Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider

Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider
Click on Logo (Original artwork by Lanie Frick for Messick Quarter Horses. Not permitted to be copied)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Lessons are winding down!

This week was the last scheduled lesson for the summer. Or so I thought. I have an awesome group of 5 teenagers and a few pre-teens. I have had some 10-12 year olds that have been returning every summer for a few years. I have some young 6-8 year olds that have started lessons for their first year. All of these youth have made lessons fun!

Some of the kids were brand new to horses. I even had a little girl from California, visiting grandparents here. Some of the kids didn’t know how to brush or to lead a horse. Some weren’t sure how to get the reins over the horse’s necks, let alone how to get on! Heels were up. Backs were slumping. Uncertainty showed. They just didn’t know what to expect. After the first day, they couldn’t wait to come the next day, and try a different horse! I am so lucky to have such good lesson horses, even if they have their “quirks”.

Consistency works. Dedication to weekly lesson works. Just a willing attitude! This summer, many of the kids have learned to post the trot, and even to lope! We have worked on going over logs in a trail pattern. We have worked on pivots and forehand turns and half passing. We have side passed the logs and backing through the logs, even backing in an “L”.

The kids learned balanced, as well as some Centered Riding techniques. We worked on simple things, like soft eyes so we see the world around us as we ride, and each other! We learned deep breaths to help us to relax as we ride, and to exhale so the horse hears the sound and relaxes also. We grounded our feet so that we can feel the whole foot in the stirrup. We actually put a little more foot into the stirrup than we thought we would. We found our seat bones by “marching”, first one foot out of the stirrup and lifting the knee, then the other foot. We didn’t work on intent, the word, as much, but then after I thought about this, maybe we did. By the end of the summer, I talked about how the kids should know what they want their horse to do and to have their horse do what was expected! That is intent. Have a purpose. We did that by have a pattern. We practice weaving through the poles and walking and trotting over them a lot!

The kids loved trotting the barrel and poles pattern. They love weaving through things!!! Poles, cones, logs. They taught me a lesson to always keep things fun. What is amazing is that they don’t even know they are learning to guide their horses. Kids (and adults) do so much better when they don’t “”try”. When we have a set pattern, or the kids try to do something at a specific spot in the arena, things sometimes fall apart. (Same with adults).

(Chick on Working Cow, now an awesome beginner horse!)

This reminded me of what Sally Swift, coordinator of Centered Riding, said. “Work or concentrate 75% of the time on you, as the rider, and only 25% of the time on the horse”. If the rider watches where they are going, and quits watching the horse, things go better! If I gave the kids something to do, like weave these cones going this way in the arena, and on the other side of the arena, weave the barrels, they did awesome! Many of the kids wanted to trot this pattern, as the walking was too simple and easy! Imagine that!

I asked some of the older youth to keep a journal if they wanted to, and to write some thoughts down. I wanted to hear about some of their “ah ha” moments when the light bulb goes off and we “get it!” I’m excited to hear what they wrote about and to hear their thoughts. I’m most anxious to know what their light bulb moments were! We call them “LB’s”!

This morning was suppose to be the last scheduled lesson for the summer. I added next Tuesday. It looks like these kids have come along for the ride. How about you?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

To Ride or Not to Ride

I just spent 3 days at our State 4-H Show in Grand Island, Nebraska. 500 kids. Over 1000 horses. I set up a tack booth. Mornings were cool. Afternoons were hot! When the sun went down, evenings were fine.

I left Grand Island Tuesday when it was 91 degrees. 2 hours later, when I arrived in Lincoln at my store, it was 93 degrees. With my husband’s help, it only took an hour to unload the trailer! We at least parked in shade to unload. But by the time I got home, and Tom and I finished chores, I was tired.

Today, the morning started out cool. I thought… today is cooler, and I can go on the Platte River Riders Ride tonight! Noon time was only 81. Looking good! I came home from the store and spent 1 ½ hours mowing. Now it’s 3, and mid 80’s. Not too bad, a little warm, but I’m sweating a little. I think the humidity is rising!

