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Spring Cleaning—Cheyenne's Journey

by Cheyenne Reed

As my strength in the jumping and standing positions over cavalletti, all 3 gaits is increases , I'm turning my focus to softening my body so that I can  follow the movement of my horse with more ease. This particular lesson helped me realize how stiffness occurs in my body when I put my emphasis on gripping my horse with my legs, causing me to lose sensitivity in my seat, and unintentionally resist Moon's movement. This resulted in a loss of communication with my horse. Instead of absorbing the impact of every stride down through my legs, I became very strong and tense, adding unwanted movement to my upper body and hands. I simply had to find the balance between strength and softness, “declutter” my riding, and establish a clear conversation with my horse.

Now that my legs are beginning to exhibit strength and reliability, I have to ensure that I’m meeting my horse’s movement with the appropriate amount of pressure and tension. Practicing over cavalletti grids at a trot showed me how too much  stiffness and  strength in my riding puts my horse off balance, and makes him tense up instead of lengthening and confidently taking each stride. I had to relax my heels down, gently rest my calves at his side, and find the sweet spot of balance. By absorbing each step Moon took through the contact in my thighs, knees and ankles, as well as keeping my hips loose and allowing them to move with him, I was able to open up my upper body to more stillness and control, cut back on the chatter with my hands, reducing the confusion and tenseness present in our partnership. It's not always about holding perfect form, but instead working with your horse to maintain cohesion through the changes presented in each moment.

To awaken more sensitivity and softness in my body, Barbara instructed me to incorporate closing my eyes during some of the cavalletti grid patterns.  It forced me to feel each small movement of my horse underneath me, staying relaxed and balanced instead of relying on my sight and strength. Instead of getting stronger, which only adds stiffness, I had to relax down into my thighs, and feel each movement—planned or unplanned—and make adjustments according to my center of balance and the power behind my horse's strides.

This lesson was a “spring cleaning” for my riding. It took a little polishing to find the golden balance between softness and strength. I had to become self aware of why there was a lack of communication between us. Everything works in unison and if one part of my body is not softening and listening to my horse, it affects the entire picture of horse and rider working as a team. Through trial, error, listening and asking, my ever so patient horse and I are beginning to come together to form a sensitive and understanding partnership with each other! I'm learning to make those quick, in the moment decisions as to what I need to do in the saddle to keep the consistency between us in our wordless dialogue. An absolute successful spring cleaning day!

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