It’s definitely a journey. As I begin to emerge from my healing cocoon and venture forth into the world, it’s a blessing that the earth is doing a similar thing. We are slowly – oh so slowly – inching from winter to spring, a brief and intense blast of the spring thing and before we know it, it will be summer again.
Transitions, change, stuff keeps happening and new alliances are formed. As I am aware of what is happening beneath the surface of my body, I am made aware of how much I don’t know. This is a daily reminder to approach life with a beginner’s mind. I am on a constant learning expedition. While I sat immobilised things wasted away, bringing things back into balance and power is a long, slow journey.
In order to walk, we use a complex system of pulleys, fulcrums, levers... muscles, tendons and bones. Walking is often described by those in the professions as controlled falling... which, when you stop and think about it, is pretty accurate. You swing a foot out in front of you and your bodyweight begins to fall towards the weight and momentum, but the million subliminal reactions and responses within the body instead create a planting of a foot, then a lifting and follow through with the other. Hips, shoulders, head and arms all sway and move to counter-balance the flow and with luck, the muscular strength in the legs prevents everything from crumpling into a ragged pile of skin and bones.
When we sit on a horse, the dynamics change. I’m so freakin excited to be on horseback again. Trying not to get ahead of myself of course. I note with greater clarity how when riding, the degree to which one’s legs bow out and bend around the barrel of the horse. I note the flexion in the hip, knee and ankle joints and the weight of the body supported both through the legs and through the seat. When the horse begins to walk, all sorts of exciting things happen, each of the four legs moving individually in the walk. As the hind legs move, the horse’s hips roll from side to side and forward and back, this creates a fascinating and frequently challenging figure-of-eight rotation that will highlight any lower back or hip issues in the rider.
Tension in the human body will transmit into the equine body resulting in the two becoming a bundle of nerves and tension. A deep breath and a calming exhalation not only brings stress or anxiety levels down in the human, but this lowering and leavening is also transmitted directly to the horse. Horses are such unique, incredible and profound healing helpers and educators, they mirror back to us some truths that we often find easier to ignore.
The union of human and horse is a fascinating and lengthy story dating back centuries. The Athenian cavalryman Xenophon’s Art of Horsemanship was written around 360BC. Born out of conflict and war, it still remains a useful tool in the understanding of the horse. Xenophon gave instructions on handling the horse, the relationship between groom and horse (what I call the yoga of the horse) and not just the rider, whom he proposed should be able to mount quickly from both on and off-side, and should ride “as though he were standing upright with his legs apart (not in a chair seat)”. This is an important distinction, we are not ‘sitting’ on a horse, we are ‘riding’. It is different.
The challenge of the horse (and yoga) is to fully understand and create a harmonious outcome leveraging the strength, suppleness, softness and power of our bodies. In my equine training we placed an emphasis on playing games and undertaking wild and wacky challenges to give us greater resilience, flexibility and accomplishment. Practicing skills in an undemanding arena before having to rely on them in serious or more demanding situations is the way to go. Learn to walk before you run. Some of my reference books go back decades if not centuries (I do have a copy of Xenophon’s book, although probably not an original). My copy of Mounted Games and Gymkhanas was reprinted in 1967, a mere 19 years after originally published.
Putting a horse into this equation of training and body awareness makes it more fun, more challenging and infinitely more rewarding when you achieve success. Accommodating another’s needs, fears, moods and physical or mental limitations is part of life. Adjusting our methods of perception to include a different species stretches the brain muscle and leads us into even deeper lessons... emerging the other side is like breaking the surface of the lake into the heat of the mid-summer sun. What an amazing sensation it is when something works out.
Keep looking up and enjoying what’s all around us!