It was a veritable horse smorgasbord for me this past weekend. I spent Friday attending lessons at a local dressage barn with a new friend who is studying teaching techniques for her budding horsey biz and Saturday at the beautiful Biltmore Estate soaking up as much as I could from Susan Harris, a centered riding instructor. Let me first say, that Susan Harris is a very dynamic teacher. Her delivery is calm, positive and soothing through out. As my new friend so succinctly put it," she has a smile in her voice the whole time."
Centered Riding by Sally Swift, was our bible at horse college as far as equitation went. Her fabulous visualizations seemed to speak to every discipline offered in the program;jumpers, hunters, eventing and dressage. Its a book I pick up often and go over for inspiration. Watching it in action with riders ranging from beginners on school horses, to hunter seat riders who show, to endurance riders on their lively arabs, was a real treat. There is alot I'm still processing but stealing a trick I learned from Susan Harris that day, I will try to stay focused on the most significant thing I learned. ( I know, but if I try to write about all umpteen pages of notes, it will be the longest blog post in history and most likely the worst written....soooooo let me try to spare all of us that fate and f o c u s...) The one thing i was most excited about was something another good friend and I discussed only recently, COLLECTION! Or as she called it " the game of contact" and in Lyons speak, gives.
While the execution and verbage differ in all three conversations, I think its great how they all shed light, at least for me, on the same, very intricate, subject. From my Lyons perspective, Gives is a very horse-centric way of teaching collection. "DUH, Beth of course it is!", you say. "Isn't it supposed to be all about the horse and his body and his mind and his decision to turn over control of those parts of his body to you, his partner...." Yes, it is smarty pants, however sometimes, OK, many times when dealing with a system like conditioned response, which as you all know,means many ,many, repetitions I think we humans get a little lost on how to make the question more specific, fun, interesting to the horse and really to ourselves as well. We are so busy counting, we forget about thinking deeply, about the subject we are trying to teach. So are you ready? Here are the four questions that Susan Harris asked her riders to ask their horses while working on contact/collection. Susan called it "finding" the contact. Can you find my, hands? yes? release! can you find my elbows? yes? release! can you find my shoulders? yes? release! can you find my back?yes? release! They used leg to encourage the horse to find these parts. Now , no one I watched had a horse that found the back of the rider but was what neat was how this very act of asking for these different levels of give from a horse made the rider more aware of how hard their horse was actively trying to find anything and where they both where on the journey to find it. It was neat for me to watch a student answer Susan's question of what part of your body has your horse found? and see where they were. A horse that found a riders hands was very different looking from a horse that found the riders shoulders. Also gratifying was seeing the riders face light up when they progressed. They where learning feel! They where also learning to converse with their horse. A first for more than one rider attending. It was very exciting.
The second most significant thing that I appreciated was the definition of Tempo...Which was succinctly put as : how fast or slow the rhythm is...It was an "a-ha" moment for me as it was so simple. The last time I tried to read about Tempo as it related to horses it was several paragraphs long and required a thesaurus. In any case I believe that one word or sentence that sheds light on any thing important in your life with horses or otherwise is worth the price of admission. In this case I feel like I got myself to the front of the sale line and things where buy one half price and get three free!