Friday, January 30, 2015

Elbows Back

Seems a simple enough instruction.  Elbows back. I’m walking  down the hall at work, three-quarter high cubicles on one side, wall on the other. As I pull my elbows back, I raise my eyes. I didn’t even know I was looking at the floor.

Straightening caused me to take a breath, one of those deep from the diaphragm “peace in, stress out” types.

Shoulders heavy with the weight of too many thoughts lift and a band of tension between my shoulder blades loosened it’s grip, just a little. I didn’t know how bad I felt until I suddenly felt better.

This couple of words is somethingI’d received from Becky during our dressage lesson. I’d gone on a bit about how I knew my form wasn’t so hot and all that. She basically kept me busy doing other things and then somewhere in there, slipped in what to me were magic words.

You would think I might know by now that “form follows function, not the other way around” applies to humans as well as horses.

For the longest time, I have been trying to force my leg to stay back. Heel, hip, shoulder, ear. I can contort myself some kind of awful trying to get the right thing to happen. Just flat does not work like that.

Looking down at my horse is my habit to break as it is for so many of us.

Missy Fladland said to me once “You don’t have to keep looking at your horse, Terri, if she’s not there you will be the first to know.”

My neck hurts from looking down so much.

Pick your head up, put your eyes and your heart on your horizon and ride.

Just as there is no such thing as a headset on a horse, and pulling on the reins to get the head down or the chin to come in doesn’t lead to anything like collection, me trying to force my position was causing me to be very far from where I wanted to be.

A horse that is engaging the hind will round it’s back through to the poll which will relax and act as a hinge. The poll stays at wither level or a little above, with the horse’s face on or slightly ahead, but never behind the vertical. That horse is lovely to watch.


I’ve seen pictures of myself riding, looking like a sway backed cow when I think I am sitting back, shoulders square and all that. The camera only lies about my weight, never my posture.


I felt what happened as Royal and I were circling around the arena on that blustery day. Elbows back set my shoulders under my ears where they belonged. That lifted my diaphragm. Breathing properly I was able to relax and move more freely with my horse. I didn’t  care right then where my leg was, I was feeling delightedly engaged with my horse.

Big trot

So, there I am at work. Shoulders collapsed inward, breathing shallow. I wonder why I’m tense and my body hurts. I know I cannot have one set of habits out in the world and suddenly develop another set when I am riding. I’m trying to be cognizant of what I am doing, mentally and physically in both places.

Good posture, it turns out, has many benefits other than looking nice when you see yourself in the mirror. Relaxing my body  relaxes my mind and there’s never going to be too much of that going around!

Again, just as with horse, relax the body by getting it to operate correctly, the mind follows.

Feeling easier in my skin, I think, is helping my horse to like me more. He looks at me quite a bit like he approves and doesn’t mind being around me too much. I don’t think I will ever get over the delight of asking him to come pick me up and having Royal sidle willingly to the mounting block, stand quietly while I mount, and then maybe we hang out and talk to folks. 

From whence we came . . .  that’s a looong road, my friends.

Relaxing from the inside out is helping me at home and at work, as well. I haven’t snapped at a coworker for quite some time. It never had much to do with them. My brain and body would hurt, my ability to defend myself against negative internal chatter weakens and the next thing you know, it spills out my mouth hurting someone’s feelings.

Discovering I have ruined the entire brake system on my beloved truck by absent-mindedly dumping a little power steering fluid in what I thought was the right container, only to have that bright yellow cap catch my eye as I was already pouring away. What? Hey, what the  heck have I just done? Oh well, it’s a fluid, right? How bad can it be?

Let’s just say it’s bad. Very bad. Royal and I are grounded for a couple of months until every rubber doohickey involved in braking is replaced from stem to stern. Live and learn, drink your coffee before attempting  . . . much of anything.

Once upon a time that discovery would have ruined my day, my night and several of my husband’s days and nights. Didn’t have to. We’ll get it fixed. I was able to put it into perspective and continue to enjoy the rest of my life.

Again today at my desk, feeling the overtime hours I’ve put in this week, the strain of wrapping my brain back around a job I love but is demanding as all get out, I knew exactly what to do. Elbows back. It will cause you to breathe.



Anonymous said...

As always, thank you for your insightful post. That basic postural stuff is so fundamental - it is so easy for us to carry tension and to even unbalance our horse.

And understanding that horsemanship has to come from and be part of the whole life we have . . .

Good Hands said...

The whole life part. I feel like I am scratching the surface of what that means. We have to be genuine and right in order for the horse to have a chance with us.

Anonymous said...

I think that's the most challenging part. It's what we bring to the horse that makes a difference to them - for good or bad.