I needed to wait for the Direct TV repair man. He was suppose to be here at 3, but arrived at 3:20. OK…I can still make the ride. Temp seems to be warmer. Within minutes, the repair man determines that we are only getting 9% of the reception, when 50-60% is normal! It seems that my tree cutting happy husband has cut the wrong branches. I thought, “oh great, what is this costing me?” But we have free service. Yeah!

Temps seem warmer. Both the repairman and I are sweating. Riding doesn’t seem so great now. Repair man leaves and I call Tammy. I told her that I am wimping out and staying home.

I came into the house to cool down. Thermometer says 88 degrees! Relaxing and swimming sounds nicer than rushing to get a horse and tack loaded, trailering for 45 minutes, and sweating while I brush and saddle. I decided that I was too tired to do all the prep work to ride, haul, tack up, and ride. I wanted to relax.

So I downed a swim suit, called my son to tell him that I was home and they could come swim. I wanted to see my grandbaby, Caden. I was suppose to babysit him tonight, and that got changed to tomorrow night. So he came to swim with Grandma.

I was a lot cooler tonight than I would have been!!! Even though it seemed liked a lovely night to ride, I was just too tired to trailer. Maybe when it is cooler….like in Sept and Oct!

I missed the ride. But I had a fun time swimming and watching Caden eat his oatmeal after the swim!

Next time, I’ll ride. Come along on the ride with me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Swim Time

Caden had his first swim a couple of weeks ago. And he has had a couple of swims since. He has a very cute floatie!

Caden sits in his floaty and gets pushed around. Does he have the life or what? He grins when we play peek a boo.

He grins when we smile at him! We are trying to teach him to kick his feet!

Caden loves his sippy cup. He drinks water very well from it! Caden seems very relaxed in the water!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Our Firecracker!

Our Firecracker! The 4th may be over, but the antics live on! What a firecracker we have in our little, peanut of a 7 month old, granddaughter! Makenzie Ruth cracks me up and makes me laugh!

Makenzie is learning to crawl! I should have put this in video form, but I didn’t think about it until the day after and I am 7 hours away! With your imagination, run through these pictures as fast as your eyes will allow and watch her try to crawl! Next, I should have had video, as she is squealing and cooing and singing! What a comedian!

Oh, and she loves an audience! When you are not watching, she stops what she is doing AND stares at you with no smile. Almost a teary sad look, as she doesn’t see you watching! What a ham! When you turn to watch her, she is all smiles and giggles!

My goodness, where does that girl get all that energy? She jumps, even when she isn’t in her jumper, so hang on when you are holding her! She kicks and laughs when she is laying on her back! No, not just little kicks, box kick-boxing kicks! And when she is on her belly, she is twisting and turning and rolling and sitting and twisting and turning and rolling and sitting and…. I don’t think she ever stops until she is sleeping!

I didn’t think she would ever just lay and cuddle, but she does! Late at night, when she should have been sound asleep, she was staying up to the very last minute! Late at night, nestled in her mommy’s arms. I don’t have a picture of that either, as I was sitting beside her, and didn’t want to get up and get her stirred up again. The picture will always live in my memory.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July!

Happy 4th of July, 2009!

Parades, Old Cars, Rodeos, Flags and Fireworks. That is what I think of when I think of the 4th of July. And I always picture Old Glory, tattered and torn, waving proudly in the smoky air, as men, hundreds of years ago, fight for our independence.

On Memorial Day, we drove into Lincoln, to see our Grandson, Caden, on his first Memorial Day. On the corner of 84th and Cornhusker, a local gas station has this gigantic flag flying every day. I wanted to post some of the flag pictures that day, but didn’t get it done. I was also remembering my grandmother Ruth that day. She always went to the cemetery for the program on Memorial Day morning. I’ll always remember sitting on the side of the cemetery hill, looking at all those little flags on the grave sites. Today, I know it means that they are a symbol for all the men and women who fought other battles for our continued independence.

Today, when I woke up, I remembered I had taken those pictures and wanted to get them posted. I’ll blog later about what I did and saw today, as I enjoy this first Independence Day with my granddaughter, Makenzie. For now, enjoy the visions of the flag waving in the breeze…

Hill & Dale CTR

June 19-21, 2009

This is the 4th CTR this spring/summer that I will have competed in. I won’t have another CTR until September, and I was looking forward to some relaxation time this summer.

