There are other principles of T’ai Chi Ch’uan that we practice when we are sparring or playing push hands with another. When we play push hands, it is not so that we can defeat our opponent but so that we can lean to be soft, responsive, and to flow like water. When we are not soft and we receive a push, that push will knock us out of balance and throw us off course. I must say … to get pushed is annoying!!! Ok, it pisses me off! Which leads to one of the principles of movement applied to the art of working with another being. Push hands is a dance of balance, timing, and feel. One principle is All Resistance Is Internal. Trust me, I don’t like this one either! When pushed off balance, I would much rather make excuses, chalk  it up to a bad day, and/or apply blame, (maybe a combination of all three!) … but that ultimately never leads to softness. Push hands shows me where I resist being pushed, and when I resist, I brace and get defensive. I am out of balance and I struggle to maintain it. That is the root of hardness! I don’t mind saying and admitting these things, because it is our human nature to protect ourselves. Push hands teaches that we have to rethink human nature, if we are to become soft and yielding which makes us warm and compassionate in all our encounters. I am not there yet, maybe never will be totally, however, in my awareness I can let go of the struggle and regain my balance and softness.

How does this apply to horsemanship?  I will write the things I learn and practice in hopes that some of this resonants with you so that you can begin to cultivate softness through recognition of hardness. Awareness is the first step and without awareness there is no choice. One thing that leaps to mind is when my horse starts to act up and disconnect and ignores me … oh, my, I get frustrated. What happens is that I kind of panic, then get a little fearful which sometimes leads to anger and then upset, especially if I leave my emotions unchecked. All that is internal resistance to some imagined or real misfortune. Fear has a valid base to it…yes, I have been bucked off, run over, stepped on, bitten and kicked…to name a few! It hurts and is dangerous sometimes. Does bracing and getting upset help…NO.

One day, out of the blue while working with my horse who was having a uppity day, I viscerally realized that I don’t have to panic when he gets concerned or obstinate. I asked myself, “What is the big deal anyway?'”  I also realized that many trainers do it, too. I have been yelled at during lessons which I used to let it set me up to brace against my horse’s behavior. I learned to panic and get after him when he does THAT!  When we get after our horse, we get brace, get hard and demanding. That is  internal resistance and the horse “didn’t make us do it!”  When I can see that I am the driver of my internal resistance, I can learn to let it go, get soft and wait for my horse to do the same. I do a mini reboot!

Learning to notice that first sign of upset is the most optimum time to let go of it. Catch it quick! Just drop it, take a breath, soften your body and wait for your horse to follow you into the space of softness. It is such a lovely place to be with your horse.