LIGHTNESS AND MORE LIGHTNESS...
I've spent twenty five years being interested in the mysteries of riding with lightness. I have explored and pursued and questioned and wondered about it, I have been inspired by the possibilities and by seeing some of the great masters riding with absolute lightness and I have been uplifted by those moments when you have 600 kilos of flight animal, all muscle, sinew and power beneath you and under your 'control' with nothing more than the weight of the reins on your hands.
Well, the thing I have noticed all along is that, with increased knowledge, feel and skill one can get things to be even lighter. Training the horse to be supple and responsive is half the job, maybe not even half the job, and the other half of the job - the part I'm interested in at the moment, is the part we as riders can play in creating true lightness, soft feel or whatever you want to call it.
Can I just say that for some years I was happily riding around thinking I had a 'soft feel' or lightness but actually that was just me riding on a loose 'freestyle' rein and with inneffective legs and that was not quite what I talking about here. What I am talking about here is the horse willingly lengthening and shortening his frame, increasing and decreasing his stride and collection all with a good balance and form and still maintaining that magical essence of lightness.
So, what part do we play in it? How do we improve the lightness between us and our horse - without just giving away the contact?
I think it was a quote from Nuno Oliviera something about 'you cannot expect the horse to be free from contractions unless you are free from contractions yourself.' That's not an easy thing to do on a moving herbivore, especially when you throw all the physical tensions that arise from our own desires and human ambitions into the mix.
One of the keys along the way was discovering the Alexander Technique via the late great Danny Pevsner FBHS and how we can release our body parts internally at will which in turn releases the horse. That kept me busy for a good decade and still does on a daily basis whilst I ride. It showed me that conscious control/ release of our own joints gives the horse the space he needs to shape himself and to grow and move in a more optimum and easy way... what fun!!!
More recently I have experimented with taking this idea of being free from contractions to another level. I have a horse at home who works beautifully and lightly but when tense or working at her 'edge' she will open her mouth a little and twist the bit around, her trot is amazing but gets a tiny bit lumpy etc and I wanted to find a way to help the horse not to have to do this. So I rode thinking of nothing - NOTHING - but the internal release of my hands and wrists so they were completely 'empty.' It took a lot of concentration to only keep that one thing in mind whilst riding but the result was fascinating and fantastic.
The next stage on from the empty -100% empty- hands thing was the thought 'what happens if I do the same thing with my legs?' I already ride with almost totally passive legs and have done since the early 1990s, but what I was into here was total freedom of the internal joints of the legs - ankle, knee and hip. Again not easy on a moving herbivore in all three gaits (four gaits if you include Passage). The result was another ten or twenty percent improved carriage in the horse, but what is most exciting is the quality of the gaits themselves - the trot and canter in particluar have transformed into more expressive more powerful, expressive and more elastic movements which are simultaneously loads easier to sit on... and bigger! YEEHAH!!!