I have been starting to apply what Dawn taught me Saturday (see the prior post). I've now had at least three rides on each horse trying to use the core-to-core feel. I can tell in my body that I'm doing something different - on Saturday I hurt under my ribcage and I couldn't figure out what that was all about - but then . . . I realized I was exercising my core in a way I hadn't been before. Right between my shoulder blades hurts too - my posture is having to get more open and, and although I've been working on my posture all year, 50+ years of very bad posture takes its toll and getting rid of some of the last bits of that hurts as things stretch and rearrange themselves. The soreness is starting to get a bit better - and one nice side benefit is my stomach is already starting to look a bit flatter!
But all I can say after my experience so far with core-to-core is . . . wow . . . and a big thank you to my wonderful horses who teach me so much. The feeling of this is incredible, and the results are amazing.
I'm trying to think of other/better ways to describe core-to-core and how I "do" it - although it's more like "be" it - and the feel of it. To do it, I have to "settle in", both mentally and physically. I do this, as we're doing our walk warm up, by concentrating on the feel of the horse as the horse moves, and try to duplicate that same feel in my own body, making sure I follow and "go with". This concentration on the movement and feel of the horse has a meditative quality. If my focus strays, or I lose the feel, I just gently bring it back - the same thing if the horse's attention or feel of me strays. Once I have that "going with" feel, I try to extend that feel to the horse's hind legs - my goal (I'm not fully there with this although the moments are more frequent as I practice) is to feel the horse's core and hind legs as if I were the horse - to become the horse's core and hind legs. I think at some point I'll be able to expand my awareness to more of the horse, but the core and hind legs are key and I'm starting with that. Sometimes I can feel the core but lose the hind legs - but I can't feel the legs without feeling the core.
As we finish our walk warm up, I add in some small circles, serpentines and/or simple leg yield, still at the walk, to test our core-to-core feel. Once that's working well - it's usually immediate if the rest of the warm up has had the connection - we move on to trot work. The good thing about working from a feel - trying to replicate that during a ride and from ride to ride - is that once you've got it, you know (in a feel rather than intellectual sense) what you're looking for and finding it becomes easier. Much easier than following a list of "dos" - aids, cues, etc. Feel doesn't come from that, it comes from . . . feel. This of course means it's darn difficult to describe in a way that makes sense to others.
Anyhow . . .
For those of you who are Star Trek fans, having my core connected to the horse's core and hind legs is like having warp drive (as opposed to impulse power) available - it's a completely different state from not having it and enormous power is available. As I'll describe in a moment, this takes less is more to a whole new level.
One of the nice things about joining my core to the horse's core and hind legs is that I can't do it if my position or posture is wrong, or if I'm bracing or blocking - the core to core connection evaporates and I'm left with my aids and cues operating on the outside of the horse. (There's nothing wrong with that and a lot of good riding can be done there, but, to extend the Star Trek metaphor, that's impulse power only.) To get the connection back if it's lost, I have to lift and open my posture, focus up and out where we're going, maintain softness in my body so I'm with and "in" rather than on the horse, and softly engage my core. This also has the benefit of straightening me out, which directly affects the horse's ability to move and balance. I've discovered that I've probably been previously dropping my right seat bone, making my right leg longer than my left, with my heel down farther on that side to compensate, since my stirrups were level. Since I was used to that, sitting straight means I started to have trouble keeping my right stirrup - but that's pretty much gone away after a few days. The core-to-core engagement also reduces both the horse's and my distractibility and using it can bring us back together after a moment of distraction.
It's pretty darn magical - the horse just softens and rounds up, coming up and through me. And I'm not holding with my hands or pushing with my legs or seat - I'm just there with the horse and can ask the horse to do anything in terms of energy or movement that I want. The horses are telling me how good it feels by responding so dramatically - I expect they appreciate not being pushed or pulled or blocked. This is just one good example of how willing our horses are to meet us halfway if we offer them the best we can - they've got it all available for us if we can just tap into it. Of course it still comes and goes, and sometimes we fall out of core-to-core and end up using our aids and cues as backup, but since it starts with me and I'm working on presenting that feel to the horse more consistently, the percentage of time in core-to-core is increasing. Since the objective is to feel the horse's core and hind legs as if I were the horse, the horse is ready and willing to mirror that feel back to me if I can connect with it. In core-to core, there is really no need for cues or aids - seat, leg or hand - if you think about, horses don't need to cue themselves to do the things they do on their own, and all we're doing with core-to-core is connecting into the engine of the horse and directing the energy and feet by using our joined core to lift and direct the whole horse through the hind legs.
The interesting thing has been that, while riding in core-to-core, the issues my horses and I have struggled with pretty much evaporate. Back to front connection is built-in, since we're directing our back legs from our core, so straightness, lateral work and bend just fall into place by stepping the hind legs where they need to be. Dawn used to have trouble travelling straight when tracking right - no more. Pie used to fall in around corners and have trouble maintaining a consistent bend on circles - no more - his circles when we're in core-to-core are geometrically perfect with no effort on my part. Pie can also carry himself beautifully in soft, round canter much more consistently - he's still developing the muscles in his core that are needed. Red used to fuss on canter transitions - now he lifts effortlessly into canter from the walk when I use our core to step the hind legs into the first canter stride. In fact, all transitions are much more balanced and easy. We can bring our energy level up and down by just thinking that jointly from our core. And in fact the whole horse can lift from the core and back an exact number of steps, just from our core.
Now, I'm a long way from being in that place consistently, but what I've felt so far is pretty wonderful, and my horses are cheering me on, which is a big help.
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My (very) exciting news is that I'll be taking a private lesson with Mark Rashid on Wednesday, May 29, up in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Mark is doing two back to back three-day one-on-one clinics in southern Wisconsin before that - starting today - that I can't even audit, much less ride in - I have a (very important) conflict - my younger daughter is graduating from college this Friday out of town.
The private lesson with Mark will be a great occasion for me to test how far I've come on the tasks he set me at last year's clinic - to develop my own style and to ride all my horses the same. I'm going to be riding a horse I've never ridden before, and trying to apply what I've learned in the past year from my three horses - particularly core-to-core. Riding an unfamiliar horse will be the perfect way to test all this all out, and I'm very excited and also grateful to Mark and the clinic hosts (my trainer Heather and her family) for making this opportunity available to me. Stay tuned . . .