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Riding and Swimming

Summer has arrived. I couldn’t wait for it, but now that it’s here, grooming is hot work and riding is hot work. The dirt that should brush off is more of a sweaty paste, and all I can think about is how great it’s going to feel to hose the horse off at the end of the ride. And swimming. Instead of this sport we choose to do in all conditions, why not just go for a nice dip in a pond or pool, find that spot to float or move through cool, lovely water? I’m lucky to be able to ride. But, swimming. Would be so great.


I love a good analogy or piece of imagery, and it occurs to me it’s not such a bad idea, thinking about swimming and riding. So for now I’ll sit out the heat and ponder both.


Imagine fighting with a stiff horse, your elbows locking, tendons popping, and muscles aching from the tension emanating from the horses back, neck and jaw. (I think most of us can come up with a memory of this ride.) I’ll bet even some of the loveliest riders are lured at times into this trap. Even some of the softest, quietest riders may find themselves stopping their seat or their hand as they struggle with the horse who “won’t go” or “won’t give”.

Now, imagine fighting a wave in the ocean with that same force of will and physical endurance. Are you picturing yourself drowning? The waves don’t care how much you fight with them. Unlike your horse, a wave won’t be affected by your tension, and won’t react by reflecting that tension back at you. The ocean will take care of your tension by knocking you under as you flail.

Seems futile, right?


What if, instead of fighting the water, we use our physical strength to move with positive tension through the waves? What if we swim with soft, supple arms and gently swinging legs along the surface of the water, instead of beating at the water’s surface until we sink? Yes, we may get tired from the exertion of holding and using our bodies correctly. But we can only swim by controlling ourselves, not the water.

The next time I sit on a horse, I’m going to think about using my muscles to control myself, not the horse. I’m going to imagine moving through air as I might move through water, using my muscles to move my bones, and to support my position. I only encounter resistance if I expect it or create it.

Trying to be stronger than a horse is as counterproductive as trying to be stronger than water. Trying to use my core and seat so that my hands and arms are free to move, and my legs can stay long and be correctly placed, is like working to swim well. So, that next sweaty ride, I think it’ll be OK to think about a refreshing dip in the pool. My horse might be glad I did.


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Sarah O'Neill Dressage  |  Phone: 617 671 8727 | srheoneill@gmail.com

Providing riding and dressage lessons throughout Massachusetts -- Acton, Concord, Dracut, Littleton, Pepperell, Tyngsboro, Wayland and surrounding areas.  

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