When you can relax and when you can keep your body upright and aligned efficiently you can learn to move from your center…your tan tien.  According to the T’ai Chi classics, the tan tien is located three fingers below the navel and into the center of your body.  In teaching beginners T’ai Chi, we start with the idea of having a large ball sitting quietly in the bowl of your pelvis and at the very center of that ball is where all movement is initiated. When you can initiate your movements from the center of the ball, this will help coordinate your entire body so that you are not leading with your head or your chin or having your chest puffed outward. Your entire body will begin to move from one point or a hub and all parts will be connected to the whole.

My teachers, Jane and Bataan Faigao, always said, “keep your mind in your tan tien.” I would ponder that many times in a day until one day I realized that when I would think about moving from my tan tien, my mind would quiet. When my mind would quiet, my body would relax and when that happened by body would feel calmer, more coordinated, and connected. Keeping the mind in the tan tien melds the mind and the movements of the body.

I have had the great honor of a having a mustang for a partner for the past seven years.  He is different, he is more sensitive to energy and body language and he has sharpened my ideas, my riding and my ability to pay attention to the messages that I send to him. I love him for those teachings. In my riding I keep a listening and connected dialogue with my horse, Leo, by sitting quietly in my tan tien and letting him feel and interpret my movements coming from my seat. Not my head and not my hands but my seat, my hips, my center. If I have the least bit of force in my hands, he resists or does too much. If my shoulders are tight, he struggles to find balance because my balance is about twelve inches above his back creating a gap in our ability to communicate. I always get the image of a plate spinning on top of a stick and my horse has to make sense of that and then respond in kind.  If I am leading from my thoughts or my head he mostly refuses to take part in that conversation. It’s not that he is being bad, it’s that my body language is opaque and difficult to read and he is trying to make as much sense of it as he can. My husband, Michael, calls that multiple levels of indirection.  Horses are visceral, feelers, and interpret communication through body language and the more we can do internally to make those communications clear the more willing they are to participate in the dance. Ideally…on a good day!

The best way I can think of to help you with this concept is to listen to the movements of your hip joints. If you don’t know where your hip joints are, please take some time to look at your skeletal structure. Where your femur and pelvis met is called the hip joint, which is a ball and socket joint and that gives your legs a large circular range of motion.  When you can begin to understand true movement of the hip joint you can begin to let it move with your horses back.

Exercise: Ride bareback if you are comfortable doing so, sit quietly on your horse and listen to the quality of movement through your hip joints. Relax your hip joints and allow them to just roll with the movement of your horses back. One way to relax your hip joint is to let go of the excess tension in your groin muscles and let your legs hang from there. If your hip joints are locked and not moving, then the motion is being transferred to the joints in your spine. You don’t want this as the spine is not meant to rotate and your back will hurt after you ride. Putting your mind in your tan tien can initially mean just listening to your center and to your hips as you ride. Also while doing this pay close attention to your horse’s response to your movements. The more you can relax into this idea, the more your horse can hear your body language and the more connected you will feel to your horse.

Moving from your tan tien is a way of quieting your mind and relaxing your whole body and creating softness in your riding.  There is no limit to the subtlety of this exercise and how it relates to riding.