Qi Gong

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Qi Gong folks in New York City

So I do yoga about 20 minutes a day 5 days a week because it makes me feel good.  I sleep better, my shoulders feel better yada yada.  Really it isn’t as big a thing as people make it.  I am always surprised when people say they are afraid to try yoga.  What?  Or that I must be really flexible because I do  yoga.  Um, I’m really not flexible, which is why I do yoga.  They say a woman must really love a thing if she practices it with no hope of mastery.  That is me and yoga.

Because I do yoga, I am on a few yoga email lists and I had a very interesting thing come across mid-week last week:  Qi Gong classes.  My acupuncturist (don’t get crazy about that either.  No big deal) said it would be really good for me.  I have no idea what that means, but I wasn’t there to argue the finer points of that comment.

‘Qi’ means ‘life force’ and ‘Gong’ translates to ‘work’ or ‘practice’.  It is a 5 week class and I signed up for it.  Starts tomorrow night.

So, of course I googled Qi Gong and found out lots of interesting stuff, but one thing really was super cool.  It said that Qi Gong is about ‘going with’ rather than ‘doing to’.  Interesting that they didn’t say ‘going with’ or ‘doing to’ your body.  They just said, ‘going with’ rather than ‘doing to’.  My guess is that it is a whole lifestyle thing.

Hmmmm…

So as I always do, I thought about that and horses.  Some of my best rides have been when I have had the feeling of ‘going with’ the horse rather than ‘doing to’ the horse.  Of course there are times when we have to ‘do to’, especially with green or unsure horses, who need to be shown the way.  But when I get on and provide direction to a horse and then ‘go with’ it rather than ‘making sure it gets done’ in a micromanagement manner, the result is always not only better, but more enjoyable for both of us.

I am reminded of my yoga teacher who says that ‘how you do something is more important than what you do’.  There’s a mind bender.

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Sugar High

This picture has nothing to do with sugar, other than the fact that this was a really fun day, and I'd like a thousand more of them.

I’m still walking around in circles and figure 8s with the injured reserve horses (and will be for the next month at least) and it gives me some time to think.  Like almost everybody, I’ve had a few times in my life when I’ve been sick and therefore kept out of the barn for a while. So today I was thinking about our health and how prevention is a pretty smart plan, not only just generally, but as horsepeople, we know we can’t take care of our horses the way we would like (or get to ride!) if we are sick.

Some sickness is out of our control, but many more factors affecting health are in our hands than we used to believe possible.

A few weeks ago I wrote about giving up Coke (the drink not the powder, I’m so not giving up the powder!  JOKE, seriously, joke. If you ever met me, Miss Drug Ignorant, you’d be laughing.)  Anyhoo, I backslid a little bit on the giving up Coke thing.  Not badly, just one 12 oz. can to get the workday started, but even that was buggin’ me for how high it ranked on the stupid human scale.

Last Friday I got the kick in the butt that the Dr. ordered.  I was cleaning stalls listening to (nerd alert) NPR’s Science Friday, when Robert Lustig, a UCSF scientist came on the show.  He was advocating that sugar be taken much more seriously as a health threat, maybe even to the point of regulation or a tax on sugar.  He presented information from studies that indicated that sugar can do all the things you already know it can do: make you fat, help you develop Type II diabetes and give you a sugar crash an hour or two after you eat a bunch of it.  Then the doctor went on to explain how eating too much sugar affects your brain.  The stall-cleaners’ version is that it clogs up your wiring and can bring on early dementia.  Full audio version on the upper left corner of this page.

The idea of being a party to clogging up my own brain wiring seriously scared me.  I don’t know about you, but I really would like to have my brain continue to work really well for a long time.

