Today K gave me my first lesson in long reining. Well, actually it was my second, but the first was a few years ago in Switzerland when Little Love was a completely different horse. She was already an amazing teacher then, but today she was unbelievably patient and just the right amount of demanding to really give me a good lesson.
At first, all my old riding insecurities came flooding back. It is amazing how distorted we can get our hands and our bodies when we are a bit out of our element. I think, for me, a lot of it comes from not being 100% present when I get insecure like that. But once I realized this was happening, I was able to bring myself back into the moment. This didn't immediately correct all my mistakes, of course, but it gave me the ability to feel what was going on and be more aware of what my mistakes were. Awareness is always the first step in improvement, so I was quite happy to be able to achieve even that today.
Long reining is interesting - in a way it is easier than riding, because you don't have to worry about your own imbalances as much or that you are hurting the horse's back with your errors. But on the other hand, you have to be much more aware of your positioning (the horse doesn't just carry you along with her no matter what) and your balance and intention play a vital role in helping to work out a language of communication with the horse.
In the beginning, my difficulties came largely from my inability to make requests, adjustments, and corrections with my hands in a subtle and gentle way. In terms of pressure and release, my pressure in asking for something (like leg yield or a halt, for example) was too heavy and my release too big. This has always been a problem for me in riding as well. As I'm writing this, I'm trying to think of a good analogy: I guess in a way it would be like talking to a friend in a low whisper until I ask them to do something for me and then I would start to yell immediately. This is not how we communicate with other humans, and we shouldn't do so with horses either. I realize it's important for me to work out a language with Little Love so that with the least amount of pressure possible, she would get a clear signal of what I am asking for. The "pressure" should be just that: a signal, a way of communicating, not an effort to physically manipulate or force. And then once she has gotten the message and started on the requested action, I need to keep the contact (not throw it away completely) in order to support her and continue the communication throughout the requested action and into the next one. All easier said than done :-) but, again, awareness is the first step.
I really enjoyed the long reining, although I did feel guilty because I'm afraid I put too much pressure on Little Love's face in trying to get myself coordinated. (She was actually rubbing her nose on her leg when we went to take the bridle off - poor thing! :-( ). I remember when I was trying to learn to ride dressage, the joy I would get from a few good steps at sitting trot - it felt like dancing with the horse. In the few good moments we achieved today, I got a similar feeling - and I see that kind of "dance" between Little Love and K when they are long reining. It's a beautiful site!
In the end today, I think we got a few good walk-halt transitions and a few good steps of leg yield with exactly the kind of subtle communication I am working on learning. I was happy and can't wait to practice more so that I can get better and hopefully Little Love will start to enjoy long reining with me as much as I see her enjoy it with K. Thanks Lilo for being a great and patient teacher!