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Centered In the Now  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

I was in the observation room this past Tuesday evening watching the show prep lesson. It was a full house of eager riders training for success in the many upcoming competitions. This particular year we all impatiently await for winter to finally release its grip and I’m sure these riders are looking forward to experiencing that “perfect union” between themselves and their horse when cold indoor work switches to beautiful summer afternoons and evenings in the outdoor arena.

I was never a fan of winter. I spent my initial employment working in it and that completely cured me that it had any merit. Although I didn’t have to cut the grass or weed the garden in winter there was bitter cold, snow and the shortness of daylight to contend with. It’s a time of reflection and planning. I used to count off the days till spring but as I’ve gotten older I have begun to try to appreciate each day I get. Any day you wake up is a good day, right?

The same applies to my everyday endeavors. I try to savor the now. The little things that I would have overlooked when I was young are becoming more important to me now. Little things like when my grandchildren grasp my fingers as we cross the street or noticing a sunrise. The memory is still precious but the trick is to to savor the actual event as it unfolds. I’m not real good at it but I am trying.

Being in the “now” can be applied to riding as well. Being in the saddle is a great metaphor for cultivating your “center”. The Japanese call this the “hara”. It’s an all encompassing term which I don’t fully understand but it’s located two inches below your navel, honestly! Think of it as your center of gravity or if you prefer, center of energy. From that point everything is easier, more immediate and calm. The horse has one as well and whether they realize it or not both achieve maximum effort by utilizing that center. When you are in the saddle a new center of gravity or hara is formed between you and the horse and to fully cultivate that point it requires that you be in the “now”. Riding a trot or canter becomes much easier when you derive your movement from this common center as it happens.

Our interaction must eventually work without thinking about it. Thinking takes to long and you will no longer be in the “now”. This is called “mushin” or the “no mind”. If someone takes a punch at me and I have to think about how to respond and in that order to respond I will already be on the ground bleeding profusely (I may well be anyway). "Mushin" is achieved from devoted practice using breathing while cultivating your center in the now. Being in the “now” often makes the experience appear to slow down and become almost effortless. It’s the darnedest thing.

When I help out at clinics and I am asked, I often offer the suggestion to “breathe” and “center” yourself. I get some blank looks but not always. Deep, regular breathing brings the mind back to the "hara" and to center or settle yourself helps to expend your energy more from your “hara”. Often folks are taking quick shallow breaths or sometimes holding their breath while their mind races ahead of the “now” while envisioning countless possible problems. This affects the horses center as well as they lose the connection with their partner

We walk with our center, we speak from our center, we think with our center and yes we ride with our center. The opportunity to share a common center with a horse is unique. And that connection goes further. As I watch those riders picking up, for example, the correct diagonal they are not furtively guessing or thinking through the experience but are in the “now” and it simply happens. It takes real practice and they are to be commended. I struggle like everyone else but I come back to it because I need to seek that energy connection again.

~ Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure--see below.

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony