Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mastering the Art of Independent Riding and Practice

A lot of riders struggle with knowing what to do when they ride by themselves at home. Some people say to make a plan before you get on and stick to it, others suggest having a set routine for every training session for consistency. Everyone will have their own preference for how to do it (once discovered) but from working on my own yoga practice at home, I learnt a few things that I definitely now apply to my training sessions with the horses.

It's easy to be motivated to go to a lesson with your trainer or get in the car and go to a yoga class because we are getting told what to do and have more mental capacity when the structure of a session is put into someone else's hands. But  on a day-to-day basis sometimes I don't feel like riding a particular horse. Sometimes I don't feel like getting on my mat at home and doing yoga. For me, I get that feeling of "I can't be bothered to work that hard today" because I always have high expectations of myself. Most equestrians do, which is why we get back on our horse day after day to try and improve. But as humans we can't possibly put in that same amount of high energy and great effort every single day, whether it be because we didn't get a good sleep the night before, our body aches from exercising, we are hungover, or perhaps we just aren't in  the best mood, we have to learn to just accept what is at that point in time and work with it, not beat ourselves up because we aren't performing "as we should".

My favourite yogini Kino McGregor says that if you're struggling for motivation to do your daily yoga practice, just set an intention to stand at the top of your mat and take five deep, slow breaths. If you've done that and you really don't want to do anything else, that's fine, because at least you achieved something. But more often than not you will keep going because you're already there and focused. So maybe it's five more breaths, maybe it's just one sun salutation, maybe its three. You must listen to your body, feel your way through the practice and your body will tell you what it needs.

This is much the same for riding. Every time I get on one of my horses I listen and feel. I don't come at them with orders and demands for what I want that day, I let them tell me how they are feeling. As weird as that sounds, trust me, you can feel it. I pick up my reins and see how their back feels, I do some leg-yields to unveil any stiffness, then move into trot and discover if they are in front of my leg, tight over the back, rigid in the jowl and mouth, stiff with one hind leg etc. I don't like setting an intention before I get on, because I could get on and feel something completely different to what I expected, then get frustrated that my plan isn't working and then feel like I failed to have a productive training session. It's like us going to the gym or doing yoga and forcing ourselves to do handstand practice when our arms are sore and we are a bit dehydrated and feeling light-headed. It's never going to work.... Then what is the plan?! We have to make a new one, however we already feel exhausted and disappointed in ourselves - not a great vibe to create a session from.

I never want to get off a horse feeling like I didn't make it better than when I got on, therefore I need to feel what is wrong as a first priority in order to fix it. And then from there, my intentions set in and I get to work on fixing and creating. I say creating because our sessions shouldn't revolve around stopping the horse from doing everything wrong. It should be proactive and encouraging, making adjustments while helping the horse to achieve more with itself. Gareth Hughes once told me that if while I'm riding around and I get the feeling I could do a half-pass, do it. If the idea of a line of tempi changes comes into my head, go for it. The idea obviously came into my head for a reason - because I'm feeling like the horse is capable at that moment in time - therefore I should move forward to that and try it, work on it, create something out of it.

This is the same with yoga practice, where I may be working on some forward bends and start to feel congestion in my hip flexors so the idea will come into my mind to do some backbend work, because it feels good for my body at that point in time. I may be doing some hip-opening and I get an idea to flow into an arm balance, because it feels good to use the newfound openness for a more advanced pose, and therefore move my practice forwards.

You have to have faith in yourself that you can fix whatever you are feeling is wrong, and be brave enough to use what you have just fixed to create something stronger and push it to a higher level. Be humble with your beginnings and set small intentions, but believe in yourself enough that anything is possible with the work you are doing.



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