It all began about a decade ago, when a seed was planted in me- the drive to ride.
Christmas 2002: I stayed over at my uncle’s home in Singapore for 2 weeks and during that time my cousin, Kevin brought me on a movie marathon. One of the movies we watched was Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and as a kid that time, I remember myself idolizing Lakota, the native American Indian in the animation who managed to forge a remarkable friendship with the ‘protagonist horse’- named “Spirit” whose fearless wild spirit remains unperturbed no matter how hard the US Cavalry tried to tame it. Together, they worked hand in hand to escape from the White colonizers across the sandy deserts back to the lush green field where harmony prevails between men and nature. “My heart galloped through the skies that night- back to my herd, where I belonged.” Damn. I thought. I wish I knew how to ride horses.
Today marks the end of my term as a freshman. One of my new year’s resolution accomplished was no doubt to master horseback-riding, given the rare chance that my university offers a course in equestrian. After 15 weeks of consistent practice, the lessons learnt were priceless, and this was perhaps one of the best experiences I had in my life.
What I learnt from Horseback Riding
Foundation: Posture and Posting
Back to the basics. The first 4 lessons began with stabilizing an upright posture, learning how to propel myself upward and forward in accordance with the rhyme of the horse’s(posting) and also strengthening my muscles.
Kurata Takayuki Sensei was a very passionate and enthusiastic teacher who can stand under the sun for 2 hours without feeling fatigued, zealously instructing us: “姿勢を正す, 手を下ろす- shisewotadasu, tewoshitarosu– straighten your back and keep your hands down! All we have to was to trot round and round.( manner of walking).
The tipping point of our training was when we overcome our fears to release our hands from the saddle and be bold enough to balance just by holding on to the rein (rope) of a horse.
Besides becoming aware of how to relax my overall body while exerting certain parts of my muscles and keeping an upright posture, equestrian taught me much about giving clear body languages.
If I want the horse to trot faster, I have to squeeze the side of the horse with my thighs or gently kick it twice; to stop, I’ll have to pull the rein; and to turn it for say to the left, I’ll have to simultaneously loosen my left hand grip, and lift my right leg together at the same time. However, if my instructions aren’t clear, the horse would probably be confused and trot off by its own self.
In short, sensei says: you have to control the horse and not be controlled by it.
Love vs. Punishment
Every week, we are assigned to different horses. Sometimes, we come across horses whom we have to hold on to a whip while riding on it because he or she may be a little lazy or obstinate, then we have to give it a light “slap” to move. Horses are in some ways similar to dogs (and humans), in which I think they need more love than discipline. I probably used the whip once so far but most times I enjoy giving more of a loving pat on its neck if i knew it responded well to my instructions.I think that if a horse doesn’t follow my instructions, chances are that I actually fail to give it a clear order. There are also safety measures that one should take around horses so as not to provoke them. (an accidental step from a horse can break one’s toes).
Building connections: Horses can feel you
Swerving around cones
Horses are among the most sensitive animals to humans. Studies found that they can feel and pick up on our subtle eye and body movements. In the last few sessions, we have to navigate a horse across a set of cones and circle around the field for a couple of times. The cone was a challenge for me as I have to swiftly change my legs and hands again and again to swerve around the cones. It was a testament to my skills and foundations built. That day, I was assigned to da-ma, my favourite black horse and thankfully it responded really well to my body languages. I noticed that if I look at a certain direction- the direction in which I want to go, da-ma would naturally sense it and move along with my intention.
Attitudes and Rewards
The last few sessions of our term was thrilling and fulfilling. It was the time when we reap the fruits of our hard work- time and effort dedicated to learning.. Just before the end of our last class, teacher gave me the most encouraging compliment that will remained seared in my mind for the rest of my life. He said:
“Today’s training had been wonderful. It was a huge transition from April, during which all of you can’t even trot or balance yourself on the horse. “Rin-kun”- well done, your performance was extraordinary today. Your courageous challenge and attitude towards da-ma was able to ignite the fire in its heart although it was initially lethargic on that day. I hope everyone will remember that horses can sense our feelings and that if you ride with a negative preconception, the horse will see through your heart and disregard you”
That day was perhaps the best day in my life. It was sheer joy derived from a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.
15 weeks of horseback riding made me realize that as we evolve in civilisation, something sacred seemed to be lost within humanity itself as we no longer have the opportunity to bond with peaceful loving animals such as horses, harder still to experience the joy of riding on one. Equestrian taught me much about sensitivity, especially towards animals and myself; and that beautiful relationships can exist between mankind and nature. I am filled with a sense of gratitude learning how lucky I am to be given such a rare opportunity despite growing up as an urban kid.
Perhaps I can make the analogy that riding a horse is as if riding one’s own life. We need to be able to take control of the directions we are heading towards and flow along its momentum with a positive, balanced, upright and fearless spirit. But before that, we also need to equip ourselves with the fundamental skills, train our muscles and learn how to trot well before we can expect ourselves to gallop into the future. Most importantly, as sensei always said: “Anyone can master horseback riding, as long as they keep on training”.
The Big Family
Hope you enjoy,
Credits to my Equestrian friends for helping me to take the photos above. Thank you so much. 心から感謝しています。