Riding is an art. The greatest enemy of art is hurry ─ the driving force behind which is to reach a goal, achieve or possess a finished product. In riding this can be a dressage score or ribbon, trophy or some other achievement. While there is nothing wrong with valuing such achievements, they are by-products and in and of themselves are not necessarily a measure of success.
“Art is long, life is short” -- Loa Tzu
Tai Chi and meditation for better riding
What we do on the ground we do in the saddleBeing balanced is most effectively achieved on the ground.
The essence of Loa Tzu’s quote is that art cannot be hurried just like your partnership with your horse. The training of an art form is made up of fundamental practices taught step by step. While the steps may be different, the process is the same whether that art is riding, painting or Tai Chi. These practices are meant to develop a student’s skill through experience; and through experience develop a state of ‘no hurry,’ being absolutely present in every moment.
Being conscious and present in every moment, time slows down. With mastery time actually disappears into an experience of ‘no time.’ It is in this state of expanded awareness that feel and sensitivity are increased. Most of us have experienced this, usually while engaged in a joyful activity and when we look at the clock we say ‘where has the time gone?’
The practice of an art taught step by step leads the student into a state of ‘no hurry’ which opens the door to the state of ‘no time.’ In this state of awareness, patience is no longer required, there is no hurry.
The difference between practicing patience and being in a state of ‘no hurry’ can be likened to the difference between being balanced and keeping your balance. When I am not balanced, I have to keep my balance; when I am in a hurry, I have to practice patience. Balance and ‘no hurry’ are achieved by being present, in the now. In this state of awareness riding becomes a vibrant moving meditation shared between horse and rider, the essence of being one. It seems counter intuitive but by slowing down, thinking less and not caring as much, one can achieve more, sooner and with greater understanding.
Being balanced involves three dimensional movement in harmony with the forces of the horse and of gravity so that on the outside the rider appears still relative to the movement of the horse. The primary principal of this method is to receive and redirect the power of the horse into and through our skeleton. This is accomplished by incorporating the three planes of movement in the pelvis.
In traditional riding methods we are taught to keep our balance in only 2 dimensions, like scales that are counter weighted, balancing front to back (one dimension) and side to side (second dimension). This is very limited and relies on strength and tension, contracting the muscles of the abdomen to hold the center still. Holding the center still in this way deals with the front to back dimension of keeping balance while the side to side balance is usually managed by pushing down into the stirrups and/or leaning side to side in the upper body.
Tai Chi and Meditation for better riding
Taking the time to learn to connect to yourself and to the horse creates a state of being absolutely present in the moment. In this state the riders feel and sensitivity are increased.
Using principles from Tai Chi we can learn to re-train the body and refine the movements required to be balanced. We train the heart to open, the mind to be still, the breath to be down and the center to expand and move more not less. The result is harmonious, effortless riding where horse and rider can become one whole on every level in every moment. Becoming present to our breath is the first step and further increases our conscious awareness in every moment. Through this increased awareness moments seem to get longer, this is the doorway to ‘no time’ and the art of riding.
When we develop this level of awareness through daily practice we can become aware of the three elements that are essential for any change in direction, gait or tempo. These are: timing, rider’s weight distribution and rider’s position. When these three elements change in the same moment, the change is effortless for horse and rider, riding becomes the balanced, connected, harmonious dance we all dream of.
International riding clinician, author and lecturer James Shaw has been a student of martial arts for over 30 years. Based on the principals of Internal Martial and healing arts, Ba Qua and Tai Chi, James has created his unique rider training program ‘Ride from Within’. He has been teaching his methods for over 20 years to riders of all levels and disciplines with great success. James teaches a new paradigm and presents a new understanding and application of biomechanics to the riding world. For more information on this ground breaking work and for clinic dates contact James at www.ridefromwithin.com