So many of the things my horses are teaching me seem counterintuitive. But they're really only counterintuitive in terms of the ways to ride many of us were taught.
One example: many of us were taught that we needed to "support" the horse with our rein or leg. Think about it for a minute - a horse weighs 1,000 pounds or more, and we weigh maybe 150. Horses are much stronger than we are. So, how, precisely are we to "support" the horse? What my horses are teaching me is that the idea of "support" is pretty much an illusion - when there's more than the very slightest amount of pressure in your hand or against your leg, what you've got isn't support, it's a brace, which blocks or inhibits the horse's motion and flow of energy.
My horses are teaching me that hands, legs, seat, balance and breathing are to be used for connection and communication, and that this communication can occur with a whisper, or even with a thought. Creating openings - mental and physical - for your horse to move into - is a powerful concept my horses are working with me on.
One example from my work with Dawn, Red and Pie on my corners. Now say you have a horse that's tending to fall in around the corners, and maybe even bending to the outside while doing so. The natural inclination - the way many of us were taught - would be to use the inside leg to "support" the horse and ask the horse to bend to the inside and step to the outside, often with a "supporting" outside rein. This is the classic "inside leg to outside hand".
Now I'm not saying that doesn't work, after a fashion, or that it's necessarily wrong - I've done it myself. But Dawn, Red and Pie say I should think about all the braces that are being created - leg against inside, hand against outside. Any time there's a brace, there's a likelihood of loss of true forward and impulsion, and a locking up of free motion and energy.
My horses have been teaching me that there's another way to deal with the falling in issue - and in fact it's not really dealing with the horse's falling in issue, it's dealing with my falling in issue. If I ride correctly, and allow (note: not cause, allow) the horse to move correctly, there isn't any falling in or any issue.
Pie in particular is a good teacher on this, and Dawn was also helping me out this morning. Pie says: "you want a brace, here's a brace right back at you". And Dawn says: "get out of my way". So, here's the counterintuitive part. No messing with the head or the reins - my contact was consistent in both reins - just the weight of the reins and a feather of contact. And I don't change anything except to follow the bend of the head and neck with my hand to maintain the feather of contact - I don't bend the head and neck, I bend with the head and neck.
As we start to enter the turn, I open my inside hip just a bit - but no leg pressure. This creates an opening for our hind legs to move up and under the horse's body and to the outside. I also keep my focus and chin up - not tilting my head to the inside or looking down - and very slightly open my inside shoulder - but again, this is really bending with the horse and not creating it.
Pie approved last night, and Dawn as well this morning. Dawn did the best corners to the right she's ever done - or Dawn would say I did the best corners I'd ever done, which allowed us to do the best corners we'd ever done together. It wasn't a matter of me doing something, and then the horse responding. It was us doing it together at the same time - just direct, simultaneous connection and communication. And there was wonderful, beautiful, delicious forward and impulsion.
Like riding on the wings of the wind . . .