Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reflections on language

In reflecting on my fabulous ride in my lesson this evening, I realize that the process of coaching a rider develops its own organic language to communicate concepts and ideas and directions, much like all the choreographers I've ever worked with use to explain rhythm and dance steps.

 I have long been used to hearing things like "Ah-ya-da-da, ya-da-da, one, two, turn, stomp" or "reach and... reach and... bum bum bum, kick step flick". In the studio, the rehearsal hall, on the stage in performance preparation, all dancers are familiar with the verbal salad that defines the choreography. So much so, that a specific combination of words and sounds will almost always result in the ability to execute the same set of dance steps, without music, at any time in the future.

 I remember the verbal-visual descriptions I heard throughout my dance training that were designed to help me refine steps or posture. Things like "lift your ribcage out of your hips", or "hold your arms up from your back, not your biceps", or "explode off the floor [in a leap]".

 Now, as a rider learning the ballet-like discipline of dressage, I hear similar types of coaching from my trainers. There's not as much word salad, thank goodness, but the visual descriptions are often so applicable that I can turn the words into action and into a betterment of my posture, riding technique, and Joe's way of going.

 For example, postural corrections I often hear these days include "no chicken wings!" when I need to keep my elbows close to my hips. Sometimes I just get chicken-clucking noises from my coach. I hear "slide your shoulder blades down your back", and "connect your shoulders to his hips", and "move his shoulders over with your knee".

 I also occasionally hear "steer with your boobs!", which is a correction to think of turning my upper body when I turn my horse. Shoulders like a queen, hips like....well, never mind.

 The concept of pushing the girth over with my leg, pushing his withers over, moving his shoulders over has been significantly helpful in getting the correct technique to keep Joe bending and turning through corners and on a circle.

 Tonight, the gem I really needed was " you're a soil scientist, studying the soil right in front of Joe's [inside] foot". It seems an exceedingly odd thing to say, but it made so much sense that whenever my instructor said "soil scientist" for the rest of the lesson, I knew exactly what to do to get Joe down and round and forward. And it worked, nearly every single time!

 And sometimes, I'd hear "lower his neck", and I could apply the half-halt I needed to get him to come more round.

 It was truly fun, physically and mentally demanding lesson. Lots of attention to detail, lots of minute-to-minute learning. I think we did a respectable job, and I feel like I have had a fantastic total-body workout. My brain is filing away all the phrases and concept for our next ride. The challenge is always to be able to repeat it all the next time I am in the saddle.

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