Thursday, June 3, 2010

Complete Accord

Interessado and Encantara

I only very rarely seek out one of the many books on equitation in my private library, because for the most part, my interest in riding comes from an entirely different place now. I have acquired a mindset that no longer feels it is appropriate for me to place a bit in a horse's mouth or strap on a bridle or cavesson so that I can restrict the movements of her head and neck.

Coming from a background of first competitive dressage and later French Classical Dressage, I feel I have a thorough understanding of both the punitive and refined capacities of the bit and bridle as training tools. I have personally felt the delicate communication that is possible when riding a horse who has been trained to "accept" the bit in lightness and it can be exquisite--but the fact that a horse first has to be trained to accept the bit, bridle and reins and that this training necessarily entails initial discomfort, even pain and in many cases results in extreme physiological and psychological damage--well these elements no longer fit in with the feelings I have about my relationship to horses. Yes, the bit and reins can be used with finesse and articulate a dialogue with a horse for the purpose of guiding while being ridden, but once you begin to realize that you can communicate even more subtly with a horse without recourse to using its mouth as a translator for your thoughts, but instead develop your relationship to such a degree that your minds and bodies flow together in "complete accord", then the now obvious crudities of bits and bridles soon leads one to abandon them along with the traditional training that imposes the human's will over the horse's.


For today's journal entry, however, I did dust off one of my equitation books because I remembered a quote I wanted to share to illustrate that even at the master level of equitation, it is revealed that more often than not is is the harmony of the most simple movements that are most deeply moving to the rider.
In the past;, Baucher once said to L'Hotte, 'I often opted for movements that were complicated. Today it takes me six months just to get my horses to walk straight and turn well...When total lightness is achieved by making a horse walk straight and become well-balanced, the feeling that the rider gets is the sense of complete accord with the horse's strength. One then hesitates to pass on to any other movement which will modify the combination of forces and destroy this feeling of harmony.' (pg. 50 Alexi-Francois L'Hotte/The Quest For Lightness in Equitation by Hilda Nelson, pub. J.A. Allen 1997)

I'm using this quote of Baucher's as a springboard for a very simplistic, yet profound bit of riding that I have recently engaged in.

Archived entries of the Journal of Ravenseyrie, discuss the type of communication with equines I have been devoting myself to. It is extremely subtle, based on mindful intention and arises from a "heart connection", a term used by Carolyn Resnick which describes a magnetic entrainment of two beings--a very real phenomenon thoroughly researched by Stephen Harrod Buhner in his book, The Secret Teachings of Plants. I describe some of the ways I engage this form of communication in earlier journal entries which feature Doll (twice), Jerry, Bella and Encantara.

I have taken in the past few days some video footage which, while extremely clumsy, nevertheless demonstrates the type of interactions in which I find some of the "complete accord" mentioned by Baucher.

Before getting to these videos, I first feel it is important to talk a little bit about how conscientious we humans need to be regarding the placement of our weight upon the back of a horse (or mule). Though a mature, robust equine back looks like the perfect place for a human to sit, the physical structure of a horse is not designed to bear weight from above. Open any book on equitation and you will find discussion regarding how to minimize the deleterious effect of our weight upon the equine back. Likewise, stroll through any tack shop and you'll see an entire industry of specialized pads are available to deceptively lure us into thinking we are not causing damage while riding.

For myself, I feel that with a well muscled horse, very brief reprises of riding are not damaging if there is a complete willingness of the horse to accept such an activity and the horse takes pleasure in being ridden.

For the deep thinking human, who looks upon horses with egalitarianism and friendship, a determination against riding is something that should be decided not just by the human, but by the horse as well. Some structurally weak horses should definitely not be ridden, even if they appear to be accepting of it--and some horses that have the most robust bodies which could physiologically support a little judicious riding, should definitely not be ridden because psychologically they do not take any pleasure from a human sitting on their backs.


Questions I have come to ask myself are:

--Of what benefit is it to my horse for me to ride it?

--What are my intentions for riding?

--Is the act of riding something I do only for my own pleasure, or is it, from the very first, an activity that the horse enjoys as well?

--How will I know if my horse is simply obeying a request she feels she cannot refuse or if she genuinely is accepting of my riding her?

--How will I know if my weight upon the horse's back is damaging?

--Is my horse psychologically diminished by my presence on her back or enhanced by it?


The topic of the harm of riding is not the main point of today's journal entry, so I will not address it any further, but save greater scrutiny for a future entry.

