The week after a horse show is always a time of reflection for me. I was really unhappy with my rides at Region 1 and I knew that I only had myself to blame. After wiping tears from my eyes in the lineup of my pleasure class, I felt absolutely broken. Why was I again falling apart in the show pen? I wanted nothing more than to hide from the world and never show again. Fortunately this wasn’t an option as I had 2 Horsemanship classes hours later. They were better; I was pleased with the pattern work, but not the rail work. Returning home I went through the mourning process of deciding not to go to Novice Championships this year. With that decision behind me I turned my focus to the big elephant in the saddle – my tension in the show ring.
I’ve become aware in the last year that many of my movements in the saddle are ridged and tense. I know that I have improved dramatically; I used to describe my seat as “survival riding”. This was the result of years of sitting on rank horses. Still I haven’t always been able to ride my horse from a place of softness and connection; this becomes amplified as we enter the ring at a horse show. The bigger the show, the worse the tension. For each ride the week after Region 1 I focused on keeping my movements soft and only riding one handed. My goal was to be less of a “puma” in the saddle. The result was quite the breakthrough. My horse moved better with each ride, lateral movements were accomplished with ease and lope transitions were the best they have ever been. This could only mean one thing, I am the one standing in the way; the mare is only reacting to me. Just as the Universe always provides when I am ready to learn; Sarah arranged lessons with Peggy Cummings on Sunday.
I talk to Peggy about the Region 1 show and let her know that my mare warms up well, but everything changes when we walk into the in gate of the show pen. She asked me if it felt like sitting on marbles, which turned out to be a pretty good description I often describe it as driving a truck and the brakes go out, I push on the brake pedal but nothing is there. Peggy had me sit on my hands, first in a neutral seat. From there I had to make small movements in my thighs. I could feel the slightest movement from thighs through my seat bones. Peggy then had me scoot my seat back slightly and stiffen. When I made the same small movements in my thighs I felt no change in pressure on my hands, just dead weight. That is exactly what my horse feels when we walk into the show ring. Peggy said that I disappear and my horse lifts her head and drops her back looking for me. I then become more tense against Grace’s tension and we spiral out of control. From the way she described it I could have sworn she had been at the show watching me.
Peggy broke down for me exactly what happens in my body the moment I tense in the show ring. She described where the lock out starts (right below the ribcage) and how it translates to the rest of my body. She reminded me of the ‘come along’ cue she had taught me in the past. The cue comes from my thighs and isn’t visible, it is also near impossible to use when I am locked. On the ground and on my horse Peggy gave me a series of check ins that I could use to get my body moving again and past the state of tension. Most of all she reminded me to “move the bones” in order to check back in with my horse again. During our lesson I felt my horse change underneath me, the quality of her walk improved dramatically as she started to freely use her hind end. I was able to engage her left ribcage just by rotating to the left which automatically brought my left leg in contact with her side. I felt like I was finally talking the same language as my horse.
I have my homework, a list of check ins to make sure I am in neutral position so I don’t lock my horse out. Peggy also recommended that I go to a show and just focus on moving the bones. This is my plan for the schooling show in two weeks. I am now grateful to not be aiming for Novice Championships this year; I can now take the time to master this piece of the puzzle.