Are We There Yet?

(Riders) must also recognize
The simple fact that
There are no perfect human beings.
We are so far from perfect
That if there ever are any perfect humans
We probably won’t recognize each other
As the same species.
Trying to be perfect can lead to insanity,
And striving for perfection
In (horsemanship) can make
(Horse and rider) crazier than a bedbug.
In (horsemanship) practices
It is essential to recognize
When you are doing your best
and leave it at that.
Perfection is not an option.

In the back of my readers minds I can hear the persistent whispering question of ‘and just how long will it take to develop my seat?’ Once, again I find the advice of the ba gua practitioners (above) applies to both horse and rider. Giving up on perfection allows you enjoy the process even while you take note of the physiological time constraints that indicate it takes about a hundred hours of practice to set the neurological patterns and at least another hundred to build a solid foundation of the physical structures, the connective tissue, muscles, and circulation up, so that your body is able to maintain its efforts without exhaustion and/or injury. Those time constraints on horseback will be eased if you have invested time in the preparatory exercises on the ground and if you integrate their practice into your everyday life (click here). It is worth investing the time because:

‘Without a rooted (seat)*
To support every move
(Dressage)* is an
Empty and bad dance form
And its practitioners
Will never be free from
Stiff off-balance steps
That cause movements
Or (riding)* techniques to fail.

How long it takes to establish such a resilient supple responsive foundation by the calendar depends on how you organize your time.

• For most people, figure on at least a year, assuming that life goes on around your riding sessions and that there will be times when you can ride every day and times when you will not be able to get to your horse at all.
• If you have a deadline ahead and an open schedule now, you can fit in several 15-20 minute sessions a day, gradually extending your time in the saddle, and have a solid basis in about 6 months. It is best to have an educated experienced outside eye coaching you through such an intense push as the risk of injury, burning yourself and/or your horse out, and/or entraining habits you do not want is high. Rest is part of the physiological conditioning process as well, so do not overdo it.
• If you can only ride once a week, you will have to focus when you do ride and concentrate on the preparatory exercises. Intense emotion does speed up the entraining process, so even if you have very little time, the intensity of how much you want to ride well will affect how you progress.

Regardless of how often you ride, remember that you can and must learn to maintain your balance, staying centered and responsive every time you sit, stand or move about. While time on the longe line is great for gaining a bodily memory of how it should feel when you are in balance with your horse, each rider must find their own way to maintain a securely balanced stance, rooting themselves while in constant movement no matter where they are or what they are doing. With this foundation you will be able to strive for the finesse that allows you to both listen to and communicate with your horse.

‘The strictest watch must be kept
that each force which acts separately
does not put other forces in action;
that is to say,
that the movement of the arms
does not influence the shoulders;
it should be the same with the thighs,
with respect to the body;
the legs, with respect to the thighs, etc., etc.
The displacement and suppling of
each part separately,
being obtained,
the chest and seat will be temporarily displaced,
in order to teach the rider to recover
his proper position without assistance.

Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).
New Method of Horsemanship
Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,
with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.
(Kindle Locations 238-241). . Kindle Edition.

When you cannot ride, meditation can be useful, but concentrate on how your body actually feels NOT how you think (words) it should look (pictures). Visualization is a actually a bit of a misnomer for meditative practices, and affirmations can be fruitless as seeing a picture in your mind’s eye and/or verbalizing the desired action disassociates you from your body, which is thoroughly counterproductive on horseback. The ba gua martial art practice is especially helpful when you cannot ride, keeping you focused on that kinesthetic memory of how your body physically feels when you are balanced and fluid.

“due to its constant motion
Rooting in ba gau zhang is
More akin to that of strawberries
Which have shallow roots that travel
Along with the vine…”

If you are disciplined in your practice on and off your horse, you will develop a genuine kinesthetic sense of how a truly secure and supple seat feels. Once your reliance on your seat for balance is thoroughly entrained, bypassing both your conscious mind and your innate monkey-mind reflexes to stiffen up and grab hold with your hands, you are free to focus on not only on where you are going but on just how you wish to get there. Once familiar with the external structure of the exercises, it is time to become aware of the quality of your own movements. Then, like countless aspiring riders throughout time, , you will find that even though:

At first,
This lightness may last
For only a few moments,
And then you must begin again.
…once you have achieved this,
And can do it consistently,
Everything else becomes easy.
You are in harmony with your mount
And you know,
At last,
What true horsemanship
Means.

Page 182 Schooling For Young Riders
By John Richard Young

You will soon come to realize that there is and will always be room for improvement, so settle in and enjoy the never-ending journey. Be sure to praise your trusty steed and thank your handler at the end of the longe line as often as you can, 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 healthy horse is the most important indication you are headed down the right path (click here).

I have substituted riders and horses in all ba gua quotes to make my points,

and greatly appreciate the original authors work in:

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

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