Just because it hasn’t been all Bella, all the time around here doesn’t mean I am ever thinking about anything else. Oh, I know, I have children and a great job and, oh yeah, Optimal Husband, and the Legion of Optimal Friends Forever (LOFF), and yes I adore you all &c.

ANYWAY. I’ve been riding regular Sunday and Tuesdays with Hard Taskmistress Erin, who for example requires us to post to the trot with no stirrups, or transition between “crossrail two-point” and “five-foot-fence two-point”, or canter from two-point, or from the walk. God help you if you don’t have a secure lower leg, which I still don’t, despite all our hopes and prayers and wishes to the contrary.

In fact, and in keeping with my life’s generic conventions as post-slacker romcom (probably directed by Lisa Cholodenko and starring Tilda Swinton), my lower leg is now ironically inclined to be too far forward. More irony! I have a sudden and serious problem with tiny crossrails. I can jump a decent 2’6″ vertical in respectable form, and then I can drop Bella in a shocking spot in front of a jump she could step over.

This is the story arc this season. I worked on getting Bella into a more uphill canter by engaging my core muscles, and I ended up hunched and pumping with my shoulders. I wasn’t releasing over fences, and then I was throwing the contact away and leaning over her forehand. My two-point ended up all weird and crouchy. I finally figured what I was doing wrong through all of this. Dudes, I am trying too hard.

It was very clear this morning, when I was working really hard on my posting-trot-no-stirrups, and then my hip hurt so I tried to relax and just do it minimally, and Erin immediately said “That’s better.” And again, when she had us drop our stirrups at the canter, and as soon as we did, my leg was more secure. And again, when we were doing a canter pole to a vertical to a canter pole and then four strides to a crossrail, my distances and releases improved the moment I started counting strides aloud. The more I don’t do anything, the more I don’t think about it, the better it is.

I think I’m at the slightly dangerous point of having improved quite a lot, but not as much as I would like to have improved, so I am reaching for harder things and in doing so neglecting the fundamentals: breathe, sit up straight, keep still. It’s the paradox at the heart of riding – maybe anything difficult. You have to sweat to create the muscle memory, and then you have to distract yourself, meditate, transcend, absent your thinky monkey self so that the muscle memory can actually work. I get to control the direction and the pace, and then I have to let Bella handle the actual galloping and jumping over the fence. She’s much better at that part than I am.

And that’s the thing. If you drive stick, you can probably remember having to think about changing gear, and then not having to think about it, and then maybe driving along something like Highway One between Jenner and Point Arena and being the car; drinking the curves and feeling the suspension as your own spirit-level inner ear. Riding’s like that – your proprioception expanding to encompass another entity – with this exquisite refinement: you end up with two souls.

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