Let’s talk about INTENTION, as this has been something that I’ve been personally focusing on lately.
It’s all about figuring out what you want, using visualization, and kinesthetic (body) awareness to get it communicated to your horse. But, something we don’t often talk enough about is habitual movement patterns, or “holding patterns”… and when it comes to being intentional, this is where we need to start.
We humans store A LOT in our physical tissues. More often than not, any trauma, negative emotion, thought, or injury is stored in our bodies. It gets stored in how we move, and how we hold postures.
I would see it so often in yoga classes; people would come up afterward and say “I don’t know why I feel so emotional after class” or “why did that pose make me randomly want to cry?” It’s because that posture started to open and stretch an area of your body that has been holding tension (physically speaking, and perhaps even more so emotionally speaking).
Think of the first thing you do when you’re stressed (if you don’t know what you do physically when you’re stressed… start paying more attention!). Typically the breath shortens and moves up into the upper body (shoulders, neck, and jaw). We tense in our upper body, often unconsciously.
What happens when you are sad or feeling low? Typically we end up collapsing forwards through our torso – ending up in a flexion-based posture.
When I practice shoulder and chest opening yoga poses, I often focus on my self-esteem and set intentions around that. For example, what do you do when you’re unconfident? You collapse in through your chest and round your shoulders to subconsciously make yourself smaller. Ever hear of the Power Posture for confidence? There’s a reason for that.
Think about what happens in your body when you’re approaching a jump while riding and you’re anticipating a certain distance… So often (and boy, am I included in this too!) we end up tensing our hip angle closed, and getting ahead of our horse. This creates a shift in the horse’s center of gravity, and the good horses will be able to jump from their front-end (at least for a while, until they start getting unbalanced and sore, or just plain irritable). Sometimes they’ll chip, catch the rail, or take a ridiculous distance to save us from our errors. We think it’s the horse to blame… but…
What happens in your body when you’re working on lateral work? Do you close your hip angle with tension, clench your jaw out of the effort, and then expect your horse to manipulate their body around your clenched butt?
These are all common things amongst us riders, so don’t beat yourself up – I’m literally working on them every time I ride. Yet unfortunately, not often enough are they conscious and intentional. Remember, we cannot expect our horse to move properly underneath us if we cannot be aware of our bodies, our holding patterns, and our compensations.
Sometimes we can even have our intention mentally, but no collaboration from our bodies. This leads to riding with a carefree unawareness until we hit a crappy distance to the fence, can’t get the higher score on lateral work, or struggle with changes/circles/etc.
Once we can consciously pay attention to what our body is doing in relation to what our mind is visualizing, we will be better able to RELAX and ENGAGE appropriately – often resulting in an almost immediate fix of the issues we’d been fixated on for the past hour/days/weeks during our rides.
And finally, here’s the other thing: we humans like to fixate on the negative and totally forget about the positives. I remember talking about this with a friend at the Yann Candele clinic a few years ago; we can ride an entire course/test/pattern great and when someone asks “how did it go?” we focus on the ONE THING that went wrong.
What can you do when you just sit still and ride? When you relax, get in the moment, and ride each stride? When you LET GO of old tension, anticipations, and expectations and just ride what’s underneath you at that moment?
I’d bet it’ll be a lot different then what you’ve been fixated on…