And I don't mean the occasional lazy saunter around the pond (with or without glass of wine), but the kind of riding that involves dust, sweat and sore muscles and our trainer, Mary, barking orders at us from the center of the arena. This woman is tough, patient and very good, but she has her work cut out for herself as she roots out our bad habits.
For Cornelius, this means learning to hold himself upright, driving his body forward through his haunches. His plowhorse DNA has him programmed to lean on his shoulders and move off slowly and heavily as though he's pulling a load behind him -- it's the Percheron draft horse half of him. When he moves this way with a rider on top, he's inclined to drag his front feet and stumble.
My main problem is a compulsion to lean forward in saddle, especially when I'm nervous. It's something that I do so habitually that I don't even realize I'm doing it -- when Mary tells me to lean back, I'll say back that I am and she'll inform me that, no, I'm not. So I'll shift my weight and tilt backwards at what seems like an impossible angle (feeling like I'm looking up at the sky and only a few inches from lying on top of my big guy's rump). And only then is Mary satisfied.
The unfortunate thing about our horse and human problems is that in conjunction they cause both of us to spiral downward together and everything gets progressively worse: when Corny trips, I'm startled and lurch forward and my added weight makes him even heavier in front. And this leads to more stumbles from him as I battle not to crouch into a fetal position over his neck. I'm finally learning to control this impulse and it's empowering to realize that both Corny and I are getting our bodies working together at last. I finally feel more like a real rider as a push his body forward and with my seat and nudges of my heels. Corny stands up straighter, arches his neck and lifts up those big feet of his, so the stumbles decrease. Being ridden must surely be more comfortable for him without the threat of tripping and possibly falling.
We're not there yet, but after years of not being able to get my body to give up its fear reaction, I'm elated to feel all the pieces coming together at last. Dear Mary is pretty happy too -- she never gave up on either one of us.