On the Longe Line- Light Hands

Since the rider should strive to keep his torso
Imperturbably stable
No matter what,
The shifts of weight
Should be done by a mere displacement of the pelvis…

The lateral tippings of the pelvis
Should not alter in the least
The horizontal setting of the line of the shoulders
And its fore and aft rotations
should not change the general inclinations of the torso.
This is most important.

Page 12 Another Horsemanship
By Jean-Claude Racinet

As you may have gathered by now, I am asking for what most people consider an unusual degree of kinesthetic awareness of your own body and of the horse. It is an essential degree of self-awareness if you wish to truly ride with the horse, not just sit on it, and is part of my attraction to the ba gau school of martial arts (click here).

Students must learn
To feel their bodies
By awakening their nervous systems
At the same time
They must do their best to shut off
visualizations of their body.
Once the nervous system has been awakened
He can simultaneously visualize his body
and still be able to feel it
but if he engages in visualization
during the first few months of practice
his mind will only make mental pictures
of his body
and he will never be able to really feel it

Page 219, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang
by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

While you can work towards this degree of responsiveness on your own, time on the longe line is invaluable as it allows you to focus on nothing but following the horse’s movements with your body.

The Challenge

When you can sit comfortably on the horse at all three gaits in both directions, letting the horse lift you up smoothly and following them closely as they drop back down, you can test yourself by:

• Sitting all three gaits in both directions with your eyes closed
• Chalking the inside surface of your boots and sitting all three gaits and the halt.
• Holding a full plastic champagne glass in each hand throughout the ride.
• Sliding a small piece of paper (a dollar bill works great) between each thigh and the saddle

Once you have the reins, you will need to be able to do all of these at once and more, so there is no harm in giving that a try now. You are ready for the next step:

When the champagne glass is as full at the end of the ride as at the beginning,
when the papers are still in place when you are finished,
when your chalk marks are clean and clear,
when you are as balanced and comfortable with your eyes closed as open,
when you are at ease hopping off and landing on your feet at every gait in both directions

If you truly wish light hands, you need to be able to maintain your balance from the waist down in all circumstances, training yourself NEVER to grab hold with your hands for balance even during the most extreme positions and situations. Your body must be entrained to react unthinkingly to regain its balance from below, and to trust that security comes from your seat and legs. Our instinctive human monkey mind takes some serious convincing to get this concept reliably and actually put it into practice consistently so practice regaining and maintaining your balance from below and the independent movement of your upper body at all three gaits by:

• Leaning forward, resting your forehead on the horse’s neck
• Leaning back and resting your head on the horse’s croup
• Turning sidewise, looking into and then away from the circle
• With your arms out to the sides
• Above your head
• Behind your back
• On your hips
• Touch the horses tail with one hand and/or
• Touch the horse’s poll with one hand while
• Facing forward
• Facing to either side
• Looking backward
• Leaning forward and touching your boot toes
• On the same side
• On the opposite side
• Lifting your knees above the saddle pommel and/or
• Lifting your heels until you can touch them with one hand and/or
• One knee forward and one heel backward at the same time while touching with:

• the same side hand
• the opposite side hand

Yep, I am saying that your should be able to lie back and touch your head to your horse’s croup and sit up at the canter without using your arms or moving your lower legs. And yep, that demands tremendous amount of strength and control in the core abdominal muscles. You need to be able to use the full strength of the particular muscle required for a particular move WITHOUT engaging any that are unnecessary, while maintaining your balance so as not to disturb the horse. Even more importantly, your body learns to trust that the horse will carry you along, faithfully and steadily, no matter your position.

Then you can try Fire Palm exercises (click here) while walking and trotting, synchronizing your arm movements with the movements of the horse’s shoulders:

• the horse’s shoulder blade rotates forward as the horse pushes off the ground
• so your arm drops down
• the horse’s shoulder blade rotates backwards as the leg reaches forward
• so your arm reaches up

Since the canter is a three beat leaping gait, it is a little more difficult to synchronize your hand movements with the front legs, but it is well trying.

More Challenges

As always, if you feel you need a challenge, get out your plastic champagne glasses, and if plain old water is not good enough, try filling them with bubbly. Beer or (cheap) champagne will foam over and let you know if your hand movements are too abrupt while doing the movements. Then test yourself by practicing your gait changes and arm movements while you complete the full array of exercises at all three gaits.:

• Holding a full plastic champagne glass in each hand
• with your eyes closed

• without stirrups
• with stirrups

• with any and all combinations of the above

You are ready for the next step:

  • When the champagne glass is as full at the end of the ride as at the beginning,
  • when you are as balanced and comfortable with your eyes closed as open,

Practice until your reactions are automatic.Then you are ready to approach the next step, to discover how to ask the horse to take a particular gait; and even how to moderate their expression of that gait strictly with your seat, without using your hands.

Regardless of your thoughts and feelings about your efforts and progress, praise your trusty steed and thank your handler at the end of the line as often as you can, take a break and rest often, be sure to laugh along the way, and generally enjoy yourself. Frustration and self-loathing only slow your progress down, and they are an insult to your horse. Your horse will appreciate your cheer and goodwill greatly, and a happy horse is the most important indication you are headed down the right path.

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