I think it is important to place the videos I'll be sharing in the context of which they arose...

In October, here in Canada, a Nevzorov Haute Ecole International Seminar has been scheduled, and several individuals I became dear friends with (during my time within the NHE online school) decided that it would be a great time to meet in person. While none of us are any longer part of the NHE school, we each maintain respect for many of the people involved and appreciate the worldwide efforts NHE makes to provoke a perceptional shift in how we view our interactions with horses.

While we were making arrangements to attend the seminar, we became aware that a statement had been released that further refined the restrictions placed on an NHE student with regard to riding. This prompted a dialogue between us regarding the issue of riding and the damage that a horse's body (and mind) can sustain from it. It is a discussion we four have had many times, each of us holding opinions that differ depending on the many variables involved with each horse and rider combination and the situation of each new day. Because of our differences of opinion and knowing, once again, that my views regarding the minimal riding I engage in with the equines here at Ravenseyrie are not acceptable to followers of NHE, I decided it would be inappropriate for me to participate in the seminar, and instead I would wait for a more neutral venue for the merry gathering of friends.

Mistral and Fada

Having canceled my plans to attend, I was in need of a walk, so went out to the north west sector to look for Altamiro and the family band with my thoughts very deep on the subject of riding and questioning whether I was deceiving myself that on those rare occasions when I mount up it was as much a suggestion put to me by the horses (or mules) as something I ask of them. I also reflected on the sensation that there was truly mutual pleasure from these "rides"...and, of course, I contemplated whether these rare rides were damaging their bodies.

As I was crossing into the northwest sector I was surprised to find Doll there, all by herself, quietly grazing! To my knowledge, none of Mistral's group has ventured this far into Altamiro's "territory" in over a year, and I figured she was there because she was in heat again and looking for Altamiro, too.

Even though I take these hikes without horse treats in my pocket, Doll hooked into me right away and without much thought, I put down my camera bag and went over to stand on a rock. Doll came right up, offering me her back, so I got on her and gave her at least five to eight minutes of really excellent itches. Then I asked if she would take me for a few strides of a walk to the right, and she did, so I stopped and gave her another round of itches from my mounted position. Then I got off. I probably was up there ten, maybe twelve minutes. I gave her some under the belly and buttocks itches and then turned to go back to get my camera back with the idea to resume my looking for the family band. Instead of going back to grazing, Doll followed...then the idea came to me to see how much of a mounted itch session I might be able to get on video. As mentioned above, the results are very clumsy but I think they reveal the harmony of the moment and the "complete accord" between us. While viewing it, I hope you can see, hear and feel the subtle communication between Doll and I:

This type of riding is a very intimate thing, and certainly the intrusion of the camera, (especially because I was holding it and trying to interact with Doll while also hoping I was keeping the view finder in a good position), impacted the quality of the itches I would normally give. I made up for this once I got off and put the camera away and then Doll went back to grazing.

Lest readers think this teenage mule will let just anyone climb aboard because she might appear to be a slow-moving dullard, I'm sharing footage of what happen after I left Doll and found Altamiro's family band:

Though Doll would like the affection of this rock-star-bird-chasing stallion, he doesn't share the same feelings as she does and promptly drove her out of his territory, during which time she demonstrated just how agile and quick a draft mule can be!

I found myself recognizing the synchronisity of Doll being there in that particular moment just as I was reflecting upon whether or not my mounted itches and simplistic riding were things that perhaps I should turn away from. When I mounted the rock for the first time, it was a sort of test, I suppose...if Doll had not come over and positioned herself for mounted itches, I would surely have taken it as a "sign" that indeed this silly game of ours was something that only I appreciated and I should refrain from it in the future. Doll gave me a very clear answer, or so it seems to me. If Doll didn't want me up on top, being tackless, at liberty, in the big wide open, she certainly could have avoided me to begin with, or rid herself of me once I was on top...but she did not, in fact, she came back for more, which is what prompted me to video tape it for you to see.

