Friday, November 18, 2011

The Importance of Nothing

Much of our attention when we ride is focused on What To Do to produce the desired result. It occurred to me the other day -- and it always seems like I get these revelations after riding in a clinic with Henrik Johansen -- that much of our time in the saddle should be spent doing nothing.

What? Slouch along like a sack of potatoes? Snooze in the saddle?

No, of course not. I don't mean you, the rider, shouldn't care about what the horse is or isn't doing. "Doing Nothing" means you let him do what he needs to do, give him the responsibility to carry out his part of the task without nagging -- or, as I sometimes think of it, "helping."

Henrik pointed out that when I used continual aids Fable (yes, that "Fable" -- Eddie isn't ready to go back to the work a clinic requires yet) became somewhat sullen and resistent. He also pointed out that when I simply rode in balance and with my plan in mind Fable relaxed and showed the true beauty of his gaits.

Now here's the important part.

At no time was I overtly, much less strongly, driving the horse forward. Of course I was trying to do the exercises Henrik was asking of us, and of course I wanted to be perfect. However, what I wasn't doing was the "Nothing" that not only gave Fable the opportunity to show me he could do his job, but also told him I approved of and trusted him.

I lacked the pure "Nothing" that allowed Fable to shine his brightest.

Think of it this way: Look at a painting of say, a horse. The horse is defined by the lines and brush strokes that depict its body, limbs, neck, etc. But it's also defined by the space around it -- the empty space. Empty space plays an important role, but it is space you don't notice because it doesn't intrude. If there's something wrong with the empty space, it muddies the painting.

Don't believe me? Take a look at some "camouflage" art. Bev Doolittle's paintings are a particular favorite of mine. She hides people and animals in the negative space of her paintings. I went to a talk she gave once, years and years ago, and remember clearly how impressed I was at the complex process, the layers and layers of planning she went through to create a single painting.

That "Empty Space" isn't ever as empty as it seems. It serves a purpose and takes training to get right.

I can't help but notice how much time I spend every day filling space with activity. Less frantic "doing" and more purposeful "quiet" to allow the important things to shine through might be a good life lesson. And likely as difficult to accomplish out of the saddle as in it.