Monday, July 6, 2009

Ladies Bring Their Riding Britches

Andy offered his first riding clinic to women believing that women find a certain comfort in being with one another and therefore, the group itself becomes an inherently supportive and advantageous learning environment. He also wanted the clinic participants to know that, while it would be a safe learning environment, they would also be put to work. He advertised his Women’s Only Riding Clinic by saying: “Bring your riding britches because this is going to be a riding clinic.” And that’s just what this intrepid group of ladies did for three full days.

It all began in the round pen first thing Friday morning with a discussion and demonstration of the active parts of a horse and the technical aspects of how to move them. In order to know how to change movement and behavior in the horse, the rider must understand how the horse moves and why. After demonstrating these dynamic movements in a horse and how to train them, Andy analyzed each rider in the round pen and in the arena. Each participant was video-taped while riding providing each rider with an understanding of what skills they needed to focus on during the remainder of the clinic. Some of the focal points included rein management, focused guidance, and correct seat and leg position. Once participants were able to see themselves actually riding their learning easily took a leap to the next level.

Even in the rain Friday afternoon, the ladies continued with drills to work on guiding their horse and building consistency in their position whether in a turn or during a transition from a walk to a trot, from a walk to a lope. The work was challenging because the skill of riding is a complex one, especially when the rider must know exactly what to communicate to the horse and at the same time keeping track of what she is doing in the saddle, with her reins, and with her legs. It is a pure multi-tasking challenge.

The second day, the sun came out and stayed as participants worked on walking through obstacles in the arena in preparation of their trail ride Sunday morning. From tarps to jumps to backing through the L, everyone worked on making their horse comfortable and correct through each challenge.

On Saturday night participants gathered around for a grilled salmon dinner and had a chance to relax and visit with one another and friends. The evening allowed for the camaraderie that had begun to develop to settle in and the talk of horses, trail rides, and hopes for continued develop as riders circled the shade beneath the aspens.

Sunday morning’s trail ride took riders through brush, up and down hillsides, over logs, down ravines, and through chest-deep water. Both horse and riders were challenged by the natural obstacles found out on the trail as well as a stray yearling steer or two. In fact, just as they began their return, a group of yearlings sat at the gate waiting to be brought back home. So through the gate the riders and yearlings went. Watching from the front lawn I watched as both the sure and the tentative participants eagerly brought the yearlings to home ground.

By the end of the day Sunday afternoon, horses and riders gradually headed for their trailers. The walk was slow but somehow sated. The body and the mind had both worked and run free: had faced fears, frustration and confusion and also delighted in the mastery of a new skill, a horse running freely under saddle, and the satisfaction in the horse and rider successfully herding cattle. With reins in hand, riders headed home.

Had they experienced a deeper sense of connection to a powerful partner? Had they felt a deeper connection to self? Had they come across a part of their selves yet undiscovered? I can’t help but think so, for our relationships are our teachers, whether it’s with a horse, a child, a pet, a partner, a family member. Others reflect back to us what we cannot see. When a horse is confused or afraid or simply young, the rider as observer has the opportunity to stand back and understand his dilemma. In doing so, she too, comes to understand how fear, confusion, and naiveté challenge learning and mastery and in doing so her view and own personal experience as a learner is enlarged.

Andy’s next clinic is a Beginning Cutting and Working Cowhorse Clinic, July 24-26, 2009. Please see our website for further details.

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