I didn’t want to leave too early Friday morning. I had plugged the trailer in the night before and had started the frig. To save time in the morning, I loaded the food and drinking water the night before. The trailer was ready with tack and hay and water. I filled the water holding tanks for shower and toilet water. I got up Friday morning at regular time and did chores and fed dogs. I loaded my horse, and while he ate some hay that was in his manger, I went inside to change and grab my cup of coffee.

I was going to follow my friend down to Hillsdale, but as I was about 15 minutes down the road, I remembered I left a water turned on! So I turned around and headed home, after calling my friend to start without me. I would catch up to her. And I thought I would, but I didn’t catch her until we got to the campground entrance gate.

We found our sites that we reserved. We backed the trailers in and hooked up to electric. As it was a very muggy 90 degrees at 1, it was going to be a good weekend to have air conditioning!

After putting hay and water out for Finny, I went to check in and get our ride info. They didn’t have any of the info ready and we would get it at ride briefing. The flies were terrible and I had to wash Finny’s legs off and put fly boots on him. His whites just drew the nasty horse flies to them, biting him and drawing blood!

Once the vets were ready to check in horses, I went over to the lunging area. With the heat, Finny wasn’t moving fast at all, and he got a score of 2 for movement. They are only checking for way of going, and if he isn’t excited at check out, and he won’t lose points. He was clean and stood well.

With rain during the past few weeks, the trails were still wet and boggy. And rocky in places. And did I say boggy? The ride was 5 mph, but we had a hard time making time. The boggy areas slowed us down. The rocky paths slowed us down. The obstacles went fast, so that didn’t slow us down too much. We can count any of our hold time to our overall time, so if we are held up at obstacles, that doesn’t make us get behind.

Obstacles weren’t too hard to perform. The horsemanship judge was a good ’ole guy, showing and judging for decades, and he was looking for a quiet horse that stood for obstacles. I don’t think he scored actual horsemanship though, as it seemed as he placed riders who sat heavy in the saddle. The horsemanship judge pointed out that he judged on safety, balance, control, and courtesy. The vet judge was thorough and friendly. She would do trailer checks on Saturday night, checking the horse for lameness issues at the trailer.

At check-in, the vet judge wanted riders to trot away from her in a straight line. The horsemanship judge wanted riders to be on the same side as the judge, and not standing directly in front of the horse. We trotted the horse away from the judge, trotted a circled in both directions, and trotted back to the judge. I scored an excellent on this and earned a plus.

Saturday maneuvers included an up and down hill. I thought we did this great. Finny stood quietly while the horse in front of him did the hills. We walked down the hill slowly and picked our way up the stoney hill perfectly, with me up and out of the saddle. Great job, I thought! The horsemanship judge said I needed more control of the horse! And I had upper body sway, going uphill! Uphill? You have got to be kidding! I think it may have looked like sway as I looked from side to side to help pick the best path for my horse. I couldn’t have been slower, so I wonder what the judge sees that I don’t feel? The vet judge scored me an excellent plus going downhill and a very good uphill. That will be on my mind as I will SLOWLY do obstacles during the fall CTR’s.

We had an off-side mount, from the ground! We could use the terrain, and we were suppose to position the horse in the ditch! After 3 hours of riding in the humidity, I just couldn’t get on gracefully! I can always do this at home! My horse took a step during mounting and a step during settling and I lost points from both judges. I need more control so that Finny doesn’t move and he needs to stand still at all times. I’m sure my very ungraceful attempt did not help him to stay steady!

The horsemanship judge was at the P&R, and he watched as we cared for the horses. I got a plus for watering my horse off, as I poured water onto his neck to cool him. I always loosen his girth when I first get off. The vet judged checked our horse and watched us trot away. At the last P&R on Sunday, the horsemanship judge was in hiding, watching as we left the P&R to see if we stayed in a good horsemanship form. And don’t you know it, after I filled water bottles, I mounted on the off side to practice, and my horse stood quietly! Don’t you know it - this time it wasn’t judged!

