“Body awareness is the starting point. Without it, we literally don’t know what we’re ‘saying,’ with our disconnected appendages, nagging feet, and wandering hands.” – Anna Blake, Author and Equestrian
It’s trail riding season again. Our trails circle around some marshland, so the deer flies and mosquitos are insufferable from May to September, inclusive. I usually love trail rides in the fall. However, my horse Tara had only left her pasture pet life behind in February, and it seemed she had just gotten used to the various noises and distractions of the forest when the trail season ended. It was hard for me not to be anxious when a few of us stablehands saddled up to venture back out into nature for the first time in months.
At that point, it wouldn’t have mattered how peaceful the forest creatures tried to be, because when I’m nervous, that’s all the reason Tara needs to become nervous. As we turned into the woods her head went up and so did my anxiety level. I tried to put the brakes on what would only be a downward spiral. I focused on breathing deeply to relax, then remembered watching Julie Goodnight’s horse training on TV just the night before:
“Pretend you're in your easy chair in your living room.”
That advice wouldn’t work for the few riders I’ve seen who automatically lean back in the saddle, often too far and too aggressively, to control their horse. But most of us have the tendency when fearing loss of control to lean forward with a rounded back into the fetal position. Just think of what message that posture conveys to the horse and how he might translate it.
“The fetal position? My leader is curling into a ball and giving up? I am out of here, with or without her. Hang on!”
Picturing my saddle as my “easy chair” was the perfect antidote. What felt to me like leaning back was basically relaxing my torso as I pressed my shoulders back into their proper position without hollowing my back out. My ears, shoulders, and hips were back in straight alignment as they should be, and Tara’s head dropped as tension evaporated from both of us. We experienced nothing but happy trails that day and look forward to many more.