I'm currently reading Mark Rashid's book, Horsemanship Through Life. It's an incredible story, so far, and I am gaining much insight into my own journey with horses. There are several passages that have resonated with me, that I wanted to share so I would remember later on. The first one is:
"I was trying to stay on the horse, not with the horse. When I rode, I rode on the horse, which very often turned into riding against the horse. When you ride against the horse, it often makes it almost impossible to move in the saddle. Once you stop moving while riding, you become stiff and mannequin-like."
This is something I need to work on - I need to relax, reconnect and move in the saddle. I know I'm not, in large part because of fear. Not fear of being thrown, I have set that fear aside in the knowledge that Ashke is not trying to dump me, but fear of being in pain. It all goes back to that damn L5 disc. For anyone who has never experienced the pain of a slipped disc, it is excruitating. ALL. THE. TIME. There is never a moment in my day when I am not aware of the pain, the potential for pain or the remembrance of pain. That constant state of mind is exhausting and counterproductive to the riding process.
One of the good things, is that I focus less on it when I am with Ashke. He becomes my focus. I only consider the pain when moving into gaits that are difficult, because of the motion, and start to react to the pain in my back. That ease of moving with the horse, that I had when I was a kid, is being blocked by my fear of the pain. I need to get back to moving with the horse, and allow the pain to pass through me without focusing on it. I know it's going to hurt. Focusing on it makes my fear of HOW BAD it's going to hurt increase, which increases my brace in the saddle.
I was watching a Parelli TV show (horse TV, who would have guessed we would have something like that!) and was watching Linda Parelli ride around the ring at a walk. It was a "Ah ha" moment for me as I watched both her horse stretch and move easily, and Linda's hips flex and move in rhythm with her horse. I knew at that moment, that was what I was lacking. I needed to free up my brace, relax against the pain, and let my hips move with Ashke. He's probably thinking, "What the hell is she doing up there?" and "What is she worried about?" since tension and stiffening is something horses do when they are afraid or worried. In this case, as so often, the difficulty with our gaits and movement is not that he doesn't get it - he does - he knows exactly how to walk, trot and canter - it's the subliminal messages I'm sending him that I'm not aware of that is tripping us up. This is exactly the reason why he is SO relaxed at the walk - because I am moving with him and relaxed. As we increase our gait, I become more tense and braced against the potential pain.
Years ago, I was struggling with back pain. It hurt to walk. I found myself shortening my stride and walking to protect my injury. I looked like a needed a walker. And it didn't help. It just made more of my muscles ache from the strange position I found myself twisting into in order to protect myself against the pain. I looked like I was ten seconds away from a wheelchair. One day, I thought to myself that I was making things worse. My trying to protect myself from the pain was making the pain worse. I decided to stop favoring my back, to walk like there was nothing wrong. I forced myself to step out like nothing hurt and then I discovered the pain diminished when I moved that way. My fear and trying to prevent it from hurting was contributing to the back pain.
I tried a back brace from Back on Track the last time I rode and that's not going to help. I may be able to wear it while I am doing other things, but it really inhibits the movement of my hips while I am riding. I am going to try taking off the running martingale and focusing on relaxing and allowing my hips to move at the walk. When I feel comfortable at the walk, we will start working on the trot. I am going to worry less about where his head set is or how rounded his back is and just focus on moving WITH him.