Respect and communication without pressure: a horse’s owner perspective

I was discussing with a friend of mine over this post from Beautiful Mustang’s blog.We both understood that:

  • this horse reacts badly to pressure: putting even more pressure creates dangerous situations
  • lowering the communication down to whispers allows an efficient information flow

This makes me think of some non-Newtonian fluids, that react to pressure in a similar way: they are liquid and flowing at low pressures, but become solid when pressure rises. If you need them to flow, you have no alternative other than keep pressure low.

The parallel stops here, because fluids are inanimate and lack decision making processes – it is clear that the person that is using them for a given task has complete control over the situation. With a living creature there can be a divergence of goals and opinions, that create pressure from both sides. I absolutely refuse to increase the pressure until the other side surrenders; it’s a strategy that breaks objects, and scars animals and people for a very long time. I embrace the idea of perceiving when my pressure is creating resistance on the other side, and I aim to make the conscious decision to lower the pressure in order to let the other side come back to a flowing, more relaxed state.

We further reflected on the fact that this one can be a case of respecting an introverted being. I think it is even more: it is a case of respecting another opinion. Not just introverts deserve less pressure than others; everyone would benefit from being treated in a non-coercive way.

To finish with a picture, here is Leah, the whispering horse:

Source: Beautiful Mustang’s blog

Drawing Sunday: step-by-step pencil drawing

Hello all! Today, for my Sunday’s art post, I wish to retrace the steps of the drawing of the leaping horse I prepared for the final assignment of Natural History Illustration 101 eCourse. I hope it encourages you to draw more!

So, first I chose a picture that I wanted to copy, and after a long search, I fell for this one and printed it out:

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English Thoroughbred, by buba_noi (Source: Flickr)

I have been drawing horses since a while, so I am already a bit familiar with their anatomy and proportions. Still, I worked on a preparatory study that shows the main inner structures (not really the bones, but straight lines that are a simplification of the bones):

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In the preparatory study I traced the main structure lines with a pink pencil, to let them stand out more, then I added more lines with a graphite pencil. While doing this study I realised that I made the belly and hind legs too small, so I erased them completely and re-drew them by measuring relative proportions with the other parts of the body that I already drew. The study helped me in the next stages of the drawing, by making me notice proportions, symetries and relations between the different parts of the body of the horse.

Then I took a new piece of paper, went to the window to use it as a tracing table (a transparent surface with a back light, that enables you to overlay two sheets of paper and trace on the top one by following the contours of the picture on the lower one). I have no picture of it, but it was simply the outline and a few more inner lines.

I moved back to my desk with the new sheet and used a 6B pencil to draw the basic tones:

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Sorry for the blurred picture, the camera didn’t get enough light to focus properly. I started with the head and right front leg, then proceeded from left to right (so that I didn’t smear the drawing with my hand). I chose to change how dark to make an area only by looking at neighbouring areas, so when I finished the drawing I noticed that the right hind leg was the darkest area, when on the picture it was not; maybe I should have regularly compared which areas of the whole picture had the same shade.

Then I proceeded with harder pencils (first 3B, then B) and made more definite, crisp, and dark shadows, with care not to cover the very light areas. Again I proceeded from left to right, but in addition I put a piece of paper below my hand, to avoid smearing. I had to catch up with the dark areas of the head, neck and front legs, while comparatively making less tonal adjustements on the back legs.

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The final touch was the rendering of the hair. This horse, and its breed, has very short hair that I could hardly represent in the picture, because I hadn’t any pencil sharp enough to create that texture. So I thought of using my mechanical pencil with HB mines of 0.5mm and made some hatches on the shadows. I refined the shadows of the mane and tail, but am not really happy with them:

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The important things that I learned while making this drawing are:

  • Make breaks when you feel that your concentration level is getting low. You can come back after a few hours or the day after.
  • Get a full mental image of the main tones, so that you have it as a reference when you make shades.
  • Allow yourself to draw a bit and to erase what you don’t like. This is the big advantage of pencils!
  • Make the preparatory study, so that you have the anatomy of your animal in mind, you can guess its three-dimensional shape and consequently lights and shadows. It is also an excellent time to get the outlines right, with as many attempts as you want, before copying them on a fresh sheet of paper.

I hope this explanation encourages you to try drawing your favourite animal! Do also browse the Internet for material and videos about drawing techniques. There are some amazing teachers out there!

On managing focus in everyday life

I have been challenged to productively plan my own days since I left my last employee job. It has been hard at the beginning, because I had no experience in integrating sudden inspirations into a structured day program. I had also little conscious feedback about how much to structure the day: meals at fixed times? Timeboxes or do an activity until the planned result is achieved?

