The Oakley Diaries 32 - Another Awakening

" Aucun homme ne peut rien vous révéler sinon ce qui repose déja à demi endormi dans l'aube de votre connaissance." Kalil Gibran

  My legs ache. All the muscles through my core ache. I can feel each and every one. That can only mean one thing: my riding must have improved.

  I thought I was getting pretty strong last year. I don't think I'm that much stronger, but I'm definitely using my muscles differently. For one thing, my legs are gripping more firmly than ever and I am stuck into my saddle as if I were a part of it; I have much better balance. It's also apparent in the way that Oakley is now going over jumps far more than not. True, when confronted with something new and strange, like, say, brightly painted poles, his innate -- and somewhat overdeveloped, even for a horse -- sense of self-preservation still kicks in, but I recently learned to time my encouragement better. (No, he's not used to painted poles, most of the ones at my barn are unpainted logs.) Also I'm not half-frozen in terror at coming out of the saddle any longer, which is a big, big factor.

  That ache, or course, comes from using muscles in a more co-ordinated, more integrated way that I've not really used this hard before, or using them more fully than I've ever done before. It's a good ache. The kind that says "worked hard" not "fell hard (again)."

  I know this process. It happens again and again. When we first start, the muscles are not used to working in that way. Then, after getting used to working in a certain way, something changes, and it's like starting all over again, except at a more advanced, more subtle level. After concentrating on learning some action and improvement ceases after a time and apparently you're getting nowhere, a certain amount of frustration sets in. Then, as the Kalil quote, above, makes clear, when you are ready, someone will make some observation or some explanation and two things happen: suddenly everything comes together and works and everything is suddenly difficult again. Because I'm doing something more difficult than before. It's like a staircase.

  While T.H. and J.H. have been giving me advice and observations all these years, J.Y. re-phrased her observations about my legs in just the right way at the exact moment I am ready to hear that advice, when it suddenly makes sense. Those are the moments when suddenly everything improves. I go up to a new, higher level of ability and it feels just as hard as ever, but we are not going over trot poles, we are now going over 60cm (2 foot) jumps, a notch higher than last month. The jumps we struggled over at the beginning of last month are easy now.

  These past few months, I have been concentrating on getting my leg and seat ever more quiet and strong, and that is what finally came together. I don't think I have more muscle power or tone than I did last year, but my muscles are now working together, integrated in a different way from before, which now keeps me steady and firmly in the seat as we soar over an obstacle. We are soaring, because the obstacles are getting higher.

  Now I must work on the "release" or, to put it my way, keeping the same light contact with the mouth, while the mouth shoots forward over the jump.

  Which gives me a clarity about the learning and training process that I have not been able to express, succinctly, before now, which I can sum up in three aphorisms:

  • First: never leave your comfort zone.
  • Second: do it until you can't get it wrong.
  • Third: pick the lowest-hanging fruit first.

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