Chazot Thoughts 55

This morning we had a conversation that makes me feel special. It started in the barn. He talked with Chris about the arrival of the new horse and our food for the week end. He realized that we might be short in alfalfa cubes saying, I am going to go buy a few more bags. He always takes care of our supply before going away for the week end but it was my training session time. I looked at him intensively thinking, you are not going anywhere; it is my time. He felt my intensity, looked at me and laugh saying “OK; we work first and then I will go buy the cubes.” I almost refused the carrot just to make my point, but I love carrots and I was not really angry.

As you know, I can be a handful and he does not let anybody preparing me for him. When the curry comb came above the place of my back where my muscles were a little sore, I moved slightly. I did not move away; at the contrary I placed myself to better enjoy the rotation of the brush. He brushed me a little longer thinking about the “lowering of the haunches” that I explored the day before in the left corner of the ring. I put “lowering of the haunches” between italics because it is how the dressage world describes what I did. In reality, it is a very high flexion of the thoracolumbar spine combined with intense work of the forelegs extrinsic muscles lifting my trunk between my forelegs. Lifting the front part of my body, increased the dorso-ventral rotation of my pelvis and placing my hind legs further under my body. I felt that I was ready for the trot on the spot that he refers to as the piaff and he asked me to do it. After a few steps, he patted me letting me walk thinking, “It is the third time that you offer it. You don’t fully master it yet but you are quite close.” As you know, he does not ask us to perform a movement theorizing that the movement would educate our body. Instead, he educates our body first. He carefully develops and coordinate our physique for the athletic demand of the movement.  We all like it because movements are no longer stressful or even painful. In fact, they are easy and we can concentrate on performing with greater ease, and style.  

I am glad he did not ask me to do it a second time; a few hours later, I felt a little muscle soreness in my back like we do after a new effort. As we walked this morning toward the ring, he entertained the thought that we might just stay at the walk. He was concerned with the changes that was made yesterday in my shoeing and the light reaction of my back muscles. As you know, I am a thoroughbred and it always take ten minutes before I wake up. Sometime, when he arrives in the barn with his hairs looking like my mane, it can take even longer for him to wake up. I like to be sure that everything is in order. I notice when the chair is not at the same place, or when the ring is freshly rake. Sometime I even stop and watch but I am not sure that I really know what I am looking at. I like the freedom of doing that.

As I wake up, he adjusts the reins and we start the work. He quickly realized this morning that I had too much energy for an easy walk. He asked me for balance and flexion of my back. I complied protecting the light stiffening that I felt on my right side in the area of my fourteen to sixteenth thoracic vertebrae. I contracted my base of the neck on the right side, stiffened the muscles around my thoracic vertebrae under his right thigh. My contraction bended my thoracic spine to the right pushing with the left side of my spine against his left upper thighs. Lower, at the level of my abdominal muscles, I pushed against the calf of his left leg. He resisted with his lower leg but did not tried to control me. He contained my escape but did not attempted to fix it. I pushed a little harder thinking that he should feel my escape and I caught his mind thinking, “I am not going to argue with you about this detail. That is not the problem; that is just peripheral contractions. It is your protective reflex mechanism and you are thinking as a horse protecting your protective reflex contraction. The source of the problem is more forward in your thoracic area and/or your forelegs extrinsic muscles.” I insisted a little; after all, I am a horse and if I feel some contraction in my caudal thoracic and lumbar area, I protect it. He ignored my insistence continuing to focus on greater longitudinal flexion of my thoracic spine. We know each other quite well but this always surprise me at first. I feel that I need to protect one area of my body and he focusses on another part and just when I start to be annoyed because he does not situate the discussion where I think that the problem is, my soreness vanishes. He explained me one day. “Elements of your brain such as your olivary nuclei or cerebellum monitor your body. They sense mild discomfort or even pain in one area and trigger protective reflex contraction. As a horse, you instinctively protect discomfort or pain. This is where we have to work together. You are very good in processing great efficiency of your physique but you cannot analyze your problem and isolate the root cause. This is my job. Based on your reactions and protections, I have to figure where is the source of the problem. We have to believe in each other. If I interpreted your resistances as behavior I would not respect you. Even worse, If I was punishing you for your “behavior,”  I would betray you. You would tell me that you have a problem, which is all you can do, and I would condemn you instead of doing my part, figuring where is the root cause and providing useful insights toward proper and sound coordination of your physique.”

I was thinking that sometime I overdo by enthusiasm and just for the fun of it, but his mind was already there. “Sometime you overdo, but this is who you are. You are an overachiever both for the best and for the worse and you have an unusual power and stamina and energy. Great athletes are rarely easy and if I was afraid of your energy and your creativity I would have no business pretending educating you.” 

As you know, he was a gymnast when he was a kid. He told me many times that he was not the type of guy for whom everything is easy. He had to work hard but he also had a competitive mind and an enthusiasm which sometime, went beyond his athletic capacities. Month ago, I tried a few step of piaff, like I did yesterday and he halted me thinking, “You are not ready for it. You do not have yet the body control and coordination for the athletic demand of the move. Believe me. Many times I tried in gymnastic, performances for which I was not adequately developed and coordinated and I damaged muscles and bones hitting the floor very hard. I would have no ethic if I was pushing your body to its limits but not giving you the athletic development and coordination to perform soundly and effortlessly. As humans we do that but it is our choice. It is a different story asking effort to you horses, and not having the knowledge to prepare your physique efficiently for the physical demand of the performance. This is where injuries come form and during the training sessions, this is where abuses such as roping a horse to the ground or insanities such as the rollkur come from. You horses, and us humans, have mental capacities that can complete each other. You can process the most efficient way of using your physique but you cannot instinctively figure what is the most appropriated body coordination. It is our job as humans to have the knowledge of such coordination and the psychology to figure how to guide your brain toward such appropriated coordination. It is a dialogue that demands mutual respect. Our leadership is not about exploiting your natural reflexes. Our leadership is about knowing what specific coordination of your physique is necessary for the gait, movement, or performance and how guiding your brain toward coordination of your physique more elaborated and sophisticated than your natural reflexes. As long as we, humans are blinded by our ego thinking that you respect us because we are so great leaders, we are just clowns and very bad ones. You tell us how is your body state at this instant and listening to you and knowing what is the most appropriated coordination of our physique for the effort, we can guide your brain and therefore your body toward the appropriated body coordination.

We spent some time working on the alignment and coordination of my cranial thoracic vertebrae and surrounding muscles. I realized that concentrating on the movement, I did it with a thoracic spine not fully aligned and the contraction that I developed further back on my spine was just a compensation. As soon as I perfected the line and coordination of my cranial thoracic vertebrae I did not have anything to protect in my lumbar area and I no longer pushed on his left lower leg. 

He asked me to walk back thinking. “OK, problem solved. I was concerned about possible soreness in your feet but you feel quite good and you still have a lot of energy to spent. Perhaps we should move on to some conditioning around the farm at the Pignot jog.” That is exactly what I wanted to do. It feels so good to be appreciated and respected.