By, Liz Piacentini
A relaxing trail ride. That was the agenda my friend and I had planned for a particularly warm day in June. We tacked-up our horses and headed off towards the trail. The shaded woodlands would soon offer relief from the blazing sun. To get there, we rode along the side of a paved road for a short distance.
First, we heard the loud diesel engine. Then, we saw the garbage truck, rattling its way up the hill. Our horses swiveled their ears inside their fly bonnets as the noisy truck approached.
It was time to replace the “what ifs” suddenly fluttering into our minds with calming thoughts and actions.
Imagining We Were Spruce Trees
I had just finished reading Sally Swift’s Centered Riding book. As we approached an opening to a field bordered by evergreens, I remembered her spruce tree analogy.
“LaDene, let’s imagine we’re spruce trees!” I suggested. After a deep, calming breath, I began describing Sally Swift’s creative method to help riders feel securely balanced in the saddle with a following seat.
“Engage your core,” I called out over the growing rumble of the truck. “Your center represents the stable part of the spruce tree where it rises from the ground. Think of your legs hanging below this point as tree roots. Wiggle your toes. Feel your ‘roots’ reaching for solid ground.”
“Take a deep breath and be aware of your seat bones,” I continued. “Now, imagine your torso growing tall like a tree from your center towards the sun. Your tree trunk is strong, yet flexible. Relax your jaw. Open your shoulders. Let your arms softly hang like branches able to gently sway with the breeze. Allow your seat bones to follow the movement of the horse as he walks along.”
My friend, LaDene, was a good sport and played along as I did my best to recall Sally’s description. Our trusty steeds, Lyrical and Irish, willingly stepped inside an opening in a stone wall that lead us away from the road and into a field. The garbage truck barreled past at a good clip. All four of us watched with a sigh of relief.
Riding In the Present Moment
We resumed our walk to the trail head. For some reason, we continued to imagine we were spruce trees. As we finally entered the cool, quiet woods, we found ourselves reaching down with our “roots” and growing tall with our “trunks”.
The gradual hills and occasional logs across the path tested our “tree” stability. We were so busy being spruce trees that we soon forgot about the garbage truck and focused on the simple pleasures along the trail. We truly enjoyed a sense of better balance and being present in the moment.
Our initial thoughts of “Oh, no!” had turned into “Oh, boy, look at that!” We meandered around large patches of Mountain Laurel in full bloom. Ferns glistened in the sunshine that filtered in between the trees. Chipmunks scampered along the stone walls, while birds softly sang us their songs. The air even carried a gentle breeze and earthy smells of the woods.
Our horses happily marched through their surroundings, periodically munching leaves that clearly needed pruning. Even the pesky bugs remained somewhat behaved as they danced around our ears.
Unexpected Lessons Learned
Did we enjoy our trail ride? We sure did! More so than we had anticipated. By imagining we were spruce trees, we replaced helpless thoughts of worry with a constructive course of action. We focused on the task at hand in order to stay calm when faced with the unexpected. Having a more secure position with better balance boosted our confidence and our effectiveness. Instead of gripping with fear, we stayed fluid and sent less tension to our horses.
Of course, remembering to breathe always helps! There’s nothing like a deep, centering breath to slow your heart rate and help calm your horse.
Give it a try! The next time you’re starting a trail ride, warming up your horse, or riding from the warm-up to the show ring, imagine you’re a spruce tree. We certainly discovered it worked wonders for improving our balance, confidence, focus and overall enjoyment.
Special thanks to the late Sally Swift for this helpful tool.
Enjoy the journey!