Report on a Perry Wood Clinic, by Leonie Charlton

     Being Present in our riding
      Perry Wood Clinic, Tullich, Argyll,  October 2-4th 2009

Twelve riders and twelve horses enjoyed three days of fabulous learning, outdoors when the tempestuous autumn weather allowed and otherwise in the indoor school.  Everyone learnt such a lot, and left buzzing with new levels of understanding and with smiles on their faces. Whilst mulling over the conditions which make such positive results for horses and people possible, my mind keeps being drawn back to the following things that I’ve heard Perry say time and time again; that riding is an ‘inner game and your mental state is the main thing’, and that ‘horses require us to be totally present’.

The opposite of being totally present is, in Eckhart Tolle’s words,  ‘the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation, the more you are focused on time-past and future-the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is. Life is now’.   Perry has an extraordinary ability to help riders look at what’s coming between them and being totally present, and he does this predominantly by asking  questions, which in turn trains us to ask ourselves questions, all against a backdrop of compassion, humour, and his very thorough knowledge of horses and riding.

By asking questions Perry draws your attention to your mental and emotional state, your inner balance if you like, and raises your awareness of how that is manifesting in your body, your riding and your horse.  To quote Tolle again: ‘through self observation more presence comes into your life automatically’.  Simply noticing what is happening can be enough to bring you into the present where you can use your senses more fully,  pay attention to your horse and enjoy the moment for what it actually is, and not for what it ‘could’ ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be. 

Are you sitting upright, forwards or backwards?  How are you feeling?  Is your horse off your leg?  Which rein is he leaning on?  Where’s he looking?  Are your hands a pair? Perry asks us to answer these questions honestly, and asks us to ask ourselves the questions, and then we can respond to what is actually happening.  He describes riding as ‘creating a living sculpture’, and in order for our aids to help the horse as they are intended to, and to give him structure, we need to be in the here and now with the horse.  In this way our responses and aids are meaningful to the horse, and we can be balanced enough in ourselves to invite our horses to move freely and expressively.

Perry makes sure that he gives riders the tools they need to be able to carry on this work when they’re back working on their own.  He says that essentially there are only four things to work on when riding which are ‘forward'  'stop' 'left' or 'right’, and if we can identify which is most lacking in any  given moment, then we know what to work on in order  to change and improve things.  He showed in practical ways how ‘every piece of riding and horsemanship can be simple’.
He places a great deal of emphasis on the lateral movements which develop more mobility and strength in the horse's back, hips and legs, in turn benefiting everything else in the ridden work, even the stops.  In perceptive and sensitive response to what their horse’s way of going was showing them, the participants worked hard on their seat, their mental attitude, transitions, self-carriage, lateral movements and the aids.  Perry’s way of teaching is empowering and encouraging.
This is fascinating stuff to work on and watching the progress of horses and riders over the weekend was a real pleasure.  Without exception riders and horses pushed the limits of their previous experience and knowledge; a delicious and inspiring taste of what’s possible.

Beady Charlton
www.perry-wood.com for 2010 clinic dates in Scotland