A day later, I went down to the beach to be with Mistral's group. Everyone was in nap mode, so I just let the sound of the waves and the wind and the birds and the grasses bring me into a very mellow state of being. I took out my camera and began taking photos of the horses and mules, then I went over to stand upon a rock and simply admire them all. Here is what happened next:

What is remarkable about this bit of footage is that I did not call Jerry to me, or ask him if he would like mounted itches. I did not want to interrupt the comfortable position he and Dee were in for their companion napping.
Jerry and Dee

It was Jerry who took note of me standing on the rock and decided to take leave of his nap to come for a visit. Remember, I do not take treats for the horses when I go out on these hikes--he is not coming to me for treats, nor did he come to me when I was on the ground taking photos. But, when I was standing on the rock, just hanging out, he made his own choice to come over and see if he could get me to participate in a mounted itching session. Again, the presence of the camera severely impacted the quality of the itches I could give, and also the rock strewn terrain made it tricky to have him take me around in a circle as was my intention, so in the end I asked him to take me over to a good place for me to dismount, which he did perfectly, and before dismounting, I turned the camera off, slung it around to my back and then gave him all the great mounted itches he has come to appreciate so well.

Interessado and Encantara

To close, I will leave readers with several quotes by Carolyn Resnick from her book, Naked Liberty published in 2005 by Amigo Publications. It was Carolyn's experiences relayed in this book that prompted me to recognize if one has a relationship with horses built upon a magnetic heart connection, and the moment is right, riding at liberty in the big wide open is not only possible it is a rewarding feeling that both partners share. Though very rustic, very "untrained" and very simplistic, the riding shown in these videos is for me much more sublime than any haute ecole movement I use to perform with a bridle in an indoor arena.

"Why is it that some people can use a small gesture and get a favorable response from a horse, while others make the same gesture and get no response at all? It comes from a strong bond shared between horse and human, and from an innate ability to emote the kind of feeling that will influence a horse's behavior in a positive way. The naivety of a child lends great insight into how to connect with horses. Our childhood memories can return to us in the indelible connection of the heart." (pg. 153)

"My dad said, 'If there is unity in the moment with the horse, you can direct his next movement with aids almost as light as a thought, like geese flying in formation. Do geese practice how to be united? No! They just are. It comes naturally from the bond they share together.' He went on to say that harmonious acts seldom lead to trouble." (pg. 227)

"Her invitation [she refers to a wild mare named Moonlight--lg], convinced me that horses do have a desire to be ridden without domination, capture or restraint. If these methods were the only means to riding horses, I would have given up riding." (pg. 228)

"Everyone has experienced moments when everything feels right or safe, a moment that makes you feel you will live forever. These moments I have no name for, but they can be trusted. They are all around us every minute. The trick is to recognize these moments and act upon them." (pg.230)

What makes these simplistic rides I've shared with you especially meaningful is that Doll, Jerry and me engaged in them together, in complete accord, and this harmony in riding came at a time when I was reflecting on whether or not riding in this context was something that is harmful and for my pleasure only. I'm satisfied that the pleasure is not mine alone and that no damage results from these rides, even if others might hold a different opinion.


KimJ said...

I like the comments on "just a thought" and the horse does what you ask. I have experienced this with my own mare while riding. I have to watch myself as sometimes she appears to read my thoughts (although I am sure I am giving such subtle cues that I don't notice them, but she does!) and not think anything at all as my mind is sometimes too busy and she gets confused! lol

I felt bad yesterday as I took her to a USDF Dressage Show and her show bridle's cavesson ended up being way too tight. Our training bridle's cavesson is really there for show as it is so loose that it really doesn't do any good being there. She thought that this tight cavesson was very much annoying and was greatly relieved when I took it off after our class! Thankfully, it was only an in-hand class so I didn't need to use the bit or put any pressure on her mouth with that overly tight cavesson! I will need to figure something else out as she did enjoy the show, just not that stinkin' cavesson! She did show so well that Hilda Gurney qualified her in the USDF Breeder's Championship Series!! She shows again possibly in Sept and again (for sure) in October. So, I will need to sort out that really tight cavesson before those shows happen!

JEN-SKA said...

It is so amazing how often it happens that I am wondering about something and then I come to read these few blogs I'm following (you, Kris, June and Stormy) and I find out that one of you has written about that!

I have only ridden my precious Olga 2 times and I've had her for 7 months now. Just today we made a riding area in the field and I was thinking about riding. I am also reading Naked Liberty now :)

Máire said...

A very interesting post Lynne. A lot for me to think about there. I do not like absolutes, and it seems to me that there are very few times there is a need for them. You have prompted me to re-read Naked Liberty and, when my new saddle comes, to ask Ben what he thinks.

