Tabula Rasa

(“The arena . . . has been visited by a divine protractor.”)

Before Michelangelo began his masterpiece he had—pardon the expression—a pristine chapel. That’s how I look at a perfectly groomed arena that’s untrodden by horse or human. It calls to me on a bright morning and says “Don’t deface me with thoughtless, pointless wanderings! I mention this as my last two blog entries dealt with riding orderly, goal-directed patterns. Before I move on to other frivolities, allow me to add one related idea.

Now you might say the following is the product of a diseased mind, but I beg to differ. As I’ve said before, it’s not just that you know a bunch of clever exercises. You must perform them accurately and correctly, attending to every aspect of your horse’s balance and alignment. If you are the ultimate artist, you can do this reflexively. If you are one of us ordinary mortals, giving yourself some guidelines makes it all easier. I begin on long reins walking the center line, the corners, the diagonals riding exactly letter to letter. Then perfect 20 meter circles—round ones—touching, not clinging, to the track and crossing the center line at precisely the right distance from I and L. I do the same for the other figures I’m likely to use that morning: 10 or 15 meter circles, short diagonals, loops, whatever. And then as I trot and canter I have a template to follow. I can notice immediately any deviation whether from my own sloppiness (heaven forbid!) or from a less than optimal communication with the horse I’m riding.

When I’m finished with my ride, I want the arena to appear as though it has been visited by a divine protractor, straight edge, and compass. It’s not an obsession for its own sake. It’s a visual aid to keep myself focused and to get the most out of my time in the ring. “If you’re not going to be serious with your arena schooling, go for a trail ride. It’s a lot prettier out there.” And to co-opt a familiar phrase “Only perfect practice makes . . .”