What do I know, then? As I mentioned in the previous post, I was struck by the fact that I didn’t really know that I know how to jump. The mechanics had obviously been taught to me, and I was obviously doing it, but how do I know it? How did I know anything about all of this?
What I know: I know that my heels are down now. I know that my hands are in the proper position, and fairly light. I know that my chin is down, that my back is generally straight. I know that I’m getting longer in the leg in the canter. I know that I’m rising properly in the trot. I know when I’m on the wrong diagonal. I know these things because: no one’s shouting at me about them anymore.
If no one’s shouting at me about them anymore, then I must know what I’m doing. My head wants to know how I know that I know this— my head is fairly shouting at me now, replacing my instructors. Well, busy brain— it must be because my body knows.
I’ve just sat up straighter in my chair. I had no idea how abysmal my posture is. I’ve just tucked down my chin and put my heels firmly on the floor. And I’ve rocked back in my seat. My body knows what it’s doing, a revelation for someone who’s done her fair share of sports, but never gotten to this stage, the stage in which I can let my head forget.
Not that I’m not paying attention; I know what happens when I don’t. It’s more like the information is contained in my whole being, not just in my brain. So when I’m looking at the lastest fence, a class of fence I haven’t jumped, height-wise, a spread, a bounce, whatever, my head goes, ‘Do we know how to do that?’ Uhhhhhhhh, yeah? And then we go, and I’m in it, and all those things happen— heels down, leg holding, going with the gait— and my body takes over.
I’m going to paraphrase the following, but it will give me an excellent excuse to re-read, for the third time, Jane Smiley’s superlative account of her horsey life, A Year at the Races, so that I can find the exact wording. She recounts being exhorted to always keep her head up [but chin down!] and look where she’s going whilst riding. It’s a big challenge, for much of her going-through-life has been entirely self-conscious, and self-consciousness wants the lowered head— the lowered gaze. Body consciousness insists that we look up, and out.
It’s so easy in real life, as it is in the arena, to drop the gaze. A forward gaze is confident, assured, and the rest of the body follows that gaze up and out and forward. The forward gaze carries me over the fence, and lets the horse know that I’m doing my part. When I think too much about doing my part, I can’t do it. And that’s something as useful off horseback as on.