Head Held High—Cheyenne's Journey

by Cheyenne Reed

With the prospect of showing in my future and as I'm becoming more well rounded in the fundamentals of horsemanship, this lesson turned my focus to new aspects of riding: countenance, style and presentation. As Barbara reminded me throughout my lesson, “Chin up, look around, own the arena!” Riding involves so much more than sitting in the saddle and telling your horse what to do. As I've written about previously, it's a constant conversation between myself and my horse as I run through my extensive mental checklist. The key ingredient is making everything look effortless, smooth and well thought out.

Even when things feel chaotic and I'm sorting through what to do in my head, externally I have to keep my composure. Not-so-surprising, this assists in calming tense situations as my horse feels my own demeanor relax. Assertiveness has never been something that comes easy to me, so today's ride was definitely an exercise to grow my confidence in the skills I have developed and to reflect them in the way I carry myself.

Through cavalletti exercises, circles, serpentines, I was able to push my limits in all three gaits with all three seat positions—sitting, jumping and standing. I had to constantly remind myself not to collapse my presentation in the midst of sticky situations—I had to really engage myself physically and mentally. One of my favorite things Barbara told me is , “If you're going to make a mistake, make it the most beautiful and elegant mistake you possibly can!”

I have to instill in myself the idea that it isn't about doing everything perfectly, instead it is about fixing the mistakes and communicating my response to the mistake to my horse quickly and fluidly. Whether I'm right on track or missing the mark by a little—or sometimes a lot—I've learned that with some attitude and presentation, you can make anything look cool, calm and collected. A good, healthy confidence is not only what you feel internally as you strengthen your skills, but also what you display in the way you carry and compose yourself.

As a person who has had insecure tendencies in the past, riding allows me to grow both physically and mentally . It's encouraging me to be a more self-assured person in relation to where I'm at in my horsemanship journey. Yes, I make mistakes, and I wouldn't have any room to grow if I didn't! No matter win or lose, right or wrong, smooth or jerky, I will keep my head high, because what matters in my journey is the winning feeling I have inside.


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!


Best Laid Plans—Cheyenne's Journey

by Cheyene Reed

I always start  each ride with my own  expectations of what I want to accomplish in that particular lesson. But it was this ride that taught me the importance of every time spent in the saddle being an opportunity to grow with what I'm faced with on that day. No ride is like the previous ride nor like the next ride. Although it is good to set goals and work towards them, every ride will be different. There will be challenges, victories, environmental changes, situational differences, setbacks and comebacks alike. Even apart from external factors, every time I get in the saddle, both my horses and my own physical ratings and mental preparedness can sway the ride in any direction. In the lessons leading up to this day, we had been pushing my limits physically and mentally with cavalletti's, and strengthening in balance and stamina for both me and Moon. I came into this lesson ready to pick up right where I left off, but my body had other plans!

My lesson was a little shorter than it would usually would have been, but we weren't looking for a test of fitness, we were looking for ending every exercise with the correct feeling. I had taken time off due to being sick, so my body was still weak, even if I didn't initially realize it. In the previous few lessons, we'd been turning our focus to cavalletti work, so a good portion of my ride was spent working grids in both jumping and standing position. My legs were shaking and they did not want to cooperate in  either position So I had to put a little more effort into maintaining  good form and finding that “sweet spot”. Minor physical roadblocks can so easily cause me to learn things the wrong way and because of my weakness, the more I continued pushing myself, the more I would lose that solid feeling. I didn't want to sacrifice good form for repetition and endurance.

Using my body to communicate with Moon was more challenging this day as I had to turn my attention to simply getting my body to work in the way I needed it to. Despite my typical tenacious attitude, I required  many breaks during my ride, so that my legs and body wouldn’t  confuse him during  the moments I struggled. I would aim for the right feeling and end on a positive note—maintaining the soft and relaxed partnership without creating stress or frustration between us. I had to turn my attention back to the foundation blocks that my riding had been built on and take a detailed assessment on how my body was responding  to  what I was asking of it.

Riding requires an open and proactive strategy  to use every factor of the ride—good or bad—and convert it into  that “winning”, successful feeling. Every ride is important to my journey and an opportunity to grow, regardless of how I imagined it prior to tacking up. This was a very successful lesson despite my physical limitations . It made me break down my positions in detail, listen to my body in partnership with Moon's, and strive to find the solid feeling and correct form. The power rests on me to either be constrained by expectations, or to take what I've been given and make it work.


Think, Feel, Ask—Cheyenne's Journey

by Cheyenne Reed

Think, feel, ask” has been the statement I've heard most from my trainer the last few weeks, besides “MORE OUTSIDE REIN”. (I'll be the first to admit it—I suffer from a lazy outside hand, but I digress...) So, I've begun the process of decluttering my riding. We've been breaking down the details of transitions and bending, during which I’ve discovered less is more. I've had to clear my mind, relax, and allow my seat to become second nature, while making my communication with Moon uncomplicated, in order to prompt an honest response from him. Riding requires a fine balance between - complexity and simplicity —so many necessary details coming together to form cohesive, effortless movement.

