The inside rein (guidance) and the outside rein (boundaries) each have a job to perform while riding — and the same could be said for life outside of the saddle as well. Esther Roberts explains.
Last weekend, Kaliwohi had a wonderful adventure at River Glen Farm.
As with losing weight, not every step in our riding journey is perfect, so this week I’m sharing some photos that illustrate how boundaries (aka: a supportive outside rein) and guidance (aka: a leading inside rein) can help a horse find balance.
As you can see in the above photograph, poor Kiwi is trying his best, but I’m not doing a very good job at all of guiding with a leading inside rein. My elbow is locked and I’m pulling down on his head, instead of supporting the tipping of his poll to the inside, which would bring his muzzle down and help his spine rise. Bad, bad job on my part. Why was I so tense? Because it was our first time riding in wide open spaces with dozens of other horses and humans all around. Both Kiwi and I were tense at first. Kaliwohi is not a large horse by any means — standing 14.3 hands and weighing around 900 pounds — but he is a very strong guy (think buff, tough, short-statured Marine) and I know I’d never win an out-and-0ut contest of strength with him.
I didn’t know if he would completely freak and bolt during those first few moments, and the tension is evident in my hand and elbow. I’m not proud of this, but I’ve promised you raw honesty from day one, and so here ya go: Esther riding badly. Note, however, both my leg and Kiwi’s hind end are engaged and through; the problems are on the front end. Whether the outside rein forms a soft boundary for Kaliwohi to “fill” as he achieves correct latitudinal bend is irrelevant if the inside rein is saying, “elevate into a concave longitudinal frame” because a horse can’t bend laterally if they’re not soft longitudinally.
Adding more inside leg helps achieve even more hind engagement and throughness. I’m no longer pulling down on Kiwi’s mouth, hallelujah, but I’ve lost all contact so there might as well be no inside rein attached. While the outside rein looks to be providing a soft boundary, the front half of my horse’s spine is still too elevated so his inside shoulder just cannot bend softly. This disconnect between my leg/seat aids and my hands is why Kiwi’s hind step looks so awesome yet his front end is flat and straight.
Here, we’re getting better, but now my inside hand is across the mid-line. I’m unconsciously trying to use my hand as a second inside leg and sorta hope Kaliwohi frames up from the shoulder forward. Silly of me — that inside rein is doing nothing, really. The contact is soft — maybe too soft — but I’m not giving the signal for inverted spine compression like I was in the first photo, so while I’m not helping the lateral bend, at least I’m not hurting it, either. Note his longitudinal arch from tail to nose is starting to come together. #progress
I took Kiwi down to a walk so Esther could work on Esther for a few moments and get my inside leading rein cue correct. The line from bit to elbow should remain straight at all times. As my dressage instructor used to say, “open your elbow like you’re opening a door; invite your horse to bend around your leg like you’d invite a guest through that open door.”
Ah! Here we are at last. Great contact, lovely opening inside rein for guidance, straight and steady outside rein for boundary. Kiwi is softly filling the outside rein with his entire front end — note his outside shoulder is slightly ahead of his inside, so we know he is truly bent laterally. His spine is beautifully raised so the longitudinal arch is in place, as well. He’s listening and focused and all is well. Woo hoo!
So does any of this relate to weight loss and fitness for me? You bet it does. Guidance — the “inside rein” of life — is fairly easy for me. I am active and move a lot, so my body has a good bit of muscle under all the fat still oh-so-evident in these photographs. I am involved in many different activities — writing, riding, music, reading, volunteering and on and on — so my mind and emotions stay fairly fresh and engaged.
Boundaries — the “outside rein” of life — however, are extremely challenging for this gal. I don’t like not eating sweets when I want them. I don’t like investing time in preparing healthy meals; I’d much rather zip through a drive-through and eat while going somewhere, even if I know that “food” is really nothing but calorie-laden junk. I don’t like saying “no” to an activity when I know I should take some time to rest instead of go, go, go all the time.
But what got me fat in the first place was racing through life, pell-mell, looking like Kiwi in that first photograph — head up, eyes wide, bracing against all the pressure I was putting on myself. My body gained all that weight as a defense mechanism, just like Kiwi is bracing against that dreadful downward pull on his face. These days, I think my self-care is somewhere about photo three above. I’m in the middle of my journey. I take much better care of myself than I used to, yet I still say “yes” much too often. Saying “yes” to the wrong thing (like that hand that has crossed the mid-line) does absolutely nothing to help me achieve my primary goals of fitness and a happy, fulfilling life. So I continue to evaluate my life in every aspect and ask myself: “If you say ‘yes’ to this thing, what will you be saying ‘no’ to, in order to make time for this thing? Is this how you truly want to invest your time?”
More and more, I am realizing that I spent a couple of decades of adulthood like a runaway horse, with no true boundaries to take care of me. I was rushing from one thing to another, trying to please everyone under the sun, except the one person whose happiness I actually can control: me.
At River Glen, once I got so focused on Kaliwohi and riding him correctly that I forgot about all the hubbub around us, my focus allowed him to focus and, as you see in the fifth photo, the result was a lovely ride. Similarly, as I’m learning to tune out all the hubbub of extraneous life around me, I am becoming quiet enough inside to focus on what matters most. As I learn what calmness feels like, I no longer need a protective barrier of fat between me and life itself. And so goes my weight-loss journey.