How Ravel's Boléro Can Improve Your Riding
Boléro is a one-movement orchestral piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). If you've never listened to it, you should. It's interesting in that it has a series of repetition in the music and that the music starts very softly and slowly, but then bit by bit increases in volume and pace until it ends in thunderous finale. It reminds me of riding because, in a sense, our riding has a series of repetitions to it that we begin a bit slowly and softly. Over time, the ability and intensity of the training increases until we are a beautiful and amazing 'finale' of sorts, and are a bit amazed looking back at where we started to where we are now.
Think of when you started riding and staying on the rail all the way around the arena with your horse at the trot and canter was a challenge. Then you began to ride it without thought. The next step was a shallow loop – perhaps half way to the quarter line, and then all the way to the quarter line at the trot. Then you can try it past the quarter line, perhaps all the way to X. Then the loop gets serious and crosses over to the far quarter line and then all the way from long side to long side. It's time to celebrate! Bend and balance are there at a lovely evenly cadenced trot!
But then there's work at the canter to be done. The loop might take a little longer to develop, especially the parts where the horse takes the counter canter strides. This is where you have to ride more and help your horse get used to this feeling and maintaining the rhythm. They may fall out of the canter more often, or decide not to maintain the bend. Perhaps they speed up to get through it faster and scramble for balance. But suddenly you realize you are looping all the way from long side to X and back again. And then the far quarter line doesn't seem so hard, and you begin pushing a bit for that. And then there's the entire loop all the way across the arena. It could take a few days, weeks, or months, but it is there and it goes from being a strenuous exercise to a warm up exercise at the trot, and even a canter quality improving exercise that becomes regular in your training routine.
Like the music, the change started softly and slowly and barely an effort, but that allowed you and your horse’s confidence to grow. Each increase in difficulty as the loop went a little farther out and back again gave the horse the opportunity to learn to balance and strengthen themselves while giving you the opportunities to clarify and follow with the aids. Try riding some loops next time with your horse, and maybe even play Boléro even if you're just starting out! It will remind that you these little incremental steps of training are preparing you for a beautiful finale. I suggest for the horse, you share a treat while listening to the end of the music. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza and Boxing Day to all my horsey and non–horsey friends!