I am in the saddle holding a towel around my waist with an imaginary ball in my lap while someone leads my horse. This can only mean one thing; Peggy Cummings must be here! Peggy was at Sarah’s on Saturday for a day of scheduled lessons. I went early so I could watch the lesson before mine; I always get a ton of information by watching her work with other horses and riders. The issues she addresses for them always seem to apply to me, and from what I gather the similarities seem to correlate to almost all horses and riders.
The participants in the first lesson were a 15 year old girl and her 16.3 hand AQHA gelding. The pair have worked with Peggy several times over the last year. The gelding is very mouthy on the ground, which can be a challenge for Showmanship classes. The rider had also been having some recent less than stellar rides under saddle and was working on her own body to help her horse find his. Peggy pointed out that the gelding was post legged with his left hind leg. She found it to be common in many of the horses that she works with. She said that even as young as 3 years old horses start to carry tension in their bodies because of the unconscious things we do to them when we handle them. She also thought that his behavior issues stemmed from the imbalance and tension in his body. As they worked through a series of exercises she found that the 15 year old girl was carrying her left arm out from her body, this caused her to lose the connection and actually “drop” her geldings left hind leg. Peggy showed her how to restore the connection both on the ground and under saddle. I love watching this pair because the gelding is an incredible visual of what Peggy talks about. When he stretches his nuchal ligament and starts to connect to his hind end his is an incredible mover. He and his rider often elicit ohhs and ahhs from the crowd during their sessions with Peggy. I always see a common thread between this horse and rider with Grace and myself. Once the rider had the gelding coming through with his left hind leg, Peggy told her it was her job to make sure he continued to use it. She said that we cannot allow our horses to continue to walk the way he had been, not on the way to the pasture or in the arena. It was a good reminder of just how much we influence our horse’s way of going.
Now it was my turn. Peggy had me show her what I had been working on with Grace. I’m not sure if I tensed up from being put on the spot but when I went to show her the Connected Groundwork I had been doing at home I had absolutely no connection with my horse. I had the talk down but he walk was nowhere to be seen. Sure enough I was dropping my left arm; I had no idea I had been doing until I saw my arm do it when Peggy pointed it out. Peggy then had someone get her a towel and she demonstrated on both Sarah and I. She wrapped the towel around my midsection and used it to move my body. When her left arm was connected I could not help but move my feet, actually matching her foot falls in a dance which I seemed to magically know the steps to. When she dropped her left arm my feet rooted themselves into the ground my body tensed in fear that it might get pulled over. It was a real eye opener as to what my horse had been feeling. She showed me a better way to start the 2 handed walking S exercise I had attempted. When I tried it I kept tensing up in my back which again I wasn’t aware of until she pointed it out. I used the word “Twist” to describe what I had been doing. Peggy gave me a new awareness of the difference between the word “twist” and the word “rotate”. Twist came from a place of tension, rotate or swivel comes from connection. The difference became very clear to me under saddle.
Again I don’t know if I get more tense because I am on stage or I just think I am a better rider than I am but I swear I ride better at home than I do in front of Peggy. Once again my back was tense and I was twisting instead of rotating. Out came the towel again and this time she had me hold it around my midsection while I was lead on my horse. I quickly found that while I have been working to fill the lower part of my back the middle of my back was picking up all the tension that had been in my lower back. I was able to fill my back into the towel, and then when I lifted my sternum I was now sitting in the middle of my horse. I became aware of my seat bones I could feel them underneath me in the saddle. When we worked on rotating my left side kept tensing and clenching it refused to cooperate. My left ribcage collapsed. I was aware of it, but seemed unable to think away the tension. Peggy had me hold her helmet in my lap to represent a ball. I had to hug it with my arms holding it into my stomach. This time when I rotated my left side did not clench, my horse turned underneath me. I felt both my seat bones in the turn and my ribcage did not collapse. Pretty amazing stuff!
At the end of the lesson I brought up a point of frustration with Peggy. I always feel like I am on my way and riding better at home, but when I have a lesson with her I feel like we go back to where we started. She pointed out that Grace and I had progressed and had been doing good work, but it was her job to point out those little unconscious things that I do that get in the way of connection. I am so incredibly appreciative of her work, the little things that she sees that I do not, the little things that make a big difference in my connection with my horse. I am off to the big retail store this morning to knock out some grocery shopping. Don’t be surprised when you see an extra towel and a ball in my shopping cart.
A new awareness of the connection from my left arm
Left arm doesn't look so good here and neither does my horse's hind end. Hmmmm
Rotating to the right while holding the towel.
Talking to Peggy at the end of the lesson