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Horsemanship and dancing
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Helen
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 Posted: Tue Dec 11th, 2012 10:15 pm
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Hi all,

Recently I've had little chance to ride, but more than usual to dance - salsa - and I keep finding parallels between the two. I thought I'd put a few thoughts here, in case someone finds it helpful.

-The basic idea is that when I dance, I feel like I am the "horse" and my partner the "rider". Salsa is a very social dance, which means that instead of learning routines, we learn various steps and the men learn the leads for those steps.
-My sole focus should be on feeling for the cues my partner might give me. Simultaneously, though, I have to maintain my balance, stay in rhythm and maintain a mixture of softness and flexion in my arms and core. The more I dance, the more subconscious those things become, meaning the more I can focus on my partner. If my partner tries to lead something while I'm off-balance, though, it doesn't work so well, and if it's something complicated we usually fall completely out of rhythm and have to start again.
-With a good partner, I become capable of much more than I normally am. If he sets me up right (making sure I'm balanced, confident, and in the right place) he can direct me in figures that I've never danced before. If we repeat them several times, I understand what's supposed to happen, and can carry them out more confidently, more accurately, and with less obvious signals from him.
-With a poor partner, I have to focus a lot harder, and have a lot less fun. An inexperienced partner is likely to give a "signal" rather than a lead - for example, raising his hand to ask for a turn, rather than lifting my hand and providing the impulse for the turn. This is like a child who kicks her horse to say "go", and pulls once on the reins to say "stop". If I already know what my partner means with the signal, I can fill in for him and complete the move. If I don't, I look stupid and he gets frustrated. With partners like these I don't pay nearly as much attention to small movements in their arms, body or hands, meaning that if they were to give small cues I would likely miss them.
-I also have to make a conscious effort not to anticipate. If I decide what the next turn is about to be and start to carry it out, only for my partner to lead a different one, we get tangled and have to start over. This is much more common with a less good partner - my attempts to fill in lead to second-guessing. With clear leads it is much easier for me to trust that my partner will sort it all out himself.

There are more, but those are the big ones that I keep coming back to. Obviously it's not a perfect metaphor - one big difference being that I, unlike a horse, understand English - but I find it both amusing and enlightening to get just a tiny bit of how a horse might feel. An experienced horse-and-rider pair are just like the best salsa dancers - they have a wide skill-set, out of which the rider suggests things to do, and the horse happily agrees, allowing itself to be directed one step at a time in the certainty that the rider will take care of everything. I hope one day I will be able to become a good enough partner to make a horse feel that way.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Dec 12th, 2012 03:23 am
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Helen, this is a very valuable post based on really great insights as to the parallels between riding and dancing. Perhaps I should not say 'parallels', though, because riding IS dancing. Just another type of dance.

I will look forward to hearing comments from other correspondents here who also dance. In addition, are there others who enjoy either troop riding (= line dancing) or choral singing ( = emphasis on ensemble, as in troop riding). These are forms of 'group dance' for riders who are already dancing with their mount -- a kind of double shot.

Does anyone enjoy riding to music, and if so, what type of music and why that choice?

Overall -- Great stuff -- Dr. Deb

KevinLnds
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2012 05:51 am
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I too ballroom dance. As a man, my experience is akin to the "rider." When my lead is muddled or mis-timed, the move falls apart. At best, my partner feels heavy and dull. When I provide a clear, properly timed lead, she doesn't weigh an ounce.

It's hard to describe just how good dancing feels when everything works well. I constantly ask myself, "how did she know that's what I wanted to do?" I get the same feeling on my horse.

Helen
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2012 02:21 pm
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Oh, and one other thing. In the past I've sometimes found it hard to imagine that a horse can actively enjoy being ridden and "told" what to do - while as the rider, it's clear to me how much fun riding can be. Conversely, I spent a few weeks wondering how male dancers can enjoy it - when they have to think so much, plan in advance, and don't get the joy of spinning and following leads. Then my brain made the connection, and it was a wonderful feeling when I realised that both the horse and the man can have just as much fun as I do when in the opposite discipline.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2012 04:27 pm
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Ahh, yes, and what man does not enjoy thinking and planning -- and not being nagged or told every single step of how to accomplish something? And that is the very proper role of the rider, to do most of the thinking and planning. The rider's primary job is to think and plan, while in a friendly way listening for and (sometimes) accepting suggestions from the horse.

Likewise, conversely, as to thinking and planning, horses are not very well equipped for that; physical powers were given to them, but not much in the way of foresight. And so it is characteristic of horses that they LOVE being told what to do; it is a huge relief for them. Only that the rider not be a dictator; not drill or grind; not demand effort that exhausts or overheats; and be grateful and generous with praise.