The vet judge met us on the trail on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Finny was anxious and wouldn’t stand as quiet as he should. I stayed on him and asked him to stand still while the vet checked his gums, hydration, and gut sounds. We lost a point for not standing still well. On Sunday, she met us right before the last P&R. At this point, after riding for 4 hours through the bog and hills, my horse was pretty tired. Even though he was as tired as he was, he was a little anxious.

Sunday morning, we trotted a circle, stopped, turned on the haunches, and trotted a circle in the other direction. Finny did great, but I was marked down for not performing a solid pivot.

We had a log obstacle where we had to step over the log between 2 ribbons, stop and side pass to the tree, stop and pin a ribbon to the tree. Finny sidestepped a little as we stepped over the log, and we ended up on the side of the ribbon. We side passed perfectly and put the pin on the tree. I got marked down for not standing still to tie the ribbon. Sometimes, I wonder what part of the obstacle we gain or lose points on.

We had some creeks on the trail and Finny wouldn’t settle to drink the water. He needs to learn to do this. At one place, we had a large creek crossing and he drank water both days at this place. We had one area where we could go into the lake, and after a few minutes, he drank water.

The days were very muggy and the trail was very boggy. Finny was extremely tired during the last hour on Sunday. I slowed our rate down a lot as I felt he was struggling going up the hills. We did better at the last 2 miles on Sunday, as we had the P&R right at the 2 mile mark.

I knew Finny was tired. The poor guy. After I unsaddled him at the trailer on Sunday, he did not want to move and come with me to get rinsed off. We managed to get there and I’m sure he felt better after he was cooled off. The judges weren’t ready to check out, so we went back to the trailer for another drink of water and more hay. When the judges were ready for us, Finny didn’t want to move! Lol

Finny will have a little break over the summer. He lost a little weight during this last ride and seemed a little sucked up. He will be used for a lesson horse during the remainder of June and through July, and I will ride him 2 -3 times each week. He is getting some fresh grass, and fresh round bales are ready. I will work on settling him more during obstacles. We will work on the Stop, Settle, and Slow obstacles.

Practice, and get ready! Come along on a ride with me!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Centered Riding Lessons during Week-long Lessons

June, 2009

As soon as I returned home from the Centered Riding Instructors Course in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I had 2 weeks of weeklong morning lessons with 4-5 youth each day. The weeklong lessons during the summer are different than the regular lessons. I incorporate more games into the summer sessions rather than just teach horsemanship and pleasure like I do during their regular lessons.

Week-long morning sessions are 3 hours long. When the youth first arrive, we tie the horse with a quick release knot, and show them how to safely move around the horses. We never going under the tie rope to cross in front of the horse while the horse is tied. For new riders who haven’t come for lessons before, we show them how to curry and brush, especially checking the top of the back, the withers, and the girth area for dirt. They groom their horses, learning about health and hoof care and safety. The youth learn to saddle, first adjusting the saddle pad, making sure to protect the wither area. They learn the cinch knot, first just snugging up the girth lightly as to not make the horse cinchy and irritated by the girth. After we walk the horse to the arena, we tighten the girth. The riders mount, using a step stool as to not pull the saddle off balance, and we adjust the stirrups.

During the first ride session, I grounded the rider’s feet. I tapped on the bottom of their foot, asking them to tell me when the tap felt a little different on a part of their foot. Some of the youth could tell the difference, some couldn’t. Some felt a little dull, some felt a ting. I asked the ones that couldn’t feel a difference, if their foot felt different in the stirrup. I had hoped that they could feel the “whole foot” be part of the stirrup, not just the toe or middle part of the foot.

We worked on riding in a bubble. I think they liked this the best! I think that they could actually picture an invisible bubble around them (like a gigantic bumble gum bubble or from the jars of bubbles that you blow!). With soft eyes, they walked over and around logs, being careful not to get into anyone else’s bubble. Then we rode in our bubble at the trot. We rode over the logs again and in small circles at the trot. We changed directions while staying in our own bubble.

We worked on trotting and posting and 2 pointing. We worked on sitting the trot and getting the correct diagonal when we started posting. We worked on the correct body position, whether we were sitting the trot, posting or 2 pointing.

As the kids worked on relaxing and breathing, the horses relaxed. Towards the end of the week, we worked on individually working a trail course. The key was to breathe and stay relaxed. Remembering to use soft eyes, looking for the next obstacle.

