Monday, January 3, 2011

Mental exercises for the physically unfit

I say "ppphhhhllllbbbttttttt" to exercise.

FarmWife may have failed in her duty when it comes to caloric monitoring, but one thing I can say for her is that she knows how to exercise a fatty—gently, and with care. She knows that it should take me a month or more to get fit, and that we can have a nice gallop in February or March. She isn't going to rush me back into this business of surmounting precipitous slopes and plunging down rocky trails, for she would rather have a sound chub than a damaged one.

FarmWife and I had a lovely ride yesterday, and part of what made it so nice is that she thought of all sorts of fun mental games we could play. I'm not talkin' about 20 questions or the animal guessing game–instead, she identified my weak areas and found physically comfortable ways for me to work on them.

Most undersaddle problems, in my opinion and in FarmWife's, have one or more of three root causes: incorrect riding, incorrect training, or incorrect conditioning. One of my biggest problems is a lack of lateral responsiveness (that is, I only respond to directional rein signals when I feel like it, and I will not move laterally off the leg if it kills me). FarmWife can neck rein me or turn me down the trail with a feather touch  if it's the trail I want to go down, but if it isn't I become as wobbly as a fish and as stiff as a board—all at the same time! If I really want to ignore a direct rein, I will brace my neck, twist my jaw, and flop my tongue out under my snaffle. FarmWife knows that it takes two to pull, but her throwing the reins back to me is no solution to this problem.

Yesterday, FW simplified the matter. 1) What does Fenway brace against? The bit. She removed my bit, and put me in a well-fitted bosal. 2) What does Fenway need to do in response to a direct rein? Turn. She decided to teach me that a low opening rein (towards her knee, if you will) means Turn, and Turn Now. She pulled firmly enough to elicit an immediate response, and reinforced this behavior by giving me back my head the moment my nose came 'round to her knee. Within ten tries, I was turning more consistently and with better balance than I've ever done. 3) What does her lower leg behind the girth mean? Step away. She followed this opening rein aid with her lower leg behind the girth once she was getting a consistent response, and I learned to step under with my inside hind leg (that is, taking a big step away from her leg).

Here's the thing about these exercises—FW doesn't know if this stuff is "correct" in terms of what a trainer might have her work on, but FarmWife knows what she needs from me in order to have fun. She needs my head to follow her rein, and my body to follow my head. She needs a fast response to a light aid, much like the good "whoa" that comes so naturally. She needs me to know that her leg is to be respected, and that it can mean "go sideways" as well as "go forward." Yesterday, I'd say I came a good deal closer to meeting those needs. By the time we got back from our one hour walk, I was steering like a champ and listening to FarmWife more than ever.

Yours in perpetual learning,
After the ride—do I look any slimmer?

1 comment:

  1. I see a difference. You look a little more muscled and a little less portly.


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