If we could make all riders understand how ridiculous they are when there is a "role reversal" it would be wonderful, and this thread is helping to accomplish that. The rider who cannot raise the life in his horse and for this substitutes continual grip or squeeze with the legs, or who horks himself up forcefully while posting, in a vain attempt to "make the horse go" is trying to do the physical job on behalf of the horse and is thereby committing a role reversal.

Conversely, the rider who fails to be present for the horse at all times, who fails to pre-visualize every corner in the arena, who consistently fails to set the horse up for the movement before the first step of that movement, is also committing a role reversal by forcing the horse to do the planning.

If every rider could understand what angst this causes horses -- far more than the female in a human dance -- it would be wonderful. Angst drains the life and good humor from the horse, so that the animal not only balks or shies more often, he will never in that case be able to show the eagerness and expressiveness that is native to him and that makes the act of horseback riding joyful. -- Dr. Deb

DrDave
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2012 10:41 pm
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DrDeb wrote:
Does anyone enjoy riding to music, and if so, what type of music and why that choice?


I enjoy J. S. Bach's "Art of Fugue" performed by the Emerson String Quartet. There is something about Bach's music, in both listening to and performing it, that puts one in touch with a transcendent state of mind. One of my teachers always said that the single most important thing in musical interpretation, the one thing the performer must put across to the listener, is the feeling of inevitability; the sense that what is happening right now has flowed seamlessly from what happened before, and also sets up what is to come.

I find this in all kinds of music, but particularly Bach, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, and even quite a few modern composers.

I think inevitability has a profoundly positive effect on me, and in turn upon the horses.

Last edited on Thu Dec 13th, 2012 10:41 pm by DrDave

ozgaitedhorses
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2012 05:34 am
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If the dance floor is crowded and my partner does not lead well, self preservation kicks in (anyone who has been trodden on with stilettos will understand!) and I will start to lead. If my horses feel that I am not looking out for them, they will certainly take over!

And as Helen said: if the partner leads well, I can do pretty much anything - as long as I 'listen' (i.e. feel) and don't think too much...

Manu

equus
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2012 07:17 pm
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Just finished watching disc 4 of Buck's 7 Clinics set last night and he talks about the life in the horse. You are correct, DD, that it is a role-reversal of horse and rider when the rider is always nit-picking at the horse to try to raise the life. Not only is it exhausting to ride like that, but it is self-fulfilling, that the more you ride like that, the more you HAVE to ride like that.

I always try to think of my role with my horses as the leader of the dance. We are partners, but I have to lead. Thinking like that helps me to remove my ego from the equation.

And just an aside: Buck's 7 Clinics DVDs are phenomenal. Well worth the money. There is so much information presented that re-watching time and again promise to open up many 'ah-ha!' moments.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2012 09:11 pm
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Totally agreed....I highly recommend Buck's work, as we have for years.

Yes, thinking of yourself as an "equal partner but I have to lead" is great. There is a necessary asymmetry, and it cuts both ways; the horse has to follow, and he has to do 99% of the physical side of the work. -- Dr. Deb

thegirlwholoveshorses
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2012 10:24 pm
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Great thread!!  My husband and I ballroom dance and it is definitely a wonderful balance-- like good riding!  It has helped to improve my feel and timing for it to flow-- I had to relax and follow because two leads does NOT work out well.  It is an ugly disaster!  As the lead, he has to have a plan, but not too far out in advance.  He has to know how to handle issues (such as a crowded corner) before it becomes a problem-- like being early instead of "quick." Once you are stuck, it is too late to gracefully avoid it.

I have confidence that he is in the moment and I am in the moment with him.  There is energy flow between our bodies and hands.  If any part of one of us is stiff or sore, it limits our ability to dance-- just as it does when I ride and am stiff or when my horse is stiff (either induced by me or from actual soreness).

I had not previously thought about our dancing in the context of how it relates to riding.  I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of the original post!

Ladyhall
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 Posted: Wed Dec 19th, 2012 12:37 am
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I often sing to my horses.  For some reason the Country and Western songs seem to resonate with my two.  I think it's that easy rhythm.  (Or it may be because one is a very flashy pally mare! ) "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" is our favourite.   Sadly, although I love line dancing and jive I've always been a hopelessly klutzy ballroom dancer. But am heartened to learn that choir singing "counts".  Love it.  Love singing in small or large groups and can see the wonderful analogy.

 

Shelly Forceville
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 Posted: Wed Dec 19th, 2012 10:40 pm
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I'm a terrible dancer, but every year at Christmas I attend my boyfriend's work Christmas party. They all love latin and ballroom dancing and I am often asked to dance.

It's amazing the difference between a dance partner that just expects you to follow and one that helps you to follow. It is definitely the sharing of a feel.

