I had a wonderful moment with Dawn this morning - it felt like magic but it really wasn't . . .
But before we get to that, go back with me to when you were a kid. I'll bet there are many of you out there who played horse - I sure did, all the time whenever I could, from the time I was very small - did you? I did lots of walk, trot and canter, and a fair amount of jumping courses too. Now our two legs aren't exactly equivalent to the horse's legs, but remember how it felt to play horse and how it felt to walk, trot or canter. At the walk, we have only two beats to the horse's four; the trot is pretty much the same; and we have two of the three beats of the canter but can do the suspension - the "fourth" beat of the canter.
Now, think about how it feels to be a horse and do the three gaits, plus a gallop, and the transitions between gaits, and backing. It's all about the feet - where they are at what points in the gait and in what rhythm, and how the horse uses its feet to balance and move. It's a little bit different than the feel of playing horse, but I think we humans are up to imagining how it would feel if we were the horse.
What got me really starting to think about these things was a couple of things - well, really I've been thinking in this direction for a while but a couple of things made things come into sharper focus. First, I've been reading Bill and Tom Dorrence, and there's a wonderful set of diagrams of the horse's footfalls as the horse transitions between gaits - what legs have to catch up or slow down to get the changing rhythm, say from trot to canter. I started imagining what those footfalls would feel like if I were the horse. And then there's the idea of offering the horse the feel of what you want them to do - you imagine how it would feel if you did what you are wanting the horse to do with your own body. But here's the next step - what would it feel like to be the horse doing the thing you want the horse to do and can you offer that feeling to the horse and have the horse make the mental connection and do it.
I've talked with Mark about this at clinics - the idea that you present the idea in your mind to the horse and have the horse's body be your body and the horse's legs your legs - the horse making the connection to your mind and just offering up what you are asking. I've been thinking about this together with the Dorrences' thought of offering the horse the feel you want - so you can feel of the horse and the horse can feel of you and respond by giving you the feel you want. If the idea of what you want to do can be presented as you offering the horse the feel of how the horse itself would be, that would be pretty powerful.
Now here's what happened today. You know how it feels in your (human) body when you're riding your horse and cantering on the right lead - imagine that. Now imagine how it feels to canter on the left lead. (There should be a difference in your mental feel since the two leads have differing footfalls and have opposite diagonal "trends".) Bill Dorrence said the easiest way to get a lead change is to just start riding as if you're on the opposite lead - offering that feel to the horse - and the horse is likely to adjust to that feel by changing leads. I can see how that would work and could be pretty effective. But I think Bill meant (and I think this is also what Mark was talking about, but I didn't fully understand it until now), is that the feel you're offering isn't just of what you would feel as a rider of the horse, or if you were "playing horse" with your body and doing the movement, but the feel of you and the horse together doing the movement and incorporating the feel of the horse's body, legs and feet - this is the feel you can offer to the horse - the horse's own feel as it would be if it did what you were asking - in effect making you part of and not separate from the horse.
So Dawn and I did an experiment. We were doing some nice canter work - circles and big laps of the arena on both leads, and she was relaxed and our connection and feel was pretty strong. (By the way, I should add at this point that I've never asked Dawn for a flying lead change under saddle until today.) So I took her in a straight line and felt her - I'm talking "deep" feel here, not just riding on top of the horse - cantering on the right lead: how her feet and body were moving - and then "thought" and offered her the feel of her body on the left lead. . . . Instantaneous, beautiful, perfect back to front flying change with no alteration of rhythm or length of stride - no leap, no jump, no excitement, just the feel as if she were doing it on her own in the pasture - and the lack of excitement was due to it being Dawn's idea and not something I was "doing" to her with physical aids. No leg aid, no rein aid, no seat aid, no change of bend, no nothing. I didn't really change the feel in my body either - I changed the thought of the feel in our bodies together - it was if I were Dawn. I can't begin to describe how magical a moment it was - I was ready to hold a party! I know it happened, because there were several other people in the arena at the time and they saw what we did.
I think this "deep feel" I'm talking about comes down to (literally) the horse's feet, particularly the hind feet, but more about that in another post . . . I can't wait to get back to the barn and work with the boys on this sort of stuff - we won't be doing any flying lead changes (Red's not strong enough at this stage of his rehab, and Pie needs a much more solid canter in both directions), but I can apply the same concept to everything we're doing.