A Place of Peace – Putting the steps together

(a quick reminder- Need two more bookings by 31/3/14 for the TTEAM clinic to go ahead.  Booking forms now available for TTEAM and Connected Riding Clinics under “Upcoming Events”)

In the last few months I’ve attended a a Farah DeJohnette – Waterhole Rituals clinic, a TTEAM clinic with Robyn Hood, two Connected Riding clinics with Peggy Cummings, watched Portugese Working Equitation World Champion, Pedro Neves, give lessons and a one day clinic, gone to watch Ian Leighton give a demo, and had a lesson with Steve Halfpenny.  Plus of course my regular sessions with my neighbour, Jenny Pearce, where we discuss the ideas, observations and theories, that I am encountering and ways to put them into practice that fits with my philosophy.

The theme which keeps coming up is how to ask our horses to release the excess tension in their necks, which then allows them to lift their base and then their back, bringing their hindquarters more under them, engaging the “motor” without a “flat tyre”.  There are many many techniques to help you and your horse achieve those goals.

However, after a couple of lessons last week with Noora Enqvist, I feeI I have a new appreciation of the subtleties involved, how vital Clarity and Precision can be in helping my horses find “The Place of Peace”.  Noora helped me to use skills and techniques I already know with a much deeper awareness of being in my peaceful place and from there helping the horse find theirs.

We started with my mare Mimi, who many of you have met.  She is an extremely sensitive person, a princess, a Drama Queen, inclined to go easily into a tizz, and yet be so connected and with me in many situations.  Noora had worked out her personality in seconds, and astutely pointed out “she is deeply connected to you and is happy in a state of relaxation, but as soon as you add movement to this, it’s like she doesn’t know how to do anything else but fizz up.” (Noora also commented the tension that created tended to make Mimi think it was going to hurt, and that created its own viscous circle). “She needs to find a way to be in her place of peace (comfort zone) in movement as well.”

 It was such a delight to watch Noora in action and then be guided by her, through some very simple exercises (eg a simple flexion of the neck, taking a step to the side, stepping to the outside and then forward) These fitted in perfectly with the other modalities I am learning and were addressing the same themes.  But the emphasis was always on my awareness of my own emotional centre and from there my horse’s and the flow of energy between us.  Was the horse just doing the movements or did it flow?  It didn’t look like we did much at all, but the profound difference in Mimi I found extremely satisfying to be a part of.

Zen and Phantom relaxed in a Place of Peace and Contentment

Zen and Phantom relaxed in a Place of Peace and Contentment

A few days later I visited friends north of Melbourne and we had a TTEAM CR Practice Day with them.  While I was waiting to start I was Sharing Territory with Zen and Phantom, who’d gone with me.  We were all in that contemplative, almost meditative, state

while they were eating their hay, and I was happily hanging out with them.  And it struck me that this deep feeling is The Place of Peace.  During the day I was very conscious of every time either I, Phantom, or the other horses left that space.  If it was me, I brought my awareness back into my core, dealing with any emotions or physical reasons for “losing it”.  If it was a horse, I checked myself, then applied whatever technique felt appropriate to bring them back too.

Contemplation of Zen

Contemplation of Zen

It was amazing to see how much quicker the horses came back, how smoothly the work flowed.

On Monday I shared the same work for our Practice Day at Mayflower Ridge, just adding some of the obstacles from the Working Equitation I had watched.  (Last week Simone and I tried the formation riding with only two, its so much fun and Sirocco and Phantom are starting to be more comfortable closer to each other, though not knocking stirrup irons yet). I was very impressed at how calmly all the horses were working.  Was it from our discussion of being in a place of Peace, the Fern exercise (see below for my version), or doing the simple work that Noora had shown me with Mimi, which I did on Helen and Sirocco, and then Quita and Simone had a go too?

 It’s hard to explain why I feel so excited by my new understanding of concepts I’ve been working with for so many years, I guess it’s that “Parfait” thing Donkey talks about in Shrek  :-D.   So far, a week later, I have been applying this to each horse I’ve handled, even the foal, Salem.  I wish there had been a video camera filming yesterday, Mimi stayed super relaxed and calm right from leading up on the four wheel bike, and for everything I asked of her.  It was all small simple things, but already we are doing more than last week’s lesson and no Tizz.  Will was waiting for his turn and during it I realised that although I wasn’t feeling any Not Quite Rights when he did his usual ?habitual? fidgeting, I also didn’t have a feeling of being in my place of Peace.  So on refinding that for both of us, he was able to stand relaxed and still, not chew the rope, not nibble on me or anything else, for a few minutes at a time.   Those who know Will will realise this was HUGE for him.  Again something we can build on.  Interestingly his main “difficulty” was I had to show him that just doing the movement was not what I am now looking for, without the flow of our mutual connection, we hadn’t done it……  I didn’t get pedantic about this, tried a couple of times then did something else, but he appeared to be thinking this new demanding concept through, and it seemed to be helping him find his place of peace too.

Stewie and Salem,  best of friends

Stewie and Salem,
best of friends

Fern Exercise  (an Alexander Exercise learned from Peggy Cummings)                                          this is helpful for people who have very hollow backs, relieving stress in shoulders                and lower back.  You can do this on the horse as well, can help if you are feeling tired.

Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your legs at right angles, feet flat on floor.  Picture a new fern frond and curl your head and neck forward and down as if you were curling up just like that fern.  It may help to place your fingertips on the bottom of your ribs at the front and feel like you are collapsing over your hands, remember each body only goes as far as it is comfortable for it to go.  In this curled position think what do you usually feel when you are stretching your lower back, is there a difference between one side and the other?  If your lower back was a stamppad would you be able to press it behind you a tiny bit from here?

Slowly begin to come up, starting from your coccyx (tailbone), letting your head feel very light as if it is floating up like air, or maybe a helium balloon, easily without effort.  Don’t think anything just feel open and light.

How do you feel now, compared to at the start?  Pause, sometimes you can feel this still working for a few minutes, maybe shut your eyes.

Imagine a diagonal line between the middle of your sternum (breastbone) and the lower ribs at the back or your sacrum, place the edge of a hand on each place to feel that diagonal more clearly.  Think of expanding between your hands, don’t attempt to make anything happen.  Perhaps imagine blowing up a brand new balloon, does that help?  Gently float forward from your hips one degree, think upwards from the top of your head – do you feel longer, elongated inside yourself, up and down? Can you just think it?  Do you look toward the horizon or up or down?

Stand up.  Do you feel lighter, heavier?

Sit down and Curl forward again., feel your legs can stay wide apart.  This time as you uncurl, imagine you are a sponge which was tightly squeezed and is now very slowly refilling from the bottom up.  The top of your head is the very last thing to come upright.  SLOWLY and very very LIGHT.

The next time you uncurl imagine your are unfolding up against a wall behind you, keeping your back upright.  Pause at any place you feel “stuck”, slightly curl back a little if needed until you feel how to keep from leaning back or to keep the movement sequential.  Keep thinking in a forward direction but keeping your back upright and open.

The last time as you are curled forward – feel if you can get a little taller in your armpits?  Imagine a slight stamppad behind you or “lift the elevator of the belly button”, feel how you lengthen in your neck as you straighten up, remember to allow your shoulders to melt downwards particularly if you have a tendancy to hold them up 🙂

Let me know if this exercis is beneficial for you, I love getting feedback!

Hope you find more layers of your Parfait this week too




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