Another exercise I work on with my students is relaxing and feeling the horse while riding. We do shortening, lengthening and transitions. I have the riders concentrate on sitting deep and communicating with their seats first before they go to their hands. I encourage them to stay elastic the whole time. In order to do this the riders have to fight their muscle memory so they can change old habits. Riders will sometimes say to me something like, I feel it, but I can’t maintain the feel. That is probably the toughest thing about riding and definitely the toughest thing about life. We finally get this awareness about something we need to change. We know it is right and it is what we need to do, but we keep slipping back into old habits. That is okay. It takes time to change something we have done as a regular habit. It took time to create the bad habit so it definitely has to take time to change it. I acknowledge my riders for finding those moments of feel and encourage them to work on recognizing what is happening at that time and how they have come to that moment. They need to be mindful and in the moment to fully recognize what is going on. Letting go of self-judgement also allows the process to occur and it will help them discover the feel again and stay with that feeling longer each time.
We often get angry with ourselves for slipping back into old patterns. We get so caught up in worrying about this that we lose sight of our new sense of awareness and that we have found the new good habit. We don’t reward ourselves for that great accomplishment. If we let go of this anger and frustration we will eventually, with much practice, slip less and less back into those old ways while developing new, good habits. It takes dedication and perseverance to do so. It is not a quick fix. This is true in riding and any part of our lives.Becoming mindful and aware are the first and most important steps that need to happen before a change can occur. Then it is a matter of practice. One thing we always have to remember though is to forgive ourselves for making mistakes so that we don’t stay stuck in them.We are human after all and this life is a constant journey of trial and error and practice.