Friday, 13 March 2009

Episode 3 Communication, it's the listening

The building where I experience without any mitigation, my inadequacies, is itself  like something out of my fantasy land. It's a quadrangle, open at one end as an entrance for carriages, in the centre of the quadrangle a perfect circle  of grass, used as a roundabout for big long vehicles with enough horsepower to carry horses. All around the square inside are stables and stalls. When it was built long ago, attention was paid to the building. The tiles on the floor are tiny and set in herringbone fashion like a red tiled parquet for horses.  The stalls are spacious and deep and the long rows of heads looking out,  each with their own thoughts is just beautiful to my eyes. Opposite the entrance at the other side of the quad is the school, menage, the place of mirrors ( there are at points mirrors - though as I am not wearing my glasses as I ride I can't really see them). An active reflective place. This isn't a place to contemplate myself, this is a place to experience directly with no soft sell translation what I am doing right and what I am not.

The horse I rode yesterday was VERY tall I would say 18hh, a very long time since I rode one that tall. He was quite an interesting bod too. He definitely was checking out if I meant it, when I asked, and if I knew what I was asking. And if I wasn't clear enough, or polite enough he didn't oblige. 

You can't pretend you got it right on a horse. You might occasionally be in a situation where the horse ( maybe out of humour, maybe not) hears your thoughts before you actually ask, but the rest of your body isn't ready when the horse does the thing you were about to ask for, and it is obvious.  Going right back to the beginning is hard and fun. 

When it works well it is a mindmeld. That's what I am aiming for, have experienced briefly and seek again. 

The system is the two of you listening to one another. Being from a loud talkative family I do find myself talking to the horse A LOT. ( I listen more though)  And the horse is listening to my tone and my sense of self worth. Horses DO feel fear, they are prey animals, it's an essential survival instinct, others' referred fear in the herd part of an early warning system. They are also curious and quite discerning, before heading off at 30 mph they will just look to check. Give a shrewd second glance before deciding. Of course all of this happens more quickly than a human would normally be aware of, dullards that we are in our environment.. 

The Wikipedia article on the horse is a very good one and I particularly liked that whoever had written it had included Balance in the section on Senses, but that's another blog for another time.

I will have a horse in the future and I do and will take tremendous pleasure being out in the fresh air on a horse and sometimes at speeds that set your heart pounding and make your eyes stream. I love those moments, and I look forward to many of them in the future. There is an exhilaration that is hard to convey unless you experience it, of air entering your body at speeds it wouldn't normally do.

I also love as much and maybe more actually, the conversations that go on with dressage. I can't call what feeble steps I am taking presently  dressage, it is too grand a label. Flat work is a more humble and honest description but I am very certain where I am going with it ( over the next several years)  This is going to be very very hard.  Constant communication, will you, wont you, have you, did you mean that, do you feel like it, are you up to it. It looks gentle but its actually quite challenging. This isn't  something  you can enjoy if you always want to know you can do it, and are not used to  losing face whilst learning. You might be in control, you are aiming to be in control or more honestly to be able to effectively respond, but and its a huge but, its actually not about control at all.

Its all about cooperation, confidence in each other and trusting oneself and the other to be able to achieve things. That is never sustainable by force. You might get what you want once but the resistance the next time will be greater.

Once you believe that the other part of the system, the horse,  is doing the best it can, and you have a sense that the other part of the system, your partner in this activity. the horse believes the same thing about you, then you have the start of something. Something strong enough to go into the unknown, knowing that any feedback you get, even if its not positive feedback is intended to improve.

Yesterday another horse entered the school, who was "in one!" and the rider hadn't yet established any connection. This grumpy beast headed towards mine, with malintent. And I could see that intent all over his face.  My horse regarded him with the disdain a tall creature can muster easily over a smaller one. He actually relaxed one of his back legs. I should have LISTENED to that but I didn't, I reacted with my own response which was a loud WHOA. The rider broken out of her trance then started to communicate with the horse, (decided she was actually riding the horse, not as Eddie Izzard would suggest be something that the horse wears) 

My horse moved one of his ears back quizzically at me and sighed, and walked away. ( he strolled off in a  "am I Bovvered?" way)

I later found out that the other grumpy horse has a nice !?! trick when not feeling obliging. He walks besides another horse and bucks! So I would have had hoof in my face. Didn't feel quite so foolish about my crying out once I heard that. Thereafter we maintained polite but distant relations as we encountered one another in the school.

I wanted a twenty metre circle later, my horse doesn't like 20 metre circles - he likes 40 metre circles so my battle yesterday, my learning, was to find out how to get him to listen and believe and do, when I asked for 20 meter circles. Right now one of my (many) failings, is the amount of contact I have through the reins. I never am particularly tight here, even when I was good at this stuff. I want the horse to do it and I want as light a contact as possible. I don't want to be pulling at his mouth, I sure as hell wouldn't react well to someone pulling at mine. 

However if there isn't enough contact there I can't listen to what his mouth is telling me, I can't feel the tiny inflexion of head angle, or tension. So I need more contact than I have and I am gradually getting it.

Most of the information is conveyed through whats going on in his and my body. I transmit where I want to go by looking in that direction, ( it has to be very exaggerated at present) and that means looking 180 degrees round the school so he can fell through the saddle where my intent is and I have to maintain that, steadily whilst he resists and walks away. Yesterday was frustrating because I knew another way of getting him to understand that I wanted him back on a particular line, but to use it would have been counter productive( at this point). We haven't reached that bit of the conversation yet. He doesn't believe I am fluent enough in this bit, to try the other technique. Even though I would have been accurate HE wouldn't hear it because he needed to hear something else first and I hadn't demonstrated it clearly enough for him.

Being such a different shape to the previous horse his trot was very different. A different rhythm.The instructor asked me if it was more or less comfortable. Found that an odd question, it was just different, it wasn't as familiar ( at that point) because I hadn't ridden him before but once I listened it was just different and I just adapted to match him and accommodate his length of stride. And on we went.

Afterwards the instructor told me that she had noted that the horses seemed to be calm around me, even the stroppy ones. I'd like to think that's because I have the right energy for them. 

I think it might be more to do with how I feel about them.  I love horses. I mean it. It's not a word I over use. I really love them. They move me, I am in AWE of them, I would pay money to see a horse like others would to meet a film star ( pah limited bipeds).  I look at them and the whole universe falls into shape, I watch them argue and bicker with one another and I marvel at the complexity and subtlety of their conversation. I like their honesty, their moods, their cunning. And I love the fact that you have to earn it, whatever it is, they discern and they discriminate, they pay attention, they give you multiple chances, they are prepared to make it painful to get you to listen.

They may be your friend and ifthey are, as a good true friend, they will challenge you

What a reward!

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