Tips for Helping Your Body Learn Body Language
Are you new to doing groundwork and thinking "I am such a klutz - I will never get the hang of this!" Well I am a founding member of the Klutz Klub.
Look at this photo of me and Ava when I was first learning how to do groundwork. It's embarrassing - she is running me over, I am facing the wrong way, I was constantly getting the rope tangled around my arms and legs.
“The ball is not going to go anywhere until we hit it.”
~ Nancy Lopez, pro golfer, winner of multiple championships.
So how the heck does hitting a golf ball compare to training and riding horses? Well, both require that just about every part of your body - head, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, feet - work smoothly together to achieve a specific result, and it can be frustrating when we don't get that result.
What Nancy is saying is that while we are swinging the club to hit the ball, we shouldn’t be thinking about what is going to happen to the ball AFTER we hit it. Is the ball going to land in the fairway, what about that sand trap, that pond? Will I lose the ball in the bushes, will the other players make fun of me?
My golf loving, non-horsey husband doesn’t take me seriously whenever I say learning to play golf is just like learning to train and ride horses. But it’s true: getting all the different parts of our body to act in conjunction is tough to achieve - like a complicated dance step. When we are first learning it seems overwhelming that we will ever be able to get all of these elements to work and flow smoothly together.
As we get ready to hit the golf ball, we are thinking “Is my head down, my shoulders and arms correct, my hands in the right position, my feet lined up correctly.” As we swing, we are trying to remember if we are managing the relationship between our hips, our shoulders, our arms, our hands. Do we have rhythm, are we going to finish the swing facing the proper direction? All these thoughts and notions are ricocheting around inside our head in those few seconds it takes to swing and hit a golf ball. So we can't be thinking about where the ball is going to land, our brain doesn’t have room! Instead just experience what is happening in these few seconds.
“Be the ball, Danny.” (Extra points if you know where that quote is from. The answer will be revealed below.)
I stink at golf. I am so bad I don’t even keep score. But a golf course is a lovely place to spend a sunny summer day, as well as a happy social occasion shared with my husband and our friends. I am infamous for wandering away from a game to get a closer look at the bunnies, deer and bird life that inhabit our beautiful Pacific Northwest golf courses. I stink, but I always have fun, because my golf has NOTHING to do with how well I play. I have made the choice for golf to be about spending time outside with good friends, and getting in a good walk while I'm at it.
OK, enough about golf. But it’s the same with learning how to do groundwork with our horses, except instead of an inanimate club and ball, we are working with a half ton sentient being who is going to give us plenty of instant feedback on how well (or not) we are doing.
Our body has to be facing the right direction, our shoulders, torso, hips and feet. We have to learn to switch hands with the rope, plus manage a lunge whip, a flag, or the tail end of the rope. As in driving a car, many of our actions have to become automatic so our timing will become accurate. And just as in golf, everything has to work together with proper timing and intensity. Each request we make to the horse has to be clear and concise.
Yes, it can feel overwhelming at first. But honestly, if I can learn how to do it, anybody can.
So many issues that we have with groundwork stem from our own inexperienced and clumsy ways; frustration can easily take over if we let it. Is there a secret to getting good at at? Yes, here it is:
Don't let your brain get in the way of your body.
So how do we conquer our klutziness in order to move forward and improve, especially if we don’t have a trainer or coach standing next to us, guiding every move?
Be the horse, Danny.
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