Some thoughts on learning to use a bamboo cane in-hand properly.
Manolo speak of the in-hand trainer being like an orchestra conductor and creating music with the horse by using his bamboo cane to organize and activate the horse’s body just as a conductor activates different sections of the orchestra to create a symphony. As he does, a conductor’s baguette moves fluidly and effortlessly in the air, and so does Manolo’s bamboo cane.
The conductor’s baguette points and energetically touches and connects with parts of the orchestra. Of course when we do in-hand work, while we can point we also connect physically with parts of the horse but if you watch Manolo work there is a lightness to his touch that contains this “in the air” quality.
There is fluidity and grace in how the bamboo travels in the air which comes from decades of in-hand experience but also Manolo’s intent, his own body awareness and how he chooses to step through life with or without a bamboo.
Manolo moves like a dancer and he enjoys movement. Anyone who has seen him run in the arena knows this. There is a playfulness to how he uses his body in space and an intuitive understanding of symmetry and rhythm. This savoring of movement and instinctive search for harmonious expression is found in every thing Manolo does. Watch him sweep a broom, trim a hedge, harrow an arena, dig a hole, hammer in a post. There is an innate understanding of timing, cadence, volumes, movement, equilibrium, and harmony in the most mundane tasks. Manolo flows and yet he is very precise, his geometry always elegant.
When you practice with your bamboo (without your horse at first as you develop your dexterity) you may think of yourself as a cross between a dancer, a fencer (with a sword) and a conductor because you want to develop the ability to move fluidly, with a great range of motion, while in motion. As you hold your bamboo, you want to practice twirling it, lengthening it by extending your arm, shortening and bringing it back by retracting your arm or moving your hand, pointing it at the sky, the ground, to the left and right…etc…. All these motions are designed to improve your brain/hand/bamboo connection and spatial awareness and will go towards making the bamboo simply an extension of your arm and hand. Until movement becomes organic.
Your goal in the beginning is not to be able to hit a target precisely as you walk around on fixed travel lines but instead, to be able to move as one with your bamboo, to dance with it, to remove any inhibition in your body and mind about having to hold a foreign object and move it around. You want to dance with your bamboo, trace ribbons in the sky with it, listen to its sound when you shake it fast in the air and it vibrates and changes the air around it. As you do, pay great mind to creating a rhythm and avoiding jerky and abrupt movements, look to create shapes that are harmonious, look for any part of you that is holding stiffness, that fears judgement, ridicule, critique and let it all go.
As the awkwardest of holding a long cane and moving it around subsides, think of yourself as a dancer, your wrists will be supple, your elbows supple, your shoulders supple. Your trunk supple, your knees supple, your ankles supple. Your spine supple and your neck supple. Your jaw supple and your eyes supple. Your lips supple and your breath easy. It is not only the bamboo who will be flexible in your hand but your body and mind who will have gained the ability to adapt, twirl, lengthen, gather, turn in step with your horse, as you help shape his posture.
There can be inhibitions at first in holding a bamboo and doing this work. Worrying one is doing it wrong and feeling the eyes of others on oneself or imagining them. Feeling awkward and cumbersone with two left feet like an arena wall flower. This is why remembering how you experienced the pure joy of movement is important and giving yourself a private, safe place to practice alone or with your horse is equally important. That and time.
Too often, working with horses is so codified it becomes stultifying and creates stiff handlers. This leads to stiff horses and eventually unsound horses. Training rigidity in mind and body creates a distance between the horse and us. Horses are beauty in motion and a ridden or in-hand horse cannot dance alone, his elegance, power, suppleness is one we want to emulate by having a supple mind and a supple body and the same capacity for joy in motion so we can be a good dance partner.
There is much to benefit a handler in the simple act of picking up a bamboo for one who pays attention.