Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Good Ride

Yesterday my best friend called as I finished up riding my horse Libby. She asked how my ride was. I answered that it was just okay. Her response was, "What makes a ride good?" I tried to explain to her what it is I do when I go out to ride, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I decided to try thinking on 21st Century paper and blogging about it. For those of you who've ever wondered about my passion for horses, here goes nothing...

Have you ever had one of those workouts, be it yoga, running, a team sport like basketball, where some day everything feels natural? Movements flow smoothly from one to the next. Your body is in sync, and it responds just as you tell it to. Nothing hurts, at least not in a negative way. Your team is playing as one?

A good ride feels like my horse is an extension of my body. It's the most amazing thing to realize that a 1200 pound animal responds when little 100 pound me thinks, I should ride a circle here or change from trot to canter or let's take off for that jump right here. The even crazier realization is that I can't identify what my body did to make that happen. I've been riding for 20 years now, and a lot of what I do is automatic. I think, "Let's ride a circle" and we do it. I couldn't tell you, honestly, what made it happen. I know in my head how to ask Libby to do these things, but my body does it without my having to think "leg move back, fingers squeeze, etc." I've heard riding, dressage specifically, explained as dancing with your horse. I'm not a great dancer, but I agree with the analogy.

When I ride, we don't just make a big circle around the arena over and over for 45 minutes. Dressage, my sport, is French for "training." The horse is an athlete, just as I am, and so we train together. We always start and end at the walk to warm up our muscles and cool them down. I ask Libby for transitions, and we ride different figures (shapes or patterns) to get her really paying attention to me. It's mostly my seat that I use to communicate with her. My legs steer. My hands are soft and set boundaries. Sometimes I use my voice either to get her attention or to praise her.

Libby is my partner. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes we're not at all on the same page. Some days, it's magic. Those are the rides I remember, the ones that keep me going back day after day, even when it's 20 degrees below zero. Riding makes me a better mom and wife and teacher and friend, and everything else I am, because it centers me. I hear God's voice clearly when I'm on Libby's back. I can let everything else go and just feel. It's work and play all rolled into one. Every time I sit down in the saddle after some time off from riding, it feels like coming home. It's where I belong.

I'm working on posting a 5 minute video clip from a pretty great ride I had on Libby last March for those who are curious.