Recently we worked on a canter transition exercise—from walk directly into the canter—to build a smoother change of gaits, and to heighten the proverbial articulation in my and Moon's “conversations” with one another. We were at a walk on the rail and I was instructed to hold his shoulders straight and keep contact with his mouth, then asked to yield his hind quarters slightly to the inside, waiting for Barbara to either ask me to push him up into the canter or release him back into a normal straight walk. In the dressage world, this would be the beginning of the “haunches in” maneuver. We had to break down the transition into more segments, in order to help me be more aware of what my hands were telling him to do—maintaining his speed and keep his shoulders straight on the rail. In addition to that, I had to feel the correct indication of a lead in the canter, which is to start from his hind end. This also was a learning opportunity for Moon, who had to wait for me to give him the next cue and simply follow my requests prior to the canter. That moment of patience, when I was yielding his haunches in without changing gait, helped both of us to be more aware of the subtleties required for a smooth transition. It instilled in me the importance of knowing exactly what I was asking of my horse, being aware of his body changes, and tracking how he responded and softened to my cues.

This exercise really enforced the “think, feel, ask” method, by  forcing me to dissect each individual step  during each transition.  I was instructed to exaggerate each movement, so that I would be able to feel each change as it occurred. Eventually, we were able to put everything together into one fluid progression, and the communication between myself and Moon became very clear. We were able to refine our movements, and I was able to use my body to feel the transitions through ever so slight changes in his body.

I have also learned that our communication is not only affected by my body, but also my mind— referring to the the first step of “think, feel, ask”. It's important my mind is uncluttered,  reflecting what is occurring for me physically. I found it hard to grasp at first, but staying in the moment and focusing my thoughts  on what I'm asking of my horse is the foundation. What I'm thinking affects my horse and whether I know it or not, the energy and balance in my body can change depending on where my mind goes. I have to channel my energy to what I intended Moon to do and where I want him to take me.

These past few weeks have  helped me understand these three fundamental steps in detail and have taught me to apply them to my riding in an entirely new way. When it comes to  cueing my horse, I have to clear my mind and visualize the change, then feel the change in my body and my horse's body, and finally gently make the request. Although we started out deliberately articulating each of these steps separately to grasp the concept of ‘think, feel, and ask’ , we are now executing all three steps as a single command, in a matter of a few seconds. Even more pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit into place,  showing me this beautiful picture of horse and rider communicating and working as a fine-tuned team!


Overcoming the Storm—Cheyenne's Journey

by Cheyenne Reed

When horse and rider meet unpleasant weather conditions, your ride can go one of two ways. The first is more of a hang-on-for-dear-life tactic  as your horse reacts to all the changes in his environment. The second is to persist with as much normality for your workout as possible through mutual trust, assuming  your role as the leader, and most importantly staying relaxed in the saddle.

When I arrived to my lesson this day, dark grey clouds rolled in casting an ominous shadow on the arena, and the wind was rather harsh, kicking up quite a bit of dust. Can you guess which of the two ways my ride took the direction of?

Under the amazing coaching of my trainer Barbara, my lesson took the turn towards controlled and relaxed, despite the difficulty the wind brought about. There were a few moments that could have gone so much worse than they did, but by using  circles and focusing my horse's—and my own—attention to the task at hand we got  through the first portion of our ride and ultimately the entire lesson—with that “winning feeling”.

Moon and I both started out pretty nervous and when he began to jump at something, I don't think my response was as smooth as it could  have been, but slowly we worked out the bumps and found our trust in each other, developing more softness as the lesson progressed.

It's this lesson that made me thankful for the method of lunge line training that had  created the solid foundation of my seat! (don't tell my trainer though... she might just put me back on if she hears that!) Having control of your horse really does depend on having complete control and softness of your own body to be able to clearly communicate with your horse through even the slightest movement or cue.

Towards the end of the lesson we were doing quite a bit of trot and canter work on the rail. I tried to be as in control of my body as much possible in order to be able to feel any small change in my horse. The moment he would tense up when something caught his eye, I'd drop my heels down, relax the reins slightly, and  still keep contact and control. Then I'd apply more pressure in my seat and focus on forward movement—instead of what my instincts told me to do: grip the reins, pull back and becoming an immovable, stiff brick in the saddle.

I'll be honest, I wasn't thrilled when the storm rolled in right before my lesson. I had the mentality that  “well we won't be able to accomplish a lot today”. As it turned out, I think we accomplished more that day  than we would have on any other bright, sunny and calm day. Weather and wind doesn't have to stop me or cause problems, even when  on a reactive horse! I was able  to utilize it as a learning and training tool for both me and Moon. Both of us had to be fully aware of each other and put the distraction aside. The environment was only an obstacle and a challenge to make my ride a little tougher, simply forcing  me to exercise some of my weaknesses until they were made into strengths. I can't make the storm change, but I can make my ride change to overcome the storm.