The kids are having fun and I plan on using more of the Centered Riding Techniques in my lessons with them.

Centered Riding Lesson with Sara

June 13, 2009

I have just completed the first part of the Level 1 Centered Riding Instructors Course. I left Steamboat Springs and headed back to Nunn, CO, via Laramie, Wyoming. Back up and over Rabbit Ears Pass and passing the Continental Divide sign. Eyes straight ahead, not looking over those edges! Especially since I ran into some rain going over the pass!

Sara lives northeast of Fort Collins, CO. She, her husband Jake, and 6 month old daughter Makenzie, live on 8 acres with 3 Quarter Horses, 2 Heelers and 1 German Shorthair, a cat, and many pigeons that they are raising. I traveled with my horse, Finny, and Sara has a round pen that I can keep him in while I visit for a day.

Sara wanted to have me show her what I have been learning. Since having the baby, she hasn’t had as much time as she would have wanted to exercise her horses. She has been riding Peaches and Roz, but she likes to lunge them down first. We had put Makenzie down for a nap, and we decided to use Finny for a lesson with Sara. Sara has a very knowledgeable background with horses. She showed for many years as a youth, studied equine science in college, and was on the college equestrain team as well as the horse judging team. (Her judging team won Congress and placed 2nd at the World Show. What an achievement for her!)

I showed her a few things while we were in the house. I grounded her feet, talked about soft eyes, and breathing deep. I showed her the idea of tipping the pelvis as if a ball was rolling back and forth.

We saddled Finny but I didn’t bridle him as I thought I would only show Sara a few things. We ended up having more time as Makenzie took a long nap! I started from the beginning and grounded Sara’s feet. I wanted her to feel her whole foot in the stirrup. I did a hip release and she could feel the difference. I told her to start out with small changes as her body may not be used to the stretch and we don’t want to make her sore. She had some back trouble since having the baby and recently had gone to the chiropractor. I didn’t want her back to start hurting if we did too many changes too fast.

Sara rode Finny with the lead rope attached to both sides of Finny’s halter. I talked again about riding with Soft Eyes and using your peripheral vision to see all around you. We talked about breathing deep through the abdomen, and exhaling out so that the horse can hear the exhale. As you breathe, so does your horse.

As Sara walked Finny, I showed her how to find her seat bones by rolling her pelvis back and forth. Another exercise is to sit with the legs up on the pommel and slowly lowering them and picking up the stirrups. You can raise and lower one leg at a time if you are uncomfortable putting both legs on the pommel at the same time.

We worked on walking the knees, which is a great exercise to start allowing the body to relax, and allowing the hip, knee, and ankle joints to move and absorb the motion of the horse. Sara said she had some knee discomfort, but after she allowed her whole leg to move with the horse, her knee felt better. I explained to her that when she worked on allowing her joints to move more, her horse will have a better movement. Our relaxation in our joints will allow our horse to relax. The horse will begin stretching his hind leg deeper under his body and will begin to have more freedom in his movement.

Sara needs to work on allowing her body to move, just as I do. The many years of showing horsemanship and being taught to not move is a hard habit to break. Our bodies have a memory too. The easiest way I found to allow the leg joints to move was while I was trotting in 2 point position. Concentrate on being relaxed and allow the knee to take the motion of the horse.

Sara rode at the trot. First, sitting and feeling the motion of the horse in her knees, and trying to see the knees raise and lower as the horse moves. Then moving up to the trot, and while in 2 point, allowing the body to relax. Once you realize that the legs can move and absorb the movement, it becomes easier and easier to relax and feel the motion in the joints. Once you can let the joints take all the movement, you will not have sore legs, knees, ankles, thighs!

Sara was excited to do what she has always done with the horses, but now to ride in a centered, relax style. Even though she is a relaxed rider, and is very comfortable with what she is doing with the horses, she feels like she is even more relaxed and secure in the saddle. She can see how being centered will help her ride reining horses.

And I am excited to have done my first lesson immediately after my Instructors Course! I love teaching what works! I love showing people the techniques and seeing the results in a short time. If you are open to change, then you can change. You just never realize what your body can do until you try!