Dancing usually feels so unnatural to me that on my own (without help) I really struggle and it feels uncomfortable and difficult. When it's like this, I just want to get off the dance floor. But with thoughtful help often I get a few steps that come together and I feel really good. Even though it's still hard and far from perfect, it makes me want to try.

I can imagine it's the same for the horse.

Jodie
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 Posted: Thu Dec 27th, 2012 11:02 am
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What a wonderful post!
I don’t dance (though I co-host a show and have often characterized how my co-host and I play off one another as a dance) but I’ve had my own journey to dancing with a horse that I’d like to share.
In the past few months I not only understand Helen’s post intellectually but halleluiah now I get it from firsthand experience.
Having ridden from the womb and never dealing with my fear, I learned the get-up-in-jump-seat-position business way too well. Finally quit riding in my 20’s and had zero desire to ride since. ZERO!
Two years ago my Mom was looking at a horse for herself. Her horse buddy couldn’t go with her, so I did. I fell in love with Hank the drop-dead gorgeous old-time Morgan (and he did me!) and next thing I knew Mom called to tell me he was mine, and shortly thereafter I was designing a barn which she had built at my new place. She had to lead me in the ring with closed gates for the first rides, even on such a placid horse as Hank the Hunk. I was terrified. But loved every minute, waking up in the morning on business trips wishing I were home cleaning stalls.
I often questioned why I kept going. The fear at times was paralyzing. I thought I’d never get over that clamped forward seat business that was so engrained in my body. The anticipation of going out for a trail ride with friends would have me physically sick beforehand.
Now I know what drove me. It is exactly what Helen wrote. The vision that I could become a real rider, not the reactionary passenger I’d always been: to dance with an equine partner in a subtle conversation of our own. I knew I had to make my brain and body my partners first.
I listened to tapes, watched videos, took lessons for fear on an old campaigner, even listened to riding fear tapes. Bedtime and plane-time reading was Dr. Deb’s articles and Sally Swift’s books and what good stuff I could find to understand gaited horses (see my P.S) .... And I rode every day I could, if only for twenty minutes. Just to be on the horse.
It has all come together for us in the past two months or so. It hit me when I went for a ride around the lake three weeks ago and found myself riding with a loose rein, enjoying the scenery, not looking for boogey men to jump out at us. To think that even six months before I had been chanting “Mary Had a Little Lamb” through clamped teeth over and over to try to relax. Now it was my soul singing. It’s as if it was within me all along. I just had to get my brain and body out of the way.
All along, as I rode and thought and studied and rode the fear waned (waxed and waned!) and my body released in small bits. And my horse responded. In this case fear didn’t blind me; it made me unfeeling and unable to be effective. Now (that I’m actually sitting on the horse), all it takes is a subtle tilt of my pelvis to slow Harley down descending a hill (how many times did I get off previously?), a slight thought of “left” for him to turn. Rather than being reactionary I have developed a physical and mental core so I anticipate things and guide what happens with increasingly minute movements. While he has missed the hours of trail riding he obviously loves, this time has been great for Harley too. He came to me as a typical head-up trail horse and as far as I could tell, was ridden slowly so his stepping pace was mistaken for a rack. The hours of walking and flat walking in the arena not only nurtured my body and mind, but were what he needed as well. I’m now sitting on one horse, not a caboose and an engine. He often snorts as we ride and he nickers whenever he sees me. It’s sounding like a fairy tale girl and horse novel!
P.S. Hank died in September of 2011. Impaction. It was horrible. This was different than losing a dog or cat. There’s an added dimension with a horse. I had trusted this being with my safety. And he had trusted me. We were just at the beginning of it, but that partnership was there. That’s when I began to fully understand the conversation between human and equine. As Hank was put to rest I turned to that lovely big-striding, big pacey, BIG TWH in my barn. I felt I’d lost my best friend and had to create a new one with someone with whom I had no connection. Hank showed me what could be. But ultimately Harley is the dance partner for me. Through his incredible TWH kindness and heart Harley has given me the time to become the kind of leader he wanted. Though it was he who graduated us a few weeks ago. We were riding my normal safe route around my 6 ½ acres for our “trail ride.” When we came to the right hand turn toward the barn he stopped quietly and turned his head toward me a bit and looked up the trail that heads leftish into the woods. I told him “yes” and off we went. We had a relaxed, joyous ride.

kindredspirit
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 Posted: Thu Dec 27th, 2012 09:52 pm
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Jodie,

What a wonderful uplifting message. Thank you for sharing.

Kathy

Helen
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 Posted: Fri Dec 28th, 2012 04:59 pm
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Thank you so much for that, Jodie. When I wrote this post I thought it was a bit self-indulgent and pointless, but I'm so glad others have connected with it. The only problem is it's making me ache to go riding again. Oh well - in June I'm home again, that's hardly any time at all.


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