You just haven’t lived until you’ve met a faux horse constructed of a swim noodle to help dressage riders develop feel for how their posture affects their horse’s alignment. I do wish I had thought to take a picture of SiMoN™ (he even has a brand), but you can find out more about this unique breed of pony at another of my new favorite resources, Dressage, Naturally, a site hosted by Karen Rohlf that bridges classical dressage and natural horsemanship. I know. It kind of sounds like a conflict of interest at first, but truly, it works. Check it out!
How did I come by this spectacular bit of information? I went out to visit Ironstar Farms in Aledo, Texas last Saturday at the invitation of Jennifer Fulton who hosts a little women’s horsemanship group there several times a year. These are the kinds of groups that feed the midlife soul, and if you’re not in one, get one. Seriously. Getting together online as we do in our Midlife Horses Facebook community is good, but gathering periodically in person with a group of midlife horse friends to eat great food (chocolate is a staple here), drink wine (or in this case, Mimosas) and talk about our horses is a true delight! Here we can talk to our collective hearts’ content about what we want to do next with our horses, what frustrates us, and those tiny but monumental victories that only other midlife horsewomen truly understand. (Have you ever tried to share the elation of a perfect canter departure with a non horse friend or family member? It just doesn’t work. No matter how much they love you, how happy they are that you’re happy, and how interested they are trying to be, they just don’t get it.)
So on Saturday we met for one of these gatherings and Jennifer shared with us a couple of Karen’s video presentations. (You have to subscribe to view these, but there’s also lots of great free content on this site, and the video series is WELL worth the membership. Also, Karen’s free newsletter is archived, so there’s a lot of great stuff there, as well.) My favorite takeaway from these presentations had to do with the way we ask our horses to do things. (As my mom always said, “sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference in the reaction you get.) Karen’s advice here (and I did write down these first letters as a sort of acronym to remind me) is:
1. Get Silent before you ask for something new. If you’re like me, and your mind tends to chatter, it can be hard for your horse to realize you’ve even asked for anything at all.
2. On that same note, be sure you have your horse’s Attention before making your request. That’s because as fascinating as we think we are, our horse may actually be tuning us out.
3. Then you phrase your request in the form of a Question, such as “Are you ready to canter now?” Often, with my horse, Trace, the answer will be “Um, no,” and that presents a different sort of issue, but it does offer me a milder course of action than when I force it first and ask questions later.
4. The next thing to do, Rohlf says, is Listen for the answer. (Or in my case, the eye roll) There again, this step gives you a chance to deal with any resistance early and in its mildest expression.
5. Finally, you need to give Feedback. (Such as “Yes! That’s it! Good Boy!!!” or “No, that was a good try, but not quite it. Let’s practice it again.” Or, in my case, “Nope, not even close. Let’s keep working on this until you either give me an honest try or one of us dies.”
After telling us more about Karen’s work and showing us her book and DVD that outlines her Dressage, Naturally program step by step, (book also available on Karen’s dressagenaturally.net website) Jennifer then brought out her new horse, “SiMoN” After that, the place pretty much turned into a bowling alley. I will say two more things about SiMoN and then I promise to leave it alone. First, it is incredible how much this mental picture helps keep you straight in the saddle and mindful of your posture and hip and shoulder alignment. I didn’t even “get on” this fine blue steed with the wooden handles sticking straight up out of his withers, but the next time I rode my own horses I realized the power of having this picture in your head, both of the handles coming straight up out of his withers and how any shift in your seat or shoulders affects his alignment. The second thing is, if you do purchase one of these noodle horses, you might want to consider “riding” it only in the privacy of your own home. Preferably when your family is away. I’m not kidding. As profound a teacher as SiMoN really is, I can’t begin to describe the visual. To a casual observer, especially those uninitiated to the subtleties of dressage, it’s mental picture you will probably never be able to live down.
But for the rest of us (especially those of u s who have recently come to understand that “dressage is crack,” as Jennifer is known for saying to her students), SiMoN and creator Karen Rohlf have sent us off on a new quest. Go check out Dressage, Naturally and let me know what you think! And if you DO purchase a SiMoN, please tell us what you learn!