This weekend, I attended and rode in a Centered Riding Clinic at Fox Crossing Equestrian Center by Jamison Wallace, Level III Centered Riding Instructor and Vice President of Centered Riding. My daughter audited.
For a variety of reasons, I chose to use a lesson horse for the clinic. Cost was one factor, including having to get rabies and current coggins, etc., on Lakota to bring her, but also the fact that she is very green, and hasn't been off the property in a year. I felt I would get more out of the clinic working on myself by riding a BTDT lesson horse who was already comfortable in the surroundings. I was assigned Beau Dandy.
Friday evening started off with a talk, and introduction to some of the basics of Centered Riding. We covered Soft Eyes, Breathing, Centering, and Grounding. We practiced different ways of walking, moved through the crowd with our arms extended like an airplane using our Soft Eyes to avoid each other. We took turns wearing a bridle while our partner guided us with the reins, being as soft as possible. Its amazing how the "horse" can literally feel the persons thoughts through the reins, without even engaging the reins. We also "danced" with each other, and practiced opening our shoulders and arms to straighten a crooked or evading horse.
Then we sat on the big exercise balls, and found the "allow" upward for posting trot. Then we moved on to the exercise trampolines and trotted on them, again finding the allow, balance and centering.
On Saturday morning over coffee, we did some exercises to help us find out body awareness. We did some different stretching exercises, and again practiced on the exercise ball, finding our center and "allowing" the motion. We used the "tippy stool" (I forget what its called) to practice engaging our seatbones. Then we put a saddle on the ball, and again, practiced in the saddle, and we again practiced engaging our seatbones through the saddle to the ball. I finally understand now how to engage a seatbone! I do have much trouble rounding my back and tipping my seatbones forward, but no problem arching my back. This explains why when I get tense, Lakota goes backwards, my seat is telling her to! But I finally "get" the feeling of left/right seat bone, its more of a "scoop" or "roll" motion than a "jam it down" motion.
Then we headed out to the horses. I was in the 3rd group. At first I led Beau around the ring awhile just to get to know each other. I love doing this with any horse I ride, and still with Lakota. Its just a way for us to connect before I climb aboard. I think its kinda rude to actually just grab a horse and leap on them, I think its only polite to get to know them a little first, and I'm glad that it was encouraged, rather than discouraged or looked at oddly. He was very sweet, and lead next to me beautifully with his left nostril just barely touching my elbow the entire time.
The first thing Jami does, which I love, is the "rain drops" on your feet. She pats the bottom of your foot, and you begin feeling it in your foot, then through your ankle. Then as she suggests, you begin to feel it up your leg, to your thigh, then hip. Then she continues to suggest feel it up your torso, then your neck, and your head. What was really amazing, is that as she did this exercise, I not only literally felt it up through my body, but as it got to my torso toward my head, I started to get really, really light headed, to the point I felt like I had to put my hand on the pommel of the saddle to steady myself. It was really something, and then she repeated on the other side, and I had the same experience again, although very slightly less intense. It was like the energy was moving up through my body and right out the top of my head.
During the ride, I spent quite a bit of time "finding my toes". I could not manage to stand in the stirrups balanced and kept falling back (although it was certainly not as ugly as it was the last lesson I had in August! I spent a lot of time laughing during that lesson). Then finally I realized that I had no toes. Its not that I was crunching them or "monkey feet", but I just had no awareness of them at all. They just tend to disappear. When I wiggled and "found" my toes, I spread them out a bit in my boot, and suddenly my horse, who was calm and relaxed anyway, did this little shudder, then sighed and licked and chewed. WOW! That was really something. So when my legs would start getting out of position again, or I started to lose my balance slightly, I realized that I had lost my toes again, and once I found them, suddenly I was able to balance. So amazing! So this is something that I am now practicing, especially when I drive. Oh, I also need to work on holding my head level, too. I have no "c" curve to my neck, so it tends to jut forward, so then my chin is sort of pointing up to compensate. My daughter is the same why, so I suspect its just the genetic way we are built, rather than from an injury or arthritis.
So all in all, it was a great weekend. Now if I can just remember all I've learned :-) I plan on practicing at home, of course. And I'm hoping to start up some lessons again in the next couple of months. I think I may be able to manage a monthly lesson at least. My daughter is really looking forward to a little schooling show on 5/17, it will be her first one. So the cost of that his been difficult these past couple of months, with the show fees, practice fees and lesson fees, not to mention the show clothes she needs. Eeek!!! This kid better not grow another inch until she gets a job! So once the show is behind us, I think I can maybe squirrel away a few bucks for myself per month. And the better a rider I can be for Lakota, the more and easier she is going to learn.
Edited to add: in chatting with some friends, I remembered a few other exercises that we learned.
One that I'm finding really, really interesting is that you lick your teeth. Sounds weird. But try it. Take your tongue, and run it all around your top teeth from front to back (on the outside of your teeth), and do the bottoms. Do it over and over. And then note what you feel when you are done. Almost all of us felt a release of tension in our necks and shoulders, and jaws. Some of us (me included) did a LOT of yawning after.
Another one is to stand with your feet straight ahead, feet slightly apart, like 2 feet, so just slightly outside the width of your hips. Slightly bend your knees, then bend at the waist so that your torso is 45 degrees from your legs. Hold your arms outstretched to your sides like an airplane. Then turn to the left as far as you can from the waist, and when you can't go any further, then stretch your right arm over your head continuing the stretch further. Do the same thing on the right.
Another is again same stance feet slightly apart, standing upright. Then slowly "crunch" by collapsing your body (arms hanging down), one vertabrae at a time. When you get as far down as you can go, take a deep breath, let it out, and you'll drop some more. Repeat again, and again. Then slowly "uncurl" standing upright one vertabrae at a time.
Also you can do the "lunge", much like the regular exercise you would do with weights. You stand with one foot forward, and one behind you. The one behind you is sideways toe facing out, and the one forward is pointed forward. Reach forward as far as you can with one foot, and stretch, but not to the point of pulling, just go as far as you can until you meet resistance. Its better to slide the back foot back to go lower, rather than slide the front foot forward. Repeat by swapping the feet.
Then of course, roll your head. Turn your head side to side as far as you can. Then from neutral, tilt your chin down to your chest, then tilt your head back, and to both sides as far as you can. Not pulling or stretching the limits, but just going as far as you can, then you go side to side again and you'll see that you have gained some range of motion.
Oh, we also did some grounding exercises. Where you ground yourself and try to push each other down. Very cool that when you are not grounded, standing in the same position, you are easily pushed over, but when you take a deep breath and "think" grounded, planting your feet, you simply cannot be moved.
And when using our arms in riding. Do not use your biceps. Your biceps become neutral, they are not used at all. Back and forth arm motion uses the triceps. Hold up your arm and hold it firm by using your bicep. Have a friend try to bend or move your arm. You'll see that it CAN be moved, and so can your body. Release, and then hold your arm in the same position but use your tricep to hold your arm, and the friend will not be able to move your arm, and also will not move your body in their trying.