More and more I find that being in the present with my horse and expanding those moments of connection gives me more pleasure and a sense of wonder than I ever thought to have with a horse.

eva said...


what i see here in the narrative of your encounters with the mules are precious moments of great tenderness, of similar quality as the photos depicting the intimacy between horses sharing and enjoying moments of reciprocal physical contact. I would hesitate to even call this "ridding" as there is little in common with that practice.

Encantara has grown into a refined-looking beauty. She always struck me as a ballet dancer type, highly sensitive. I can picture how she would move.

June said...

OK, I'm going to come right out and say it: that statement from NHE is right out of Orwell. That is Big Brother talking.

June said...

I love the brother/sister photo btw!

Lynne Gerard said...

Kim, Jen-ska, Maire, Eva and June, thank you for your comments as always!

Jenny, and Maire, like you I appreciate studying things that are deeply thought provoking, even if it happens that such things may not appeal to me from where I am in this place in time. If we only read about the ideas from people we are in agreement with, we run the risk of limiting ourselves to other insights that might further our own--or at the very least we make to much of a separation between ourselves and others.

June wrote, "OK, I'm going to come right out and say it: that statement from NHE is right out of Orwell. That is Big Brother talking."

Mr. Nevzorov is not so much "Big Brother" as a sort of evangelist for the horse, with his own manner of teaching in a school he has created. As such, he has all the rightful claim to determine what is acceptable or not acceptable for students who desire to study under him and the students can decide whether they are willing to go along with the rules of the school or not.

I think most schools operate under such a system.

Because Mr. Nevzorov is a radical idealist, with a degree of arrogance and flamboyant tendencies, it is easy to be critical of him, but setting aside such criticism, he's simply a man following a path that he himself isn't quite sure where it will lead. He's worth paying attention to, even if we don't find ourselves agreeing with him. There is something to be learned, even so.

Eva, your phrase "enjoying moments of reciprocal physical contact" is something that has moved me immensely and will for sure be expanded upon in future journal entries.

eva said...

Mr. Nevzoorov's prohibition against riding for members of his own school is a way of jolting people out of deeply conditioned habits and thought patterns that have plugged our ears and senses to really "hear" our horses under the chatter of what we think they might be feeling. "Oh, but my horse really likes it."

Resetting old entrenched relationships is enormously difficult, and we, with best intentions, , can be our greatest obstacle. All he says is if you want to be part of my school, you can't ride. Up to you. There is nothing Orwellian about that whatsoever.

You will know how powerful this "medicine" is if you try it. Set yourself a rule to not do X (something you think you cannot live without. Eating meat, for example, or riding your horse, etc.). Then watch what happens. If you give yourself enough time, a year or so, you and your relationship with your horse or with the creatures you used to eat will have changed in ways that you know you could never go back. This to me is the wisdom behind this prohibition against riding.

Having said that, I don't feel that the scratch sessions Lynne shares with her semi-feral equines is riding. It is something else, "beyond riding."

June said...

Well, Nevzorov is surely entitled to follow his path (and I personally am on a non-riding kick at the moment). However, he's engaged in a very big-brotherish attempt to ban all equine sports. Which makes me fear he does not wish merely to influence his devotees but to control the world. Jonestown had a lot of positive aspects too before it unravelled. And Mussolini made the trains run on time.

June said...

I'm sorry. I shouldn't be badmouthing people. But it seems to me that this whole project is about freedom and opening doors, and when I hear NHE, I hear the sound of doors slamming shut.

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote:
"However, he's engaged in a very big-brotherish attempt to ban all equine sports."

While his methods are not the type I would chose to open our eyes to the abuses which run rampant in equine sports, Nevzorov is not a dictator who can make immediate laws and enforce them at gunpoint...he must appeal to the people. In the end, to ban or not to ban is in the hands of the people and the voice of the majority.

I do not like prohibitions and bans, I would like all humans to behave with decency towards all life and this is where I place my thoughts...

One could spend time disparaging the actions of Mr. Nevzorov or one can make the world a better place by providing an example of tolerance, understanding and education to facilitate change, rather than letting our thoughts grow ugly.

The exposé work the NHE revolution is doing should on its own be enough to shame us into behaving better, then no legislation would be necessary.

June writes, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be badmouthing people. But it seems to me that this whole project is about freedom and opening doors, and when I hear NHE, I hear the sound of doors slamming shut."

Apology accepted, June. It's okay, I understand that type of frustration.

Continue to think for yourself, and while doing this, perhaps you'll notice some doors are open that weren't before, upon closer inspection...