I had one of those rides during my last lesson where the whole time you feel like you are on the verge of something: just so dang close you can TASTE it but not quite there yet.
Sometimes it’s even hard to explain what it actually IS that you are so darn close to reaching. I just had the sensation that a number of concepts were finally converging at once and a little breakthrough is on the horizon. Truthfully, I don’t even know if I’ll feel it when it happens or if it will be like a slow ascent and before I even notice, I’ll be on the other side.
If I think about how it feels to ride this way, there is a clear difference from how I felt when I first start riding. I used to feel like I knew enough to be a good passenger. The limits of my knowledge and experience also let me believe that to be a good passenger was most of what it meant to be a good horseback rider.
Passenger: A person who travels in a conveyance, without participating in its operation.
I set myself to memorizing certain “actions” designed to make horse and rider more comfortable during their temporary pairing: Lean slightly back when going downhill; posting the trot; half seat; etc. I thought any contact the rider had with the saddle had to be softened to make the horse more comfortable so I absorbed movement in my back and when that got difficult, I created more movement in the interest of following movement (I’m looking at you, “sitting trot hula hips” and “scoop with your seat canter”…). It’s hard to remember whether I was actually told to move this way or whether these were just poor interpretations, but I wanted to be the movement-following champion. I tried really really hard to be a good passenger. I wish I could be like “bless that little rider’s heart!” but this was still me like a year ago…so maybe I’ll just keep talking… 😉 The bottom line was that for all the steering or debatable “piloting” I did of the horse, I did not participate in its operation and, in fact, spent an enormous amount of energy trying to get out of the way of its operation.
But you know what, you can’t get out of the way unless you get off of the horse. If you want to ride, participate.
When I ride now, I feel active. I feel like I’m taking responsibility for my own body and better acknowledging its part in the equation. When you are active, you are not a passenger. Because I’m not busy spending all of my muscle tone on creating movement in order to follow, I am free to use my arms independently of my torso (what a concept!) or use different parts of my legs- sometimes even use one part on one leg and another part of the other leg simultaneously (brainsplosion!). Active resistance for greater harmony? When you watch it, you could say it more closely resembles actively doing nothing, but what it isn’t, is getting out of the way. “You gotta hold the frame.”
Omg did she really just use a Dirty Dancing reference?!
Here’s a Jean Luc Cornille based tangent that supports this whole topic eventually, I promise:
Full disclosure, I have shit posture and sometimes walk like a caveman. I once had a friend comment during a 5k that she never quite noticed my “swagger” before. She said it like that, it wasn’t mean to be mean. We were helping our friend get up a big hill at the time and since she was competing in her old wheelchair, it was heavier and slowing her down. All of the previous walking, combined with the slow pace up the hill, magnified my normally imperceptible limp. I referenced an LMFAO song and we all had a good chuckle.
I’ve had three knee surgeries and have pretty bad osteoarthritis but truthfully, it’s hard to tell whether my poor, inefficient gait can be attributed to actual damage/instability or more to many years now spent moving incorrectly to compensate for pain that is no longer there.
It has only recently occurred to me to think that why wouldn’t my equine partners be suffering from the same type of problems? Does your horse have shit posture? Maybe! Could she have once adjusted her gait to take pressure off of an injury and then just left it like that even after fully healing? Absolutely.
I am able to exist fairly well with my crummy posture most of the time. I can breathe, I can eat and drink, I can even move! But I have the special ability to think out a few more years to when my poor posture and poor gait may contribute to more damage. Your horse doesn’t care if it has bad posture or if it’s moving incorrectly- as long as it can breathe, eat, drink, and move- things are good in the ‘hood. If in six years your pony can no longer get up off the ground, he’s never going to think “Oh why didn’t I stop lumping all of my weight on my right shoulder!??!?” or “If I only hadn’t left my left hind dragging all the time, I would still be sound!”
We (the rider) can help them! We can assure them that the pain in that front hoof is no longer there and that they need to balance their weight equally. We can ask them to move more correctly, to be more efficient in their gait. We can work with their existing injuries and conformational faults and still push them to be as correct and efficient as they can be! It will be hard at first, and they’ll say no, because who doesn’t like saying no!?
But as soon as they figure out that what you’re asking is actually easier and more comfortable for them, they will totally act like it was all their idea in the first place. Which is fine, because you’ll just be happy that they won’t develop a repetitive stress injury from walking like a derp.
I don’t presume to think that I am going to even know if a horse is moving inefficiently or incorrectly enough to cause damage to itself, let alone know how to fix it, but the one thing I can do right now to move the needle in the right direction is to participate and try to take responsibility for all 200 el-bees that I am adding to the equation. I am endeavoring to actively ride and improve my poise, posture, and mechanics so that at least my horse doesn’t have to compensate so greatly for me. Then, and only then, can I start to ask him to meet me there, to hold his frame, for his own good, and ours.
I’m sure this paradigm shift happens in its own time depending on the person. Do you remember when you went from being a passenger to participating? Are you like me and still making that leap, just on the verge of trying to create a new “default” mode? It’s not really like the flip of a switch- you’re doing it all wrong or doing it all right at once, but your mentality can shift fairly quickly like that-mine has.
For the sake of discussion…is there anything inherently wrong with just being a passenger?
I like to hope not, considering I can go from participant to passenger in one second flat. I’m just making that moment my new cue to get off the horse. Putter around the field on the buckle- fine; mental health bareback toddle around the arena just for funsies-do it. I’m just not making any more horses work for me if I’m not going to participate.