This is an amazing journey and I am so happy that Sara is along on the journey with me. Makenzie will be, too, as soon as she can sit in a saddle and be safe. Come along on the journey with us!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 3 Centered Riding Instructor’s Course

June 12, 2009

Sometimes, when you are at an event for 3, 4 days, you get drained, and you wished it was over. But Day 3 and everyone is still pumped. No one is even talking like they are brain dead or exhausted. We actually want to ride longer!

Today, in discussion time, we talked about Hind Leg Engagement. The hind leg needs to reach up and under the horse. When the hind leg isn’t engaged, the horse sit’s the foot down and it pushes backward, which is undesirable. The muscles of the back and abdomen need to be strengthen. The back needs to be pushed up from below, (which aids collection).

We discussed further about the Back Peddling motion that we should feel as the horse is moving. Think about the hind leg coming forward. Think about making a circle from the wither to the hind leg. I envisioned a basket ball rotating in my hand, backwards, and I finally got it! I could picture the motion of the horse moving from the withers backwards, down the back to the tail, to the hind legs, and finally being propelled front wards, towards the abdomen. (This is from riding western pleasure horses, and I was taught to push the hind end in, having the horse push off the outside hind to push into the lope). Knowing that the movement comes from the hind legs and comes forward, and learned to see this as the END of the circle and not the start. The START is at the top, backwards and down, then circling back up. I finally got it after a previous 2 day clinic and the 2 previous days here!

With back peddling, we push into contact. This helps to loosen up the hip joints of the horse. We don’t want forward peddling as this could shove the shoulders into the ground (thinking forward and down into the front legs).

With the “Following Seat” motion, we should feel the movement in our knees. Try counting footfalls to feel each separate foot fall. Learn to feel when each hoof hit’s the ground. Learn the feel between the front leg movement and the hind leg movement.

As an instructor, Sally Swift talked about putting 75% of the attention on SELF and only 25% on the student! She said to put 75% on SELF and the other 25% on the horse! If you did these things to yourself, then they would project to the student or to your horse.

Remember to distance yourself from the rider, and the rider’s issues or the horse’s issues, by centering yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be drained. Yet remember to teach from the positive! Teach by centering yourself, be clear, have balance, and be grounded.

Develop an independent seat and an independent balance to have independent hands and arms. A lot of what we learn comes easier as we learn to breathe deeply. Breathe through the entire rib cage and diaphragm. Breathe, as this is how a horse communicates with each other. Therefore, it is important to learn the horse’s language. Understand and respect their nature. Learn what worries them, what makes them happy, what makes them content, what they need.

Breathing helps to calm the horse, and breathing calms us, too! Use breathing as an aid. If you prepare yourself with deep breathing before you ask something of the horse or ask the horse to do something, then the horse will think that you are ok and he does not need to be scared or alarm.

Breathe. Exhale. Drop down into your center. Find your center! Now, breathe, center, AND grow. Grow longer, like a tree that grows deep roots. Growing longer could feel like a half halt to the horse, preparing the horse for something to come. Half halts can be used to wisely prepare ourselves to do something with the horse, or even used whenever we just need to calm ourselves. (even during the hustle and bustle of a busy day!) Half halts can be used to re-center ourselves. Half halts can be our center to regain balance, power, control, peace, calmness, of whatever we need it to be!

Day 3 Riding. We reviewed. We continued to walk and trot while within our bubble. With a leader, and with closed eyes, we concentrated on our “Following Seat”. In 2 point position, we placed our hands on the horse’s shoulder to feel the horse’s movement. Our body is comparable to the horse, and as certain parts of our body moves, so does the coordinating part of the horse moves.

We continued to work on centering ourselves. As the rider, we placed one hand in front of our navel and one behind our back at the same height as the front hand. We rocked our pelvis to find our neutral pelvis. We trotted, found our center, and rode in our bubble. We worked on trot to walk to trot transitions.

To grow into our center, at the walk, we raised one hand into the air. We took our foot out of the stirrup to stretch and grow from our center. Right hand up and right leg reaching down. We repeated the exercise on the other side. Breathe. Center. Grow.

In conclusion of the first part of the first Instructor’s Clinic, we were reminded to read and teach by the Code of Conduct, as Sally Swift taught by. The group will each become individual teachers, becoming 1 of over 800 Centered Riding Instructors.

