It’s funny what speaks to you, isn’t it? What really gets into your brain.
A few years ago I was talking to a school teacher who also plays and teaches music. I said to her, I’m utterly tone deaf. I just couldn’t learn to play music, even hitting the triangle at the right moment in school was a challenge. I think it’s why I can’t learn languages too – someone will tell me a word. I’ll repeat it, they’ll say no, it’s a R not an L… I try again, and again. After 5 attempts they say – well, kind of. And within 5 minutes, I’ve forgotten the word entirely. Language just doesn’t seep into my brain.
This teacher though, said no, no one is totally tone deaf and cannot learn. “If your phone rings (think good old land lines, without caller ID) and you answer, do you recognise the person talking?”
“Well, if I know them, of course…”
“That means, you’re not tone deaf and could learn…”
It’s an interesting theory, and one that I’m still not utterly convinced about. I still can’t remember the Bahasa words that Joni tried to teach me this morning.
Many years ago, I had a brilliant vet. One of the first times that I saw him visiting a horse, it was a mystery lameness. As the horse was standing at the end of the driveway, groom attached to the end of the lead rope, this vet turned his back, and looked out over the paddocks. The groom started running, the horse trotting, and still the vet seemed to be ignoring them.
“Uh”, I said – “the horse is, uh, trotting.”
“Mmmm” he replied.
The horse got to the end of the driveway, turned and came back. When he reached us, the vet turned, walked to the horse, picked up the lame leg (that he hadn’t seen) and pressed straight onto the root of the problem. Impressive. He taught me so much, that vet, but this was one of the first and most important lessons – trust your ears before you trust your eyes. He always, without fail, dealt with a lame horse with his ears, then his hands to feel, and only then his eyes. Eyes and vision lie, ears generally don’t.
I found this video years ago and still love it – can you recognise the sounds before you watch it?
Why am I thinking about this now? I’m currently sitting on Gili Trawangan, a small island in Indonesia. The only transport here is horse cart or bicycle – there are no cars or motorbikes. And very quickly, I could recognise the hoofbeats of different horses coming before I could see them. Here comes the grey who swings his right hind wide. There is the chestnut who lands so much heavier on the left fore. I didn’t fully appreciate just how ingrained it is in me.
I do know, when I’m teaching I’m watching the horse, but I’m also listening to him.
Whenever I start a lesson, I ask, if I had a magic wand, what would you like to change, improve, fix? What are you working on, what’s the issue? And usually, the answer I am given would be the answer the horse would give too.
“My horse is like a worm – he just wiggles all the time”
If I could ask the horse?
“This rider doesn’t sit straight or ride straight – their weight is right, their right leg kicks me left, it’s like carrying a sack full of kittens…”
“My horse lacks energy – he just won’t go forward”.
As the rider sits there, like a sack of potatoes, with no tensegrity or movement herself…
Horse? “This rider is heavy and soggy. If I move, she’ll fall off, so I’ll just match her energy level and keep her on board…”
But, this is the most common…
“Useless horse has no rhythm… He’s fast, slow, 2 beat, 3 beat, hopping and skipping, nothing is regular”
And the horse?
“Useless rider has no rhythm… She’s fast, slow, 2 beat, 3 beat, hopping and skipping, nothing is regular”
Fix? If the rider hears and feels the beat, they become the leader of the dance.
So, when I’m teaching, especially if I have more than one horse in a group lesson, I’m listening. If I’m watching horse and rider number one, I’m listening to horse and rider number two as my back is to them. I’m listening to hear the regularity of the steps, and if one hoof is harder, lighter, twisting as it lands. And, I’m listening to how hard he lands on all four hooves. A light and balanced horse could trot across a sheet of ice or glass without cracking it… Think of a ballerina dancing across a stage. An unbalanced horse clunks and thumps like a sluggish tortoise, crashing through the glass or ice sheet. If the rider is light, rhythmic, balanced, so is the horse. If they’re lacking rhythm or landing with a thud, guess what? So will the horse.
How to develop this feel? Ride with a metronome. Ride to music. Just start to pay attention, use your ears as much as your eyes and feel…