So then I wondered about how many grams of sugar is the RDA.  Turns out it is 40 grams max, which is about 10 teaspoons, which sounds like a lot, but I looked at my yogurt today and it had 22 grams.  Half a day’s RDA!  Seriously, yogurt.  If you want to freak yourself out about how much sugar is in food  in beverages, visit Sugarstacks.com

So since hearing that Science Friday segment, I have been Coke-free again.  I have replaced it with hot green tea when working at the ‘U (partly because there is a superfast, hot water-for-tea heater there;  and I’m drinking unsweet iced tea otherwise.  I happen to like tea, so I can’t even earn hero points for the sacrifice.  Rats.  Sort of.

But what I can report is that water tastes better to me now.  I always liked water, but now that my taste buds aren’t daily bathing in the rock n’ roll amplification of high-fructose soda, they can better appreciate the subtle symphony that water offers.  Pretty sweet.  (oh  very punny, I know.)

So that was all horse-related because you have to take care of you in order to take care of your horse.  Sort of new take on “Love me, love my horse,” except now it is self-love in the most altruistic sense.

Other thought for the day, I love my new nathe snaffle bit, because my horses love my new nathe snaffle bit.  It is extremely flexible (you can easily bend it in half and put the rings together.  It is gum/plastic over a wire (wire so that it can not be bitten through, which would be unusual.)

Flexible.  Thin.  Two hooves up.

I work really hard on having correct hands, using my seat first, and having elastic connection.  But I still have one horse that hangs his tongue like a hound dog and another who grinds like a grist mill.  I’m happy to report that the hound dog is noticeable less houndy (the thinner bit seems to fit his mouth better) and the grist mill now mouths the bit in a relaxed manner.  The more I ride the less I bit.

Just do it

I got the ginger chicken started and moved on to the 45 minute simmering process.  Too long to hang out, but usually too short to ride.  But it was a fabulous fall day and we have horses (and riders!) that need to get foxhunting fit.  So hubby and I went out, ran a brush over the pretty-clean-already horses, picked hooves, tacked up and still had 39 minutes to ride.  (Ok, maybe we could actually eek out 45 minutes yet, it wasn’t going to spoil supper to have it simmer an extra few minutes)

Ok, this is a winter sunset, but work with me here, it was pretty tonight too.

So, off we went on a hack.  I should be clear that these horses live out at pasture and are moving around all the time.  They don’t require the same warmup that a stalled horse might.  We walked for two minutes and then picked up a nice working trot for about half a mile of field edges, a bit of gravel road, over a bridge and into the CRP for a nice long canter.  What a spectacular sunset, all the better when viewed from the back of a horse. We continued on our 2.5 mile loop, trotted toward home, walked the last bit, scrubbed their faces with the rubber scrubbie, gave them a thank you pat and cookie, turned them out and went in for supper.

So, their tails weren’t perfect today and we didn’t clean the tack at the end. No we didn’t have them inspection-clean.  Would we be this cavalier every day?  Um, not so much.  Was it infinitely better than watching Cash Cab while we waited for the chicken to cook?  You betcha.

Yeah, what she said

 

The stalling point

 

So the arena has been stalled at an unusable point for a month due to the construction crews moving to a cow/calf operation project that had to get done before calving. Um, arg.    This has effectively eliminated any chance of riding to days when the footing happens to be perfect in the pasture or on the gravel roads, which doesn’t happen with frequency in February in Iowa.  Of course, before the indoor arena project I had an outdoor arena which I could use with some regularity in winter, but the location of the indoor is where the outdoor was, so I am now effectively hamstrung for riding, until construction begins again in mid-March.

So I’ve been reading.  The latest book is “Dressage Masters, Techniques and Philosophies of Four Legendary Trainers”.  It is an interview book, simply written and it is really wonderful.  I bought it because it has my dressage hero, Klaus Balkenhol, as one of the four, but I’ve found also that the other trainers – Ernst Hoyos, Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer and George Theodorescu are equally admirable.  It makes me feel good every time I realize that all good trainers sound fundamentally the same.  They all have first a love of the horse.  That seems obvious, until you meet a trainer who doesn’t love horses.   I bought this book for my Kindle for like $15 or something.

