Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Strange Integrity of Fear

Lesson Notes
(When it lives in the body and not in the mind.)

I had my eighth lesson the other day. Unlike before, the arena was frenetic with activity on Friday. Air compressors hissed at the near end of the arena, interrupted by the abrupt thunk of pneumatic nail guns. Some carpenters were building a set of bleachers, pushing against a deadline. Two riders were practicing a Pas de deux on their horses, intertwining in the middle space of the arena, while the owner of the barn trained a horse at the far end.

These lessons are expensive, so I approach them with an almost military mindset, a stance of silent dedication and resolve that's unusual in the history of me and horses. Still, I felt I was leading the schoolmaster into bedlam when I brought her into the ring.

We begin each lesson with longe line work in full tack, a few minutes in each direction to warm the mare up, and then a short bit of in-hand work to stretch and bend her. The coordinating of several pieces of equipment in my hands has been awkward for me, but each time I get a little better, a little more fluid, a little neater in managing side reins, whips and lines. Usually the schoolmaster will relax and blow out during that work, but not this day. She was tense, and blamelessly so, I thought.

The space left to us in the arena felt pinched and tight on the ground, but it was worse when I was in the saddle. Most of the time we were working on a 10-meter circle. It felt a little daunting to me, riding a strong working trot on a circle no more than 35 feet in diameter.

The brilliant schoolmaster was off somewhere in her body on Friday, and she displayed her displeasure by kicking out one hind leg or the other as we circled our instructor on the line. The thought I had, after several of these moves, is that a year or two ago just one of them would have been cause enough for me to dismount. My head would have dictated that course of action before I even had a chance to wonder.

The schoolmaster became increasingly tense, her ears pinning flat when other riders passed near. She crow hopped once, and then again. Sometimes she tipped me forward, sometimes not. I felt as though a two-by-four were lodged beneath the saddle, right under my left seat bone. My body felt her tension and stiffness. My body felt it, felt the lack of balance and flow between us. I know I have never felt that, and understood it, not in that way, before that instant. My body recognized it and then adjusted to help her. It just did. I moved to help her find my flow since she had lost hers. That's the only way I can think to say it. Where on earth did that confidence come from?

She blew out and snorted, releasing through her topline and settling into the easy, swingy trot that I have come to expect from her. In part, I did that for her. Maybe I did most of it. 

What I think I've realized now is that some of my anxiety has come from riding with a disconnected, uneducated body, that not all of my fears reside in my mind. The body can't lie. A natural thing, it has an integrity built into its functioning. Because I didn't know in my body how to really sit on a horse, I felt ill at ease sitting on a horse. My mind picked up on that doubt and spun it into fear. On Friday, exactly the opposite thing happened. Because my body knew what to do, my mind wasn't even consulted for a second opinion.

These lessons are fantastic, they are giving me the rider inside, and I will grub for every nickel to keep on taking them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Season's End

Late at the fair, I see Montana-like skies. I see things that happen in nature during the ordinary course of a humanless day. I can look at them like I am not there. Watching, I feel I have all the time I need.

Autumn rides in on wet, turbulent air. I hear it breaking around the walls of the building, pressing against the old barn-sash windows upstairs. I like the feeling of defending myself and the cats against the night cold. For a little while, anyway.

Possum works so hard to comprehend space heaters. Me and the cats, we live down here for months, always ending the season in a solitude so deep, it's as if our lives are bi-coastal, like there's an ocean of awayness between us and home. Yet sometimes I don't want to go back there, to the dirt of the city, the garage break-ins and 4 o'clock sirens.

They love it here too. How could they not? So much to see and hear and smell, so many ways to wear themselves out.

I've been doing this for eleven years and it's still hard to make the transition, no matter how I try to plan for it, no matter that, like the cats, within minutes I'll be happy to be back with H.G. in our winter's home. Here to there always seems too far, so I end up taking a bridge instead of the highway.

She lives right between my two homes, balanced perfectly between my hibernating and my living. They are such different lives, but they share her, they need her.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Know This Place

Finding the Wishbone Leg
Someone remarked to me today, "You know, they say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

She was right, except I didn't know how ready I was, am, have been, didn't really know how long I'd been waiting.

Four weeks ago, a key was laid in my palm. Somehow, despite the frantic crowding of work into my life, I had the sense to use it, and I swung the door wide to a place I recognized. It's very significant to me.

A good friend of mine bailed a scrub pony out of the joust herd this summer, another guy thrown in too fast with no clue of what was to come. He lasted a few weeks and then discovered that bucking was the easiest way to get fired. My friend saw something in him that nudged at her, so she put him in training with a person she trusted. Every week I said I'd come watch a session, and every week I had to cancel to stay on top of my job. It wasn't until a few days after the festival closed that I claimed a day and drove down to the barn with her.

So I guess it's who T gave me this gift, the inkling of coming home to a place I never lived. I saw the life of her little horse transformed, saw his blooming willingness, saw him working in partnership with his trainer. No spurs, no gadgets, no fighting. Patience, kindness and consistency. The kindest rider I've ever seen, balanced, even and light in the saddle, wishbone legs resting long and quiet, hands that asked, then listened.

There I found an instructor, one who I understand, I mean intuitively understand. With her I don't over think, I just listen and do. My body, freed of my ordinarily clamped-down mind, accepts her directions quickly, avidly and with thirst, as though it has always known this way. Five lessons in, I see the rider that I am and the rider I will become. I see myself getting out of my own way, realize that I am already releasing.