Thursday, March 15, 2007

Independent Seat

I'm working on developing what is known in riding as an "independent seat." Simply put, it means you stay on the horse without holding on with hands or legs (sort of.) There's an anchoring with the pelvic bones that I am absolutely sure is easier to learn at the age of 7, when there is no fear, than in the much later decade I'm now living. As my instructor gives me the combination of movements, I cannot help but say "yeah, right." Nevertheless, I have progressed from no-handed walk on the horse on the lounge line to no-handed sitting trot, with my arms in the crucified Jesus extension.

There was a time when I thought I would throw up just sitting in the saddle. There was no way I could let go of anything that high in the air. Fear of heights, fear of speed. I no longer feel like I'm stories above the ground when I'm riding my horse, but I've still got issues with speed. I could be wrong, but I think part of yesterday's lesson was laying the groundwork for the canter, the gate which scares me to death. It scares me even though I've cued and ridden the canter a number of times. It's the lack of control over speed and direction, and I've actually experienced both. "What if he spooks?" is the often unspoken but always understood monster behind the door.

All horses spook. If they didn't, they would have been eaten eons ago. Spookiness is a survival trait. I've worked long and hard at developing the Arabian Prince's mellowness, but he has his moments. Othertimes, we watch the world being crazy and he just sighs. I'm very proud of him on those days because it gives the lie to people who think Arabians have scrambled eggs for brains. Julie Goodnight says "the average Arabian is smarter than the average cowboy" which is why cowboys won't own them. I've met plenty of people who aren't as smart as my Arabian is. He knows enough to stay out of the rain, for example. He knows enough to keep a clean area where he eats and sleeps (putting him a few steps ahead of my son.)

The independent seat is hard work. I got home after my lesson last night absolutely exhausted. Tomorrow, I'll probably identify a bunch of muscles I didn't know existed. I've always thought that sailing is too much work to be fun. Even if riding is a lot of work, I've got the pleasure of a horse who talks to me when I drive up to his stall and who lets me know if he thinks I'm paying too much attention to another horse.

Yesterday, for example, I rode a school horse for my lesson. Nicholas is extremely dependable on a lounge line, and knowing he is that trustworthy gives me the confidence to let go of everything and ride no-handed and with my feet out of the stirrups for some things. Ace was turned out while I was tacking Nicholas. He worked himself into an absolute lather, running back and forth and around the turnout. When I went to put him back in his stall, he was dripping wet, and that dried to a nice salty crust. It was too late to bathe him, but I did manage to brush most of it out. That was all because he was not happy that I was stepping out on him.

I realize that's a bit of projection, but the only people who don't think animals have emotions are the people who don't own and observe animals on a regular basis. That goes for people who don't think animals understand words. If I say "out" and I'm in the bedroom, my dogs head for the door to the yard and wait. If I say "snack," they immediately head to the living room and look at the treat bag. If we think a horse can understand "whoa," why wouldn't they understand "walk," "trot," "canter," "foot," "carrot," or "cookie?"

The Arabian Prince is about to get some schooling from an experienced rider. It's been quite a while since that's happened on a regular basis. Should be fun to see what happens when a rider with an independent seat actually takes a turn on his back.

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