In yesterday’s post, I talked about how I teach.  Those of you with a background in Centered Riding, and those of you who are fans of Jane Savoie may have noticed that I mentioned nothing about visualization.

It wasn’t an oversight.  I know that there are riders who learn by seeing and imagining. I feel I can help the first group much more than I can help the second group.

I do demonstrate things, for those who need to see how something is supposed to look.  I’ll show riders how I want their hands to look, by putting my own in position.  I demonstrate posture.  And I’m happy to hop on a horse to show riders what I’m looking for, and what their horses can do, although I seldom get asked to by students who don’t have their horses in training with me. I think that’s good, because what matters is how they can ride their own horses, not how I can.

Every month, I get my copy of Dressage Today in the mail, and every month, I look at the last page, where the visualization feature appears.  They call it “solutions,” but it’s all about imagining things.  I don’t know why they don’t call it “imagine,” but I guess I’m too literal minded.

“Imagine your transitions as snowflakes,” instructed the September issue. It’s hard for me to move past this phrase to get to what I imagine is the heart of the instruction, because I am unable to imagine my transitions as snowflakes.  I just can’t do it.  I’ve tried. I just can’t.  Snowflakes have nothing to do with my body, my aids and how the horse responds.  At least not in a way that makes any sense to me.

DT’s September solution goes on to say that the snowflakes that are supposedly your transitions move gracefully as they drift down and come to rest.  Well, again I’m lost in the land of the literal.  I don’t want my horse to drift down and come to rest, whether he’s doing a transition or not.  Really, I don’t.  Not until my horse is ready to say goodbye to the world, and then I say, go ahead and drift down and come to rest.  Rest in peace.  Until then, I want some activity. Hopefully, more than a snowflake.  Even during transitions.

I’ve tried Jane Savoie, too.  I’m not knocking her.  I know she’s helped lots of people and tons of new people discover her and love her every day.  I think that’s great.  I do.  But I don’t think my horse spooks because I’m not visualizing him as a battering ram. I think if he’s spooking, he’s not on my aids.  Or maybe he has Lyme Disease.

The hypothalamus

I don’t avoid thinking about what might go wrong when I’m on or around horses.  In fact, it’s always there in the back of my mind (or rather, my hypothalamus).  It’s what leads me to advise my students not to walk in front of their horses.  I’m not surprised by anything a horse can do, because I’ve seen it all, and I’m ready for it all. I’ve had some pretty intelligent and feisty horses that have sharpened my skills.  Being aware of what can go wrong and having a lot of ways of handling anything that can happen is what gives me confidence as a rider, and I think it gives the horses I train confidence as well.

I sound more sensible than I am, though, because I decided that the week before Christmas was a great time to re-arrange the bookshelf that houses the majority of my equine and equitation library.  It was fun to rediscover some books I hadn’t read in a while, and move them to my bedside table. And it was time to cull the books that I never want to read again.

With some hesitation, I took Sally Swift’s Centered Riding off the shelf.  The orange burst on the cover exclaims “Over 150,000 in print,” which gives you an idea of how long I’ve had it.  When I bought it, St. Martin’s Press had hardly made a dent in the over three-quarters of a million copies that have been sold to date.

The book is a classic.  People love it.  Could I really — should I really — consider getting rid of it?  I couldn’t make the decision without opening it and seeing if it resonated for me now, even though it never had before.  The book fell open to page 59.  That’s the one with the illustration of the paraplegic on the horse.  The rider pictured does have a lovely position, despite the fact that he is missing legs.  The caption says, “Imagine that your legs have been cut off just above the knee and you are riding with thighs only.”

Okay, now — imagine that your legs have been cut off just above the knee? Seriously? That might work for some people, but it sure doesn’t work for me. I’m sorry, I just don’t want to imagine that.  I don’t.  I really don’t.  And if I try to, I find the experience horrible.  The last thing I can or want to imagine is having my legs cut off.  I don’t want to imagine riding with my legs cut off either.  I’d rather imagine riding like Kathy Kusner.

Not to mention the fact that, if my legs had, in factbeen cut off just above the knee, imagining riding with my thighs only wouldn’t top my list of mental activities.  To me, it’s all too gruesome.  I can’t imagine telling one of my students to imagine that her legs had been cut off.  Especially one of my young students.

But, as my mother used to say, “to each his own.” And I have to concur. What works for some people just doesn’t work for others.  I admire Sally Swift and her contribution to riding instruction, and I’m really happy that it works for people.  I just can’t teach that way.  So I’ll happily put all thoughts of amputation out of my head and think about how best to use my calves while I ride.  And help my students do the same.

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