After quite a long test phase I settled for a simple planning system, based on a weekly cycle. At the beginning of each week I plan the 4 or 5 goals I want to reach. I pick these goals from a bucket list that I occasionally update. Every day I select maximum 3 activities I want to do and decide a rough outline of the day. I usually don’t put exact times, as I prefer to finish a given activity rather than switch when it is not yet done. If an activity is not completed or not done at all, I shift it to the next available day, or think of which problems are preventing me to complete it.

I find that this loose planning helps me focusing on each activity, because I know that I planned for it, I decided it was important; I can forget other activities and deadlines, because I am confident that each of them has been marked in the planning and will get a dedicated timeslot. It also gives me clear feedback on how productive my week was.

That made me think about the focus of attention of a rider in an obstacle course (it applies in other disciplines and riding moments, but the obstacle course makes it especially clear). The rider has the whole sequence of jumps in mind (that’s my guess!), but not in the immediate focus of attention. Approaching a jump, the focus narrows solely on that obstacle. Right after the obstacle, the attention turns to the next obstacle – and the body faces it too, as a physical message for the horse. Between jumps there are some moments where the focus of attention can embrace a wider part of the jumping course, but they are (should be) usually brief, because the next obstacle approaches fast.

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ABS Horse – from MazetMan on Flickr — I like how rider and horse look straight to the obstacle, even if their bodies are in an unstable, dynamic equilibrium

My difficulty was in finding a good way of planning, that is efficient and not too demanding in terms of time and attention. I felt I was alternatively being the rider, the horse and the instructor. Sometimes I would have loved to be only the rider, or only the horse, but it was never an option (or at least not a good one). I found a lot of inspiration from friends and the wider Internet, who suggested me planning tools, tips and tricks – but the ultimate feedback came from myself. Quite a hard lesson for my obedient side, which prefers to take pride in completing an assigned task, rather than taking responsibility on choosing one task among many.

 

Drawing with non-dominant hand

It is natural to work on the non-dominant hand (the left hand for a right-handed, and vice versa) on the drumset, where it is required that both hands develop equal strength and precision. It is not considered when drawing, but as my recent studies focused more on observing than on technique, why not letting my non-dominant hand draw too?

I felt that the observation step was as accurate as by right-hand drawings. The difference came when I had to draw – my left hand has very seldom held a pencil, so there is no muscular memory of a pencil grip. I somehow grouped my fingers together and started with the mare’s head. You can see the hesitations and trembling. There was sometimes too much opposition from the paper, that my left hand had to try hard to move the pencil. Another difficulty that arose half-way was that I started drawing, as usual, from the left – not taking into account that my hand would cover the drawing, therefore I went on holding the hand and arm above the drawing, like left-handers do when they write.

The drawing took maybe ten minutes to be done. It is of course very sketchy and by no matters finished, but the point is made: a good observation matters more to me that technique. Even from an unschooled hand, the subject is recognisable and with acceptable proportions.

That made me also think how adults can forget how hard it was to learn to write and draw when they were children. It is a good refresher for my teacher’s future.

I hope this is of encouragement for you! Let me know in the comments or on your blogs about your drawing experiments.

Refusing to jump – reflections

Picture credit: Tom von Kap-herr, of backhomeinbromont.com

While watching a couple videos from 2012 London Olympics, specifically the ones of the riding part of Pentathlon, I saw several horses refusing jumps, many more than it happens in dedicated jumping competitions. Why so? The horses themselves were experienced jumpers or eventers and the difficulty of the jumps in that competition was reduced. The differences are two: first, the rider is an athlete that only dedicates part of his/her time to horses and riding, and second, he/she meets the horse only around half an hour before the competition.

The result is that the horse and the rider could not have enough time to adapt to each other, and the horse is more often required to mask the rider’s insecurities or mistakes, or even abort a jump if it doesn’t feel it will be able to clear it safely. I can very well imagine that it’s rarely a matter of disobedience, more often a lack of coordination. On the other hand, it was amazing to see how some horses decided how to approach the jumps, independently from the riders’ advice, sometimes carrying the rider along without paying much attention.

Then I noticed how differently the riders reacted when their horses refused to jump a given obstacle. Some of them tried again with a better preparation and balance, others hit the horse, or at least clearly wanted the horse to obey. Not all riders thanked the horse after the end of their run. I find hard not to disapprove the lack of closeness between rider and horse, but at this level of competition there is so much stress and tension that I can understand why that happens.

