Today I received a post from my tai chi teacher about rhythm & relaxation. The post could have been written by Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere , the 17th Century French riding master, who is the father of classical horsemanship. The post is the seed for this post.
This weekend, Deb Hindi is coming for a clinic; Monarch & I are signed up for both days. We are working on the suppleness that allows true communication. Though rhythm is at the bottom of the training scale, Monarch’s rhythm is quite good, so we focus on relaxation in the warm-up. Along with developing suppleness, his rhythm gets even better. When I shorten him longitudinally, he doesn’t get slower, and when he lengthens his frame, he lengthens his stride without speeding up. Before I can do this work, I have to get him relaxed enough to allow my inside leg to come into his bend. This is slow, meditative work. We begin at the walk, matching his lateral bend with the line of the circle. As the circle gets smaller, his bend increases, until he is walking on an 8 meter volte without losing rhythm. From the volte, we leg yield out to the large circle without losing the bend or the rhythm, then change direction. From walk, we proceed to sitting school trot and finally to canter. When we started this work with Deb a month ago, Monarch would not let me in. Deb said, “he doesn’t want to dance with you. He is saying, ‘just sit up there & look pretty; I’ve got this covered.’ You must first establish an inside rein. When he gives you an inside rein, then you can develop the inside leg. From the inside leg, you will get an outside rein. Then finally, you will have the outside leg.” Today, Monarch is a different horse. Through this work, he invites my leg into his bend through softening his whole inside, which has increased our communication and bond.
After developing rhythm, relaxation, and contact, (the base of the training scale), we used transitions to develop impulsion and shoulder-in and counter canter for straightness. Monarch was so tuned into me, I decided to play Follow the Leader. Cantering down centerline, we would halt, then I would ask him to”listen” to my body to pick up a right or left lead canter. Canter depart from halt on the centerline requires the horse to focus on the rider’s aids. The horse cannot anticipate the lead from a circle or coming out of a corner. Working from the halt requires him to also be attentive and in front of the leg. Monarch loved this game. He was animated and very collected with a light, raised wither in the depart. He correctly responded to each request by focusing on what my body was saying. Though eager to jump into the next canter depart, I felt his mind and body were both relaxed, yet energized.
Monarch is the quintessential “forever horse.” He picked me as I entered his field of untouched yearling colts, by approaching me and laying his neck over my shoulder. I was at his farm to buy a “going” horse. He repeated this behavior over the course of 3 days, until I knew I had to take him home with me. He has been a perfect gentleman, willing student, and wise teacher through our eleven years together. Even before this recent breakthrough of a soft inviting inside, Monarch has been my willing partner. We share much joy; he enriches my life.