Sally believed in life long learning! She would want us to continue to grow and learn. Learn from your experience. Learn from everywhere.

Sally is gone now, but her legacy lives on in the style of riding that she taught and lived by. She was, and will always remain, the heart and soul behind Centered Riding. Through her wisdom, she will teach each of us to be a better rider and develop a centered seat. Come along on the ride with me!

Day 2 Centered Riding Instructor’s Course

June 11, 2009

Day 2. I feel comfortable with what I am doing. I am enjoying learning new techniques. Applying what I am learning seems very natural for me to do. I am enjoying developing a better team between me and my horse. My instructor, Peggy, is an awesome teacher!

Today, we are learning about “Dynamic Motion”. Balance in Motion. We work on the “Following Seat” and feeling our seat bones. We concentrate on feeling the lift in the horse’s back and the backward pedaling motion as the hind legs move. As riders work on their balance, they need to help the horse find the horse’s balance. As rider’s tighten up, horses tighten up and lose their balance. Horses can shut down by slowing down or speeding up when out of balance.

We look at our balance through our “Building Blocks”. Our Building Blocks is our (skeletal) alignment. Our joints in our legs are “Springs” and are our shock absorbers. We work on receiving flexibility in our 3 joints, the ankle, knee and hip.

(Did you know that horses do not have a collar bone? Therefore, the shoulder blade is not attached bone to bone, but by ligaments, tendons, and muscles to the front leg).

The atlas joint is at the first cervical vertebrae. The head sits on the atlas joint. If we put our fingers in our ears, the atlas joint is between our fingers, deep inside our head. Can you believe our head is 12-14#s, which is the weight of a fairly heavy bowling ball!

We talked about the Alexander Techniques, which promote Good Balance. Take a “pause” before doing something, Slow down and half halt yourself! Constantly check in with yourself, and slow down!

We took a short break and worked on the mini trampolines. We worked on walking our knees and feeling the movement in the 3 joints. Allow the movement - don’t force it!

We did a strange thing during our riding sessions today! We worked on a Franklin technique. We sat on 2 Franklin balls, one under each seat bone. After riding around like that for about 10 minutes, we removed the balls. You can’t believe how deep in the saddle you felt. It was an amazing feeling!

We worked on “Dancing Knees”. While in 2 point position, we let, allow, the movement of the horse to move our knees and legs. We worked on relaxing and letting the horse move the leg joints.

We then found our neutral pelvis and found our balance point. We were taught to hip release our self, by reaching back behind our leg and pulling our leg back a little. Remember, small steps in moving the leg and stretching out the hip.

We practiced the “Trot in 3 seats”. Posting, 2 Point, and Sitting the trot. We posted first to get in motion with the horse. Then we 2 pointed for about 7 strides, sat for 2 strides and allowed the sitting trot to move us back up into the post. If you totally relaxed at the sitting trot, the horse’s movement really pushes you up into the post. We concentrated on having a good sitting trot, and keeping the horse’s back up by having a good driving seat.

During the ride session, it was important to have some quiet time to work the horse and allow the rider to take in what they are learning. Recognize when you have the feel and when you lose the feel. Learn how to get the feel back!

Use the left brain, thinking and problem solvingside and the right brain, the creative side. Put the rider into the right brain mode through the use of images. Realize what the image looks like, why it looks like that, and what it does to the horse. Sally Swift said, “Let this stuff cook and stew!”

Remember, this is a journey and take the time to enjoy the process! Come along on the ride with me!

Day 1 Centered Riding Instructor’s Course

June 10, 2009

I stayed up past 11 and I was awake throughout the night. This is very similar to every time I go somewhere in my horse trailer for the first night. Wide awake and excited to get started the next day! But I was still up and going at 6 am, feeding Finny and cleaning his stall. Back to the trailer to eat instant oatmeal for breakfast and have some coffee. I dressed in jeans and my boots, later realizing that I was the only western rider, and not in breeches. Oh well. I had time to check email, work on my blog, and go back out to the barn shortly before 8:30, when the other riders began to arrive with their horses.

