Monday, September 3, 2012

Magical Moment: "Deep Feel"

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.

13 comments:

  1. This is very cool! VERY. COOL. I am going to try this with my canter transitions with Winston. He worries about the aid, and then I worry... maybe just the thought and the feel would help us both relax about it.

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  2. It's fun reading someone writing about this stuff and experiencing the magic of what can happen when you apply these concepts to riding.

    I have done a lot of this with Keil Bay, thanks to a good friend who told me a long time ago to think my aids instead of doing them - which was the first step to gaining the kind of feel I think you're describing.

    Crazily I have had a few trainers who want to see the aids b/c they don't think they "count" if I just think it and Keil Bay does it! That flabbergasted me - I mean if he and I are so in tune that we are operating as one, isn't that better, and more advanced, than having to resort to using the leg, hands, seat?

    Glad to read of your good rides and experiences with the three horses!

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    1. I'm beginning to think that physical aids are just a step on the road - a way to help the horse understand what you want - and that once that understanding is in place and the mutual feel is there, physical aids aren't really necessary any more. That's where I want to go with my horses.

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  3. That is just amazing! Congrats on accomplishing such an astonishing feat.

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    1. It really didn't feel hard when we did it. I think the hard part is changing how I think about what riding the horse is, and what "feel" is in connection with the horse, and then being willing to take it to the next step - it's worlds different from how I learned to ride but it's pretty wonderful when I get it and can think it and have the horse make the connection - it sure makes me want to have that wonderful feeling be an everyday experience.

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  4. That was great and I love the way you described how you and Dawn communicated. Dawn understood what you were thinking and your body was not blocking her in any way. That is truly remarkable and something worth remembering. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I got goosebumps while reading this post today...seriously, you've got it. That is exactly what they're trying to explain in their teaching. It's so simple, that it's difficult to comprehend. It is magical, and it is all about "feel". The horse is so, so sensitive and so intuitive. Yep, gave me goosebumps. Tom told us at a clinic (the only time I got to go in person)once that "you get to feeling like you could just ride 'em up a telephone pole, or down a badger hole if you wanted to; not that you'd want to, but that you could if you really wanted to". And, you know what else? Carolyn Hunt (Ray's wife) said that they went to visit Tom shortly before he passed away. Apparently, the two got to talking horses, and Tom took hold of Ray's arm and said "you know Ray, it really is all about the feet, isn't it?" "It's all in the feet" So cool. I believe...
    You're really onto something with your horses. You get it. :)

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    1. I think I've got it - in concept - but the feel, and connection with the horses comes and goes. When it clicks into place it's magical. And it comes down to the feet, and feeling the whole horse down to the feet.

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  6. Oh, I just have to add one more thought. (LOVE this post!)
    I used to be so astounded watching Ray Hunt ride a horse. Simply astounded. He could, and did, amazing things with his horse. Miraculous things with his horse. Bring tears to your eyes kind of things with his horse. Thing is; I NEVER, not EVER, not even once, saw him cue his horse. That's how subtle his feel of his horse was. It was as if he simply had a thought, and his horse responded. That's what he used to tell his students, they (the horse) get so soft, it's as though they're reading your mind. Now that's horsemanship. That's what I dream about having with my horse. That's what I want, but it takes a serious commitment. So cool...

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  7. There was this thing Ray used to always say (there were so many), and I'll probably not get it right, but it was something like..."you've got to control the life in the body through the mind to the feet, and then you've got something". You're right Kate, it does come and go with the horses; but the more we perfectly practice this "feel", the more perfectly it becomes habit. LOL, I just remembered something else Ray said all. the. time. Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. He's right, of course. Makes me want to go home and ride my horse...

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  8. thanks for posting.

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