Look Ma, No Hands!

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The Relatable Rider

Last year, when COVID first hit, I bought a bicycle. With all this new spare time and nothing to do, cycling felt safe and a great way to stay active. And I instantly felt like a kid again — it was pretty magical. I remembered when I first started riding a bike in my youth, and suddenly I had the independence of being able to go somewhere on my own. I no longer had to rely on a parent or sibling, but was able to power myself to a new location. And that magic was still there as an adult. I discovered new places in a city where I have lived in my entire life. I saw beautiful things, amazing artwork, new scenery. And if you’re wondering what this has to do with horses, I’ll explain.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Maridav

After a few weeks of riding my bike, I was reminded how much I loved riding hands-free as a kid… but when I tried to do that again I failed so miserably it was comical. For weeks, I was determined to get back to where I could comfortably cycle with no hands and in my efforts to do this, I realized I could draw a parallel to horseback riding.

When we are learning how to walk and get around, we use our hands and arms to balance. As grown-ups, we rely on our hands and arms to help us stay balanced and upright — think of how our arms naturally extend when balancing on a log while crossing a stream. The reason I couldn’t let go of the handlebars on my bike was because I wanted to use my arms and hands to balance myself. It felt insecure and unsafe without doing that. And of course, I felt the very same way when riding my horse. We all know that balancing off our reins is a no-no. Yet softening my rein contact and not relying on my arms and my hands felt akin to riding my bike without holding the handlebars. It didn’t feel safe, balanced, or secure. 

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An absolute treasure found on one of my bike rides is this mural on the underside arch of the Gorge Road Bridge over the Galloping Goose biking trail in Victoria, BC. It shows the beginning of community: two people reaching out to each other. There are elements of yin and yang, night and day, earth and sky, man and woman, the sun and the moon. The mural was unveiled at the Annual Selkirk Trestle Party. Paint was donated by General Paint. The original art was presented to the City of Victoria by Francis Robert (Frank) Lewis.

But when on my bike, I found that if I let go of the handlebars and just stayed relaxed and relied on my seat, hips, legs, and body to balance, I could ride without hands for blocks. I felt free, stable, and pretty darn cool, just like when I was a kid.

So, I carried that over to my riding. I stopped relying on my reins to do the work that my body, seat, and legs should be doing. It wasn’t an instant change, and it certainly wasn’t easy. It is still a work in progress, but my horse has gotten lighter, more balanced, and easier in the bridle. Sometimes to get ahead you must be willing to let go of what is no longer serving you. Take a chance and just let go!

"Letting go is hard but sometimes holding on is harder." ~ Author Unknown  

Main Photo: Soul Touch Photography