Portugal’s tradition of riding with one hand has its roots in mounted warfare. It is an art that is threatening to disappear but has been kept alive through mounted bullfighting and now by Working Equitation as it gains popularity in many countries around the world.
It is the morning of my final day at Morgado. I am struggling. Ícaro is sucking back in the corners and in the lateral work. When I try to correct him, he swaps leads. My interpretation is that I have no go button because he’s giving me school horse responses and I’m unable to do correct work without that go button working. I am distracted by the lack of quality in the half-pass and finding it difficult to focus on the lines. I want to stop and “solve the problem” before carrying on. But Martime is not having it.
Instead, I find myself riding with both reins in my left hand and carrying my right arm across my chest, holding the whip. This is my first ever attempt at riding with one hand in any structured way.
Ícaro takes a breath. As we go on, his distrust melts away in a stride. No sucking back. No swapping leads. Now don’t get me wrong- there is still plenty of muddle. The learning curve feels steep and there are moments of miscommunication. But the change between us is palpable.
I realize my interpretation had been wrong. I did not need to stop and fix HIS answers to my aids. I needed to fix myself. I can no longer be un-level with my hands. I can no longer collapse a hip or drop a shoulder. My body remains centered over his midline along with my hand and the reins. My brain is telling me this should be hard. But it is made easy by the nature of this horse to be in the moment. He responds only to who I am being now. He has forgotten, already, who I had been just a few moments ago.
Wow. I cannot help but feel a bit emotional when I think about the thin threads of tradition that are actually meant to be the backbone of our modern riding. Even though I have never ridden with this ancient Portuguese method nor even studied it, I feel I have remembered something that was already in my bones. Respect. Another precious lesson I will not leave behind.