Ribbon Riding Your Horse with the Surfer's Mindset.
When training horses, one of the most pivotal principles is establishing a connection early on in each training session. It's similar to surfing in more ways than you might think. Just as a surfer must be in tune with the waves and the ocean's rhythm, so must a rider be attuned to their horse's every move, breath, and emotion. The mindset shared by both accomplished riders and big wave surfers is one of unwavering focus, presence, and flow.
In the world of horse training, it's tempting to rush through sessions, checking off tasks and moving hastily from one exercise to the next. However, without establishing a connection in your warm-up, these hurried efforts are merely building on shaky ground. The key is to offer your horse a BASE you can build from. This involves slowing down, immersing oneself in the present moment, and allowing your horse time to warm up, let go of environmental worry, and relax into a session.
When I warm up a horse, I want to clear my mind and allow my experience and body to respond to the horse. A common challenge among riders is the constant mental chatter: evaluating every step, comparing today's session with yesterday's, or being clouded with preconceived notions about specific breeds and disciplines. This incessant overthinking, especially among dedicated equestrians, often becomes a hindrance.
At my Horsemanship Camp 4 Invitational, I recently drew a parallel between the warm-up phase with a horse and the mindset of a surfer confronting massive waves. A surfer won’t surf well if they are swamped with doubts or evaluating their every move. Instead, they're deeply connected to the energy and pulse of the ocean. They respond instinctively, in real-time, moving with the wave, not against it.
They feel and respond. This reminds me of a piece of advice from an old mentor, Ronnie Willis: "Do your feeling during the day with your horse and your thinking at night." For me, that means not to think about what I'm thinking while it's happening.
On your next ride, take about 25 minutes to warm up at a medium trot. Make occasional transitions to walk and right back to trot, focusing on nice, large bending loops and circles in both directions around the entire area you're in. Vary the flexion but not too compressed, and allow a good stretch near the 20-minute mark. It's not about tiring a horse but allowing proper warm-up time. Don't do endless 20-meter circles in one flexion while looking at your phone.
During this time, push past overthinking and observe your horse through the different emotions and reactions to the environment they will have. I call this "ribbon riding," as I envision a nicely laid, loopy ribbon all around the arena.
Notice little things like your horse unclenching its jaw, maintaining a consistent rhythm, and even smaller things like a slower blink of an eye or ears that gently flop. When I feel like we're in sync and the breathing is rhythmic, I know this is the foundation from which I'll build the session.
Try this once, then for seven days, and then in every warm-up forever. Allow that time to come together with your horse with a clear mind and some time.
I'd be thrilled to hear your experiences and the outcomes of these sessions. To all my 'Open Field' members, please share your videos. And for those contemplating joining our community, I would love to see you in Open Field. This membership offers a wealth of content and great discussions, all within a supportive environment. Give it a whirl and feel the difference it makes for you and for your horse!
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