It takes time to progress in skills and aptitude.
Sometimes I think we hold ourselves to standards that are so high we get discouraged or feel a failure. Maybe we start out trying something new that’s simply more than we are physically or mentally/emotionally able to do right now. That doesn’t mean we can never do it, but it might mean we need to break it down into smaller chunks, design a logical progression that develops our aptitude over time. Sometimes it seems easier to give up then try to find the time in already packed full lives to develop a new skill. But I think that feeling stems from this quick fix, over achiever, perfectionist that lives in so many of us – at least I know she lives in me! She wants immediate gratification and short-term commitments. It takes dedication to develop a new skill in 5-minute increments on a daily or weekly basis.
I am learning. The smallest progress is still progress. And any progress is better than stagnation!
Developing my personal physical, emotional and spiritual adaptability is a life long journey. Skillful, efficient movement, for example, is refined through careful progression. Never has this been clearer to me than the last few weeks as my body releases holding patterns, some of which go back more than twenty years. Steadily expanding beyond my comfort zone to include types and patterns of movement that challenge my limits shows me where my weaknesses lie while building my strength. This kind of slow, progressive work requires focus, determination and patience. It demands enough mental and emotional discipline to keep listening to my body, to stay present, even when unraveling a pattern means I am in pain.
Releasing holding patterns and uncovering pain is scary. It’s easy to panic and retreat to my comfort zone, back to masking the pain. But on a deeper level I know that the pain is simply letting me know I never truly recovered from that old injury. Being in tune with my body allows me to accurately discern if the pain is an injury I need to attend to, or something I can carefully train through to re-build functional movement in a previously injured area. There is no rushing this process. Changing old patterns and building new ones takes an enormous amount of energy. I am learning to rest when I need to, sleep when I need to. I am finding balance that allows my body to finally heal while simultaneously becoming a fully capable human being. All the while just inserting small bits of movement practice into my daily life.
Have you ever really looked at what humans are capable of? We are movement generalists, not specialists, meaning we can walk, run, crawl, climb, swing, roll, balance, dance….. Our movement possibilities are pretty much limited by our imagination. How much of that innate capacity do we make use of in our modern world? As I explore these evolutionary movement possibilities, I find so many parts of my body I never really used as nature intended. My personal movement aptitude, hence my adaptability and capacity to thrive no matter what life throws at me is also limited. It makes it easy to find a comfort zone and stay there for fear of hurting myself if I venture outside those carefully constructed limits. Paradoxically, by not making full use of my body I am/have been prone to injury from misuse, overuse or compensation. The more I engage all of myself and stretch gently outside my range of comfortable movement, the stronger I become.
But more importantly, the more capable, focused, determined, confident and adaptable. I believe in myself more than ever. I feel completely capable of handling any situation I might find myself in because I know exactly what my body and mind can do, and equally important what I cannot do. As I tap into my own ‘stuff’ I see how my movement patterns impacted my confidence over the years. How those patterns played into the injuries I’ve experienced and the challenges I’ve faced in working with horses. I am beginning to see how not feeling physically capable and adaptable impacted my mental/emotional state. It’s hard to feel confident when you know you have a limited range of ability to respond to things that happen in life, let alone around horses.
Learning to dance is the first time I consciously pushed far outside my comfort zone. It was also the first time I felt a significant shift in my confidence around the horses. Learning to follow someone’s lead, to adapt to the leading style of many different partners, created new neural pathways that showed up with my horses as the ability to seamlessly flow with them no matter what they did.
The first time I became aware of how easily I could flow with a horse I was riding a client’s horse in an indoor arena. We had paused to rest, standing next to the owner on her other horse, you know, hanging out on a loose rein, totally relaxed. In that moment, a herd of cows rushed past such that my horse could just see the movement through the high windows along the long side of the arena. His response was instantaneous. He flew into a 180-degree turn, ready to bolt away from the terrifying cows! Normally this kind of maneuver would have knocked me at least partially loose from the saddle, and I would have grabbed those reins, hauling on his face to stop him. This time, my body instinctively flowed with him. I kept both stirrups, gathered the reins quietly while in motion and steadied him with ease. I remember feeling both stunned and thrilled by the fact my dancing had such a literal translation and benefit in my riding!
About a year and a half ago I stretched that comfort zone again by starting weekly lessons at a local Parkour gym. Here we really started to learn in earnest about these evolutionary movements: jumping, rolling, balancing, climbing. So many things seemed out of reach at the time, but consistent practice, even only once a week for an hour, and within a year I was doing some of those things that were previously ‘out of reach’.
The last few years I stopped riding my horses. I knew there were things in me that were interfering with my ability to communicate clearly and effectively with them. I knew I had a lot of fear about riding. I wanted to figure that out, to find my own path in horsemanship that I could feel good about before I got back on a horse. When I finally did decide to get on a few weeks ago, I found myself able to jump on bareback with more stability and control than I’ve ever had in my life. I rode with more confidence and ease than I ever have.
I am blown away by how much focus, mindfulness and determination it takes for me to move my own body, by myself, over an obstacle. Even a simple one. This process of learning how to move myself through the world with confidence and ease has woken me up to the importance of having this kind of fine motor control, adaptability, mental and emotional control of myself before I even attempt to build a movement-based relationship with a horse. I cannot wait to see how much better riding feels when my body is finished unraveling this current piece of old ‘stuff’. When I feel genuinely strong and balanced, I have no doubt that will translate to my horses.
So much happens in the connection and communication between horse and human. If it takes this much time and focused energy for me to build my own aptitude to move by myself, imagine how much more complexity we add when we endeavor to move in harmony with a horse? It’s a life long journey building that kind of skill. Remember that as you go out to do things with your horses. It’s one thing for them to move themselves around at liberty. It’s several orders of magnitude of added complexity to ask them to move with us attached to them or on their backs. If you find yourself struggling, or your horse getting flustered, remember to break things down. See if you can discover the source of the difficulty. More often than not there is something going on with both you and your horse that needs unraveled so you can progress together. Take the time it takes to unravel yourself, unravel your horse, and keep revisiting those challenging movements until they become easy.
Then don’t rest on your laurels. Find a new challenge that opens you both to another level of movement possibilities. Progressively build your mutual competence, confidence and joy in moving to your evolutionary limits!