 

Ellen Schulten-Baumer

The quote from it that I want to share with you was spoken by Ellen Schulten-Baumer, whose father, Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer, trained her.  She currently has 5 Grand Prix dressage horses in her barn that she and her dad trained from 3 year olds.  I’m just going to share this quote and get out, because I can add nothing to it.  Rock on, people.

 

“I learned something very important from my father.  When a horse doesn’t perform a lesson as expected, I first have to ask myself whether the horse is capable.  If the answer is yes, then I must think about how I apply my aids.  I must use them better so the horse understands exactly what I want.  This may involve riding more preparatory exercises.  If I can’t get it right fairly quickly, then I go to something else.  It is unfair and unproductive to drill a horse; this causes too much physical and mental stress.  I tell my students this also.  If they just can’t get it right, they can think about their aids overnight and try again tomorrow.  Then the horse and rider get a fresh star together.”

Training, simplified

Piaffe

When Jay and I were watching dressage at the WEG, we were using the headsets in which a commentator was, well, commentating.  I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes a particular turn of phrase will have such an undeniable “truthiness” (oh how I love that word) to it that I find myself putting everything else immediately aside to think about it.  The commentator was acknowledging a particularly beautiful piaffe in an afternoon of piaffing excellence.  She said,

“When you train a horse you have to do two things:  You have to teach him the mechanics of what you wish him to do, and then you have to teach him that he is good at it.”

Upon hearing that, I didn’t really see the rest of the test, though I was looking.  It was like a lightning bolt hit me, and I sat there, stunned.  That one sentence encapsulated all that I do with horses.  A trainer has to know the correct mechanics of any skill she is trying to teach (what are the footfalls of canter?  How does half pass start?  How does a horse arrange his legs in all stages of a jump?).  The trainer also has to know when the work is correct, or even close while they are learning, and communicate that to the horse.  Congratulate him, even.  When the horse gets his paycheck in praise for doing a thing as we wish, pretty soon he likes to do that thing.  When he likes to do that thing, he performs it with increasing confidence, which, if nurtured, becomes brilliance.

So the horse piaffing with joyful brilliance in front of us that day had mastered the mechanics of the movement, and he clearly knew he was good at it.  It was a joy to see.  Now that’s training.

Playful, playful

Fabulouso and Camie at the Radnetter clinic

This weekend’s horse adventure was to ride in the Herwig Radnetter clinic at Wildwood Hills put on by the Iowa Lipizzan Association.  I’d heard that Mr. (Herr?) Radnetter, of the Spanish Riding School (SRS), was an excellent teacher.  He’d been teaching annually in our area of Iowa for the last three years.  My friend Susan, the immutable force behind Catalpa Corner Charity Horse Trial, proclaimed one day that I needed to ride Fabulouso in the clinic.  She said it was time to see if I could make a foray into Real Dressage Land, continue to expand my education (an addiction of mine), and perhaps not have the entire local dressage community be astonished that any horse allows me to swing a leg over them.  Bottom line is that I pretty much do what Susan says, so I signed up for it.  I’d have her horse, Fabulouso (aka Elliot or Fatboy), under tack.  He classes up any joint, so I felt that if worse came to worse I could simply fade into the background and count on the mesmerizing effect of 1,000 years of German breeding oozing forth from Elliot’s genetic code.  That was my plan, and he is always good with being adored, so we were all systems go.

German breeding on display and the monkey-in-the-tack basking in the glow at the Otter Creek Horse Trial:

I should explain about the “Fatboy” name. I’ve always liked off track thoroughbreds, so I’ve gleefully decorated our pasture with them and taught them all sorts of fun games, like eventing, foxhunting and dressage.  Physically, the thoroughbreds all run a little lean, of course.

