Finding your balance on horseback may involve throwing away all the ways that you have and hold balance when riding a horse, forcing you to change the way you ride.
I love horses. I love to ride horses. I love their smell. I love their beauty. I love their strength. I love how responsive they are. I love how they feel your emotions and give it back to you. I love the intercourse of energy that flows between horse and rider when you click. And I love that the better you get at riding, the more fluent you become in speaking to a horse through movement. It is a language, a pure and simple body language. When you get it right, you become one with the animal, guiding it, but also feeling it, when horse and rider, both, enter the zone.
I have never been a formal rider, so have not had the training that others who pursued it more seriously had. I just have loved riding in my life, have loved being around animals, love the smell, and the way it feels to be on a horse, at full power, out in nature. Beautiful.
It also helps that the clothes are so hot.
Many years ago, a very dear friend of mine and I discovered our chaste love for one another through a shared passion for riding. We rode together nearly every day, going for rides on trails through incredible forests. All year long, with the seasons and the smells offering something different and beautiful on every ride. At some point she suggested that we might enjoy some lessons and I agreed. She did some sleuthing and found a teacher not far from where we lived.
The teacher turned out to be incredible. He was one of the best teachers that I have ever had in any subject. It is hard to imagine because his teaching style was a not-so-gently blend of chain-smoking, yelling, and abuse, but his passion was so much greater than everything else, and his desire for us to improve was so palpable, that we learned to love his style. No-nonsense on steroids. None of this “well done” or “good job” business.
He was a tall, spindly Tatar, from the Russian steppes, thin as a rail, emaciated, raspy-voiced, pale skinned, and with a “Rollo Fingers” moustache, the kind that sticks out past the face on either side in a rather arch manner. He was visually striking. As much as he looked like a bullwhip, he acted like one.
I don’t normally advocate for his style, indeed I have built a career on doing just the opposite of what he did, but it worked. There was not a moment that he wasn’t shouting at us. Once we learned one thing, it was on to the next, and a new reason to shout. He would stand in the middle of the ring, hip cocked to the side, hand placed just so, and would crack a bull whip for added auditory effect. It wasn’t that he would tell us what we were going wrong, other than shouting “no!” over and over, but rather, that he told us what to do to get it right, “you must find your balance.”
That was his mantra, “you must find your balance.” To teach us, he had us do things that no other riding instructor had me do before or since.
To find the natural balance on the horse, he had to take away the things that were acting as crutches, getting in the way of us having a natural feel for balance. But these are the things that also provide security, and a sense of stability.
“All you need to ride a horse well are your butt bones,” he said, and little by little he showed us. Learning to ride with the stirrups tucked up under your thighs, feet dangling loose, is odd at first. Your legs feel useless, until you learn how to use them to apply pressure to keep yourself on, but also to communicate with the horse…to slide one leg forward or back, to indicate your desire to turn. And as we learned, he upped the pace, and soon we were galloping this way in the ring, circles, figure eights.
Just as became confident without stirrups, he asked us to wrap our legs up around the horse’s neck. Now, there was no longer any anchoring coming from the legs. Indeed, you could feel your butt bouncing around, especially in trot or canter, and getting back on centre became a very real obsession, as nobody wants to fall off. Miraculously, neither of us did, though I confess to cheating every now and again by hooking my fingers under the lip of the saddle when he wasn’t looking.
The next wrinkle removed the possibility to cheat, as we had to proceed in this way, and at ever faster pace, and with ever more complex turns, but now with our hands on our shoulders or on our heads. I did feel at times just like a sack of potatoes, but one that was learning to follow his instructions—finding my balance.
He turned us both into instinctual riders. He taught us that you don’t need reins to guide a horse or to stop it, that you don’t need a saddle or a bit. You just need to find and feel balance, and that the horse will respond.
The horse, he explained, will always seek to bring back balance. If you lean your body to one side, the horse will try to slide back under you. If you turn your shoulders the horse will turn to rebalance your weight.
This was not the way either of us had been taught before. But the comfort we gained and the things we learned about being in the saddle moved forward at a faster pace than at any other time in my life. What followed was confidence.
And I am struck by the parallels in life, in D/s, with emotion. When we learn to let go, when we learn to be open and vulnerable, when we focus, really focus, on feeling the task at hand, we are finally able to show mastery.
I see this is what Mistress is teaching me, and at times her methods are similar, but mostly they are her own. But I also see myself not just as a rider, learning to ride, but as Her mount. A loyal steed…that resonates with me deeply. Sure of foot, strong, and delighting in the talents of such an accomplished rider. But no matter whether you are rider or ridden, the language you must learn to speak is one without words, and learning that language is about letting go.