Seat settles onto bare back, feeling muscles shift and tense beneath me as they adapt to carrying this unaccustomed weight. His head and neck pop up, his way of asking questions: “what do you want?” “Are you going to make me do something?” “Do I have a choice?” Breathing in response to his question. Pausing. The muscles beneath my seat soften.
Makeshift cotton reins connect spine to spine. Hands feel everything through that cotton rope: his emotions, his balance and his willingness to connect in kind. At first he’s one big brace. It’s been three years since he carried the weight of a human on his back. Sitting over his center of gravity I have a great deal of influence over his balance and he knows it. Bareback in a soft, flexible halter, I still have so much control. He’s afraid he’ll have no voice: “is this a conversation or a dictatorship?”
There is a balance point up here on this broad, flat, wide sprung barrel. This human body hasn’t been on a horse bareback in many years. This human body feels his tension and has to work not to match it. Work to find the point of equilibrium, the sweet spot where we two can move as one. Where my weight does not disrupt his balance.
Timeless moments before a single step is taken. Time means nothing in the face of mutual trust, the spine-to-spine communion that encompasses what it means to ride a horse honorably. But not too long, it’s hard work to stand still with human weight centered over the thoracic sling. Millions of tiny soft tissue connections firing to keep the trunk lifted between the shoulder blades. Movement is easier, even if it is tentative.
He has asked his questions, he’s awaiting my answer. Balance point found, feel what it feels like to walk. Legs wrap softly around his barrel as body creates the forward intention that would set me walking had I been on the ground. I know him well enough after long months of exploring our version of a conversation. His head pops up – back hollows and tightens beneath my seat. He’s asking questions: “Did you say something?” “I think you said something?” Breathing and maintaining the forward intention is the affirmative answer to his question and so he walks.
Balance is as shaky for me as it is for him. We both wobble as he steps forward. He feels me behind his motion and hesitates – head pops up again: “You okay up there?” “I can stop if you’re not”. Breathing, finding my center, catching up with his motion, I answer his question. “Yes, I’m okay up here, I appreciate you asking.” Tense and tentative we explore each other’s balance in motion, finding ourselves and finding each other. The sweet spot with just enough tone, just enough connection through those soft cotton reins to feel each other move.
Not only does this human sit over his center of gravity, I sit over his heart. He feels everything: my thoughts, emotions, how I feel about him, how I feel about myself. Touch, the physical connection of body to body intensifies everything. He’s tense as he feels excitement vibrate through this human body that sits astride his back. “You’re making me nervous up there.”
Touch, physical contact, magnifies everything. I feel his heart beat through my seat, the tension and the questions. Instinctively my body wants to match him, just as his body is matching mine. My heart beat, my emotions, want to synch up with him, just as his sync up with mine. My body hums with excitement. It’s been a long time since I sat astride a horse! But he’s asking questions and it’s my turn to answer. Breathe. Let go of the humming vibration of excitement and settle. It’s easier for him to hear me when I’m calm, easier for him to carry a peaceful body and mind.
This conversation through shared movement is subtle stuff. This first ride is all about finding our mutual balance point: physically, mentally and emotionally.
“Can you feel my body shift gears from walking to stopping?”
His head pops up:
“Did you say something?”
“I think you might have said something?”
“Did you want me to stop?”
Exhaling, my body says – “yes” as he settles into halt.
Even in stillness the conversation continues. “Can you feel how tight your back is?”
“Let me show you.” My seat tenses, then slowly releases, bringing his awareness to the tension in the muscles either side of his spine. He answers affirmatively by softening his back and lowering his head, breathing.
“Can you feel my intention shift to walking?”
Head pops up and back tones – but less this time.
“Did you say something?”
“I think you want me to walk?”
“Is this what you asked for?” – as he walks off with slightly more confidence. “YES!” Body responds by creating even more space for him to walk freely. We are coming into sync with one another.
He knows how much of himself he’s willing to surrender to the human on his back. He makes choices about how much he’s willing to let go and allow himself to be guided. She has to prove to him that she won’t stop listening – that she won’t hurt him, and that she won’t scare or intimidate him. Only once she’s proven herself will he let go and give her access to his spine and his heart.
This conversation will continue over many rides as we learn to trust each other again. Assuming I don’t betray his trust he’ll continue to relinquish control of his body a little bit at a time. Allowing me to access his spine and his heart so we can move as one. It’s a gift he gives me – I cannot make him offer up his back to me. He’ll lift me up, arch his neck and shift his center of gravity so that we can dance together when he’s ready.
It’s easy enough to wait for such a treasured gift.