The morning started at 9 with a continental breakfast, in the lounge/tack room/sitting area. Introductions around, with me from Nebraska, a few people from Kansas, and even a young lady from Alaska! (She is moving back to Missouri/Kansas area in August). Some of the other riders were locals, as at least 7 were from the Steamboat Springs, CO area. We each told a little about ourselves and what some of our experiences have been. Peggy told us about how she got started in Centered Riding, about meeting and having lessons with Sally Swift, and about her recent trip to Japan to teach a clinic!

Our first order of business was to talk about the Centered Riding Policies and Procedures. We have an Instructor’s Code of Conduct that will be very important for us to read. Centered Riding has a standard of guidelines, that all instructor’s need to give lessons by. Sally believed in Life Long Learning and we have a list of suggested reading as well as learning about other riding disciplines.

We reviewed the Basics of Centered Riding:
Soft Eyes
Building Blocks
Clear Intent

CLEAR INTENT: knowing what you want to do and how to get there! Have a plan and direction. Look where you want to go. For me, look for where you want to end your trail maneuver.

CENTERING: finding the neutral pelvis. We had balls in our cupped hands. While tipping our hands back and forth, we found the place in our hands that the balls wouldn’t move. We will work on tipping our pelvis while we are in the saddle, and finding that area where we are not tipped too forward or too backward. Our center is moving while we ride. We need to breathe and re-center as we ride.

Everything in our upper body sits in our pelvis. Our pelvis protects our back. Our back is not a shock absorber. AND neither is a horse’s back.

We talked about habits. We have a life of habits. We have some habits that we may not know that we have until we try to change them! We talked about the dominance factor. Which eye, ear, foot, hand is the dominant one? Which seat bone do you sit on? We need to recognize which may be dominant so that we can become more balanced and equal.

We have “Dynamic Balance”. Balance in Movement. The rider can help balance the horse, depending on how we sit. We need to consider what is functional, and ride for function, not ride a way that looks good only.

“GROUNDING: awareness of our feet on the ground. We have balance receptors in our feet. We are more secure when we feel our whole foot, both on the ground and on the stirrup. Our balance point on our foot is actually further back on our foot than we think. The point is behind the digit joints of the foot.

Enough for the first classroom discussions. After a wonderful lunch, we started our riding sessions. 3 groups of 2 or 3 riders rode for 1 hour and 15 minutes during the afternoon. Before the riding sessions, we talked about saddle fit. We did the “chap stick test”. Laying a chap stick on the saddle, does it roll back or front of lay in the middle of the seat? This is a good way to see if the saddle sits level on the horse’s back.

Our riding groups worked on grounding their feet, hip releases, and walking the knees. For grounding the rider’s feet, we rested our hands on the rider’s ankle, after asking permission to touch them. We learned to breathe and become grounded our self. Tap the rider’s heel, instep, and toe, then find that spot on the bottom of the rider’s foot where the tapping feels different to the rider. That is the spot where the foot should rest in the middle of the stirrup, making the rider grounded. As you ride, be aware of your feet! If we are grounded as riders, our legs feel like they are around the horse and you are feeling your legs reach to the ground.

Riders have 3 springs: hip, knee, and ankle. Our leg joints! We were taught how to release the rider’s hips, allowing the hip angle to open. The hip release allows up to sit on our seat bones correctly. The end of the femur has a ball that sits inside the hip joint. This balls lies to the back of the socked. During the hip release, we roll the ball to the front of the socket. The muscles in the back of the pelvis need time to stretch so we may not feel or see much of the movement - it takes time!

Riding the 2 point position takes the pressure away from the seat bones, while balancing on the foot. Rely on the stirrups to support the weight of the body, not the knees! We practice posting the trot, then 2 pointing then sitting for a few strides and going right up into the posting trot again. While in 2 point position, relax the joints and allow the knees to spring.

While walking, feel the same relaxed, released knee action. Allow the knees to “walk” as the horse is walking. Mimic the horse’s movement. The horse equates relaxation with out-breaths. Breathe. Exhale. Feel the horse relax. As the horse relax, feel, with soft eyes, the relaxation in your legs. Allow the horse’s movement to move the knees.

Remember: take your time. Centered Riding is a journey! Come along and ride this journey with me!


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