That made me think about  leaders in general. I witnessed a wide range of reactions when their team is not willing to go on, or would prefer to avoid an obstacle. If there is pressure of various origins, there is probably no time to understand why the team is not complying. Still, I would suggest to check how crucial is the goal in question, if it is worth to push the people through at any cost, or not. If it is not, cancel the jump yourself, don’t let the team struggle. I have been myself in the position of not having the possibility to refuse to jump and I have very few other memories of such an acute mental pain. Seeing the refusal coming is a big help. Learn to see worried faces, well before anyone talks to you, that would likely be too late anyway to abort the jump. Praise the team afterwards, especially if it has costed much in terms of stress and energy. And for next jump, improve the approach and the balance.

 

 

 

Proud to be a Fjord – drawing explained

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Yesterday I drew a horse portrait based on this picture of a Fjord stallion. I omitted a lot of details and used only a black pen, but am quite happy with the result.

The first step of my drawing was the outline of shapes with a pencil. I printed the picture and used a window as a light table, so that I got all proportions right. It is a very effective shortcut, but it made me omit the initial observation phase. That’s probably why I could not be so accurate with the drawing itself.

Then I moved to the desk and started the outline of the bigger shades using a broad hatching. I overlaid hatches until I got the appropriate darkness of each area.

I would end with “That’s it!” – there are indeed very few secrets in preparing a drawing like this one. It took approximately half an hour. If you have further questions do use the comment form below.

Happy doodling everyone! 🙂

On playing at concerts, part 2

 @ Bergamo, 83. Adunata Alpina

Last riding lesson was interesting, once more, as a mirror and sandbox for how I feel when playing music. In a former post I wrote about how I came to enjoy concerts less and less, and now I feel I made one small step in a direction I like.

Martina was letting me focus on my posture while Lozano walked slowly in the arena. I am getting better at following Lozano’s movements and interfere as less as possible with his rhythm. Martina and me discussed about how to sit comfortably at the trot. She explained to me that the horse has a marked bouncing movement of the back, that the rider should not block with his/her own body tension. In other words, if the rider sits with contracted legs and torso, the horse’s movement will make him/her bounce and fall over, and if not, will prevent the horse from moving correctly (the horse would then slow down or stop, as it interprets that stiffness as a request to slow down). This is fairly obvious for anyone who rode a horse at trot, or was astride any animal or vehicle which moved with a lot of energy.

The interesting part of the explanation came when considering other approaches to the trot. One could try to anticipate the horse’s movement, with the goal to make the same displacements. This is very tricky, because the horse rarely makes perfectly timed strides, and without stirrups it is especially difficult to create your own movement. Another idea is to follow the horse’s movement, with a relaxed body, with the legs alongside the horses’s flanks (not so relaxed that they bounce, but as much relaxed as possible). I tried it and I really felt my body’s movements lagging behind the horse’s, the horse almost shifting away from underneath me at each step; only gravity and friction were keeping me astride. (I had my hands on the handles of the vaulting surcingle for safety, not for actively holding myself on the horse.) Martina noticed my change in posture and we talked about it in detail. I managed to better understand how the rider follows the movement of the horse, while still being able to guide the horse – but with cues and intention, not with his/her own movements.

I brought to her a comparison with music, and drumming in particular. A very similar explanation has been given by Mark Kelso for Drumeo, in a longer lesson about playing with the metronome. He shows how to play exactly with the metronome, slightly ahead or slightly behind it (laying back):

The point Mark makes is that you should be aware of these three ways of playing, and you should be able to consciously switch between them. After this lesson, I could not tie myself to an exercise that does not help me strengthening my awareness, in any field. I had recognised the moments when I could play music “laying back”, but could not always recreate the conditions, or decide how to play with other musicians. That disappointed me very much, it made me feel powerless and clueless. Now that I got a rational explanation, that I can test at will, I am not fighting so eagerly anymore for perfect harmony at rehearsals or concerts – I know it is a fragile mixture and that it’s not necessarily my own fault if it does not happen.

I further talked with Martina about Feldenkrais riding practice in relation to competitive riding, and Feldenkrais-like music practice and meta-exercises in relation to concerts. We agreed that when the show is on, deep feelings are not so important anymore; they have been the focus of practice, and on stage rules another set of values. Of course people notice when there are flow and deep connections on stage; but it is usually not as important as other rules.

Finally I am OK with doing a half-hearted concert – or better, I know why I am not there with my full swing; instead of raging and biting, or worse, abandon the stage, I have seen a path that will take me to a higher awareness and the accompanying technical ability.

I am thankful to my guides, who picked up the way I learn, give me food for thought and appropriate learning supports; they are confident I can go forward on my own legs, they smile when I conquer a new height.