I had an amazingly fabulous lesson with Martha on Lila yesterday, just working on the flat in my new dressage saddle. Early on, Lila was resistant in the mouth — raising her head, crossing her jaw, and so on — as she is too often. Usually, I correct that my holding my hands and giving her some spur in the belly until she softens, on the assumption that she’s just saying “screw you!”
However, Martha didn’t let me do that yesterday. Instead, I wasn’t to do anything extraordinary with my hands or legs. Instead, we focused on my body position: shoulders back, sternum up, rotating the top of my hips back, sitting evenly on my seatbones, controlling her hind end movements with my seat, keeping my inside knee on the pad and my outside leg back and strong against her. When I would get that right, Lila wouldn’t just soften in the mouth: her movement became fluid and engaged from behind, just as it ought. With just a centimeter change on my part here or there, Lila would become a different horse. Basically, she’s willing to do her part, but I have to make that possible for her by obtaining and maintaining just the right position as she moves under me. (Holy hell, that’s hard!)
Most people think that horses are controlled via hands and feet. That’s true, in a gross way: I signal Lila to change gaits or directions that way, mostly. I’ve long known that seat matters too: that’s a point of contact felt by the horse that can be used to control movement. Now I’m seeing just how superficial a view that is. Martha has always emphasized body position with me, and I’ve seen the beneficial effects of that. After this lesson, however, I see that my body position is the key to everything that I want to extract from a horse. This feels like a great leap forward… HOORAY!
Alas, I won’t be riding today, as we’re in the middle of a snowstorm, as you can see from this picture that I took this morning. Lila was waiting for me by the fence, as she often does in the morning. When she saw that I was stopping on my way to the barn to take pictures rather than rushing down to feed her immediately, she got this delightfully exasperated look on her face.
I’ve learned so much from this fabulous horse of mine… and she has so much more to teach me!