in, and then we headed into the house to get started.
Heidi began with an overview of what Centered Riding is, and her background. We each had a moment to talk about where we were with our horsemanship, and any experience with Centered Riding that we had. The group was fairly diverse, with two Level I Centered Riding Instructors in the group. Most of the group were very expereinced, with Gen being the least experienced of the group, but the group was very well balanced overall. We continued to discuss the foundation of what Centered Riding is, and how to develop balance for the rider. The whole focus of the clinic was primarily on developing the rider to be a more effective rider using their balance and breathing to help develop softness and responsiveness in the horse.
We ended up eating lunch a bit late and finally got to riding about 2:00. We got Gen set up with Dix, and Jim decided to ride Fulton and we finally got ourselves together and got started.
Heidi began with going over the basics and helping to get everyone set with the correct position to begin with. We started to ride around, and then she had the auditors come in and help by leading the horses so that the riders could really internalize the feeling of the motion of the horse and their balance. Having someone else leading the horse allowed the rider to only focus on their own balance and the feel of the horse moving underneath them. Once the riders took control of the horse again, it was easier to feel the horse's movement and know how to get in sync with your own body.
Gen was having a bit of trouble with Dix ignoring her cues. She was a bit uncertain about the situation, and Dix took the opportunity to do whatever it was that he pleased. Jim came up with the idea of her riding Fulton him getting up on Dix, and it worked out really well. She enjoyed Fulton much better since he's so easy going and willing to follow whatever he thinks you want, especially if it means that he doesn't have to expend much energy. Dix and Jim were very compatible, and he really listened to Jim's cues. After the ride was over, Jim made arrangements with Dix's owner to allow her to ride Fulton on Sunday as well.
Storm was giving me a bit of a challenge, he really wanted to stay towards the middle of the arena, and I was having some trouble conveying the subtle cues that I was attempting to give him. We worked on stopping the horse using our breath, and breathing into the center and settling into the saddle to simply ask the horse to stop walking. There should not be any tension in the rider when asking the horse for a stop. When one stops walking, there is no tension in the body, and the same should be true of asking the horse to stop walking. The ride was not a terrific one, but we made some progress. The sweat patterns were fairly even, though it wasn't that warm out to cause much sweat to appear. We finally crashed, and Heidi joined Gen and us for dinner. We had a really basic dinner of baked chicken, rice, broccoli and salad, but it tasted really great after a day of hard work. The rain started to fall about 45 minutes after we finished riding, so it cooperated nicely.
Sunday morning brought a steady misty rain falling, despite the fact that the radar said the rain had moved out. We started the morning with a bit of review and answering questions. Heidi was really great about addressing the topics that were brought up. Several of the ladies teach children so they spent some time talking about how to handle kids and the depth of information that they can handle. We began the day's topics discussing grounding, centering, and growing. The thought process was a really effective one to help center yourself on the horse, and develop really positive posture as a habit. The correct posture is the most effective position to be in to direct the horse and stay in the saddle should something bad happen.
We spent a great deal of time going over simulations working with the bit and reins. We paired up with a partner, and one person held the bit in their hands while the other person held the reins. The person with the bit made a rocking motion to simulate the motion that comes through the reins as the horse rocks. The person with the reins experimented with different hand positions and rein positions as the horse gave feedback. One of the most profound differences was the difference that was made by holding the rein between the ring and little fingers vs having the rein all the way through one's hand below the little finger. From the horse's perspective holding the bit the communication was muddled when the rider carried the rein all the way through their hand rather than between their ring and little fingers. We experimented more with other ways to clear up the communication, give cues, and how to stop the horse's motion without tension in the body. The difference was very clear holding the bit when the rider used tension or tried to half the motion of the horse rather than simply "stop walking" so to speak. Heidi used the image of having hoses rather than arms, with water flowing downward. Even if the motion of the horse is stopped, the water must always flow down, it can't flow back up. She also used the image of giving the reins back to the horse with the motion of the horse rather than taking the reins with the motion of the horse. The difference was distinct in the feel on the bit.
We wrapped up the morning pretty quickly having a discussion time and then ate lunch from Toscana again. The clouds had broken a few hours earlier and we were lucky that the horses were mostly dry by the time we made it outside at 2:00. Storm was surprisingly not dirty, thankfully, and so it didn't take long to get him groomed up. It did take me 3 trips in and out of the house to get myself organized. Thankfully, Jim grabbed him while he was at the top of the pasture and had half the grooming done by the time I got back down to the barn with everything. I finished up the grooming and tacked him up and we headed down to the soup that was the arena. I hung out with the other riders while the rest of the group made it down and then we got ourselves organized to head into the arena and I carefully picked my way through the puddles to find the driest spot along the rail to mount. Storm cooperated reasonably quickly and let me climb aboard.
Heidi checked everyone and helped to reposition me a little bit. Wearing my rain coat the day before had made it harder for her to see all of my posture. She readjusted me a bit and then we began to ride around and warm up. Storm was much more responsive than the day before, I am not sure if I had less nerves, or if he was in a better mood. We worked on the principles that we discussed during the day, applying the half halt and worked with the concept of giving the reins rather than taking them through the motion of the horse. I found that today I was having more of a problem keeping Storm from scraping my foot on the fence than I was keeping him out of the middle like the day before. He was much more sensitive to the concept of asking him to halt through breathing, and the half halt was very effective. I could feel him hesitate under me and respond with a question. On the ground it is easy to know when they are asking a question, translating that feedback to the saddle is a bit different, and feeling him respond to the cue with a question of "Yes?" was quite interesting. Most of the other riders trotted, but I decided that we were doing well working on the slower work, and was plenty busy trying to make sure that I was being effective, and that he was responding appropriately, and that Storm was working on bringing his hindquarters up under him and not dumping onto the forehand. I had my hands full without adding the speed into it. I would have been interested to try it, but at the moment it was just one more thing, and I was pleased with the progress we'd made in the moment.
I came away from the clinic pleased that I was hearing the same concepts in different language. It is fascinating to me to hear the same thing told with a slightly different spin and recognize the positive difference that it has on getting a concept to the point of being consistently effective with the horse. We wrapped up the evening having a discussion of what the clinic meant to us. It was interesting to hear each person's perspective on what clicked for them. I untacked and turned Storm out again and everyone was pretty well wrapped up. I helped get Debbie organized to head out, and then we headed off for dinner at Jim's with Heidi and a few other people, which was a great way to wrap up the clinic and weekend.
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09.10.24: Real Rider