Then one day Susan suggested that I teach Elliot to event.  So he came to our house for the winter.  Hanovarians, to say the least, are a bit easier keepers than the usually high-metabolism off track thoroughbred.  Elliot arrived in the autumn, just when we were starting the transition from pasture to a lovely part grass/mostly alfalfa hay mix for the winter.  All the thoroughbreds stayed in work and held weight beautifully through the fall and winter months.  The warmbood, Elliot, stayed in work as well, and held weight spectacularly, shall we say exponentially.  That winter in the frozen tundra of our pasture we had a group of fit, fuzzy, slightly angular tbs and one grinning bay marshmallow with whiskers.

Susan shows her love with food.  Every time I visit her house, I have to go on a week-long workout program to mitigate the effect of the deliciousness she provides everyone within her sphere of influence.  With this mindset, she fretted over Elliot’s weight all winter long, since it was one of the first winters he was going to be in significant work.  The emails went back and forth.  “Is he holding weight?”  “Yep, just fine.”  <two weeks>  “How’s Elliot’s weight?  I could bring over some hay.”  “Lookin’ a little pudgy.”  <three weeks> “With all this riding, is he doing ok with holding weight?”  “Ok, Susan, I’ll fess up, around here we call him ‘Fatboy’.”  “Super!”

Susan Brigham's Fabulouso, aka Fatboy aka Elliot.

Time passes, we do some prelim level events, the AECs, develop a partnership and represent ourselves pretty well.  So now Fatboy and I were riding in the Herwig Radnetter of the SRS (still pretty cool to me) clinic in front of much of the local dressage community, who, I suppose, consider me a bit of a wild child eventer/foxhunter sort, which I would have trouble effectively arguing in any court.  However, truth is, that I am able to do those things reasonably well because I base all my training in dressage principles.  So the foxhunters think I’m a dressage queen, and the dressage people think I’m a foxhunter wildthing.  All good, call me anything, just don’t call me late to go riding.  As an aside, you can read a fairly hilarious “she must be from another country” critique by Geo. Morris about this picture.

The lesson with Herwig Radnetter was great, but not in the way I expected it to be.  He talked about all the things that you’d expect-position, engagement, connection, a cajole about the fact that I didn’t clean my tack that week (guilty!), rhythm, balance, transitions and more.  But the one concept that stuck in my head was ‘Playful’.  He was saying this in reference to rein contact.  In that lovely light Austrian (German?) accent with a faint smile on his face.  When he said it I didn’t know precisely what he meant, as in what exactly a Playful thing to do with the reins is.  But I did know the feeling of Playful, so I went with it.

“Rounder, rounder, rounder and playful with the reins”.

I was getting somewhere with it and we were all three moderately happy with the work, but Herwig said that he would ride the horse.  Interestingly, he didn’t ask.  I didn’t mind, so that worked out well for both of us.  He got on and even though Fatboy is mesmerizing, I focused on what Herwig was doing with his rein contact.  He was doing all the things we know already to do: still outside hand, active inside leg (but I note even the leg was Playful but without the prodding busyness we see sometimes).  The inside hand was also still for the most part, but there was definitely a give and take in showing the horse what was appropriate.  At some point during the lesson he said the ubiquitous “We do not pull” which we’ve all heard a hundred times.  But now I finally understood that we can take momentarily, but the big brother of “take momentarily” which is pull, is not the answer.  “Quicker and smoother and the release is The Thing.”

This can be an epiphany for riding.  To know that you can take, but you can not pull.  To be playful.  Think of two kids playing with a toy together.  It is fun when one interacts with the other by good-naturedly and momentarily taking the toy toward himself with a smile and a sparkle in his eye.  The other kid laughs and takes the toy back toward himself and the first kid acquiesces because he knows it is a game and the interaction joyfully continues.  If, however, one kid grabs the toy with a stern expression and pulls it toward himself in an effort to overpower the will of the other, resistance ensues.  Whether the two interactions, which are essentially the same, are resistant and angry — or flowing and joyful –is a matter of intent.

Rounder, Rounder, Rounder, Playful, Playful. When it echoes in my head, it comes out as lovely gratitude in my horses.

Do you have scripts in your head that show in your horse when you ride with them in mind?  What are they?