Sunday, December 5, 2010

Its Still Being Processed

I had my lesson with Sarah on Friday night, which was a joint lesson with Melissa from An Image of Grace at Diamond Hill Ranch. Sarah was so kind enough to pick Milo and I up from the barn an haul us to DHR. Milo got to make a new friend in the trailer ride, one of Sarah's horses in training, Joe. We unloaded right where the cows are penned. Milo got a little excited, thinking we would be playing with cows tonight. And while I agreed that yes, it would be, it was not on the agenda for tonight.

I threw up the saddle and brought him into the arena. Cathy was riding one of her gorgeous horses in training, Blondie. But the three of us plus Sarah on Joe did not seem crowded in Cathy's huge arena, a major benefit from working in the arena at home.

I started Milo with a mellow longe, just to get his focus on me and not the cows in the other pen. Once ready, I climbed aboard. I had forgotten the elevator bit Sarah had loaned me and had only brought my snaffle. So I began warming up with it - doing our arcs and counter arcs, and trying to regain control over every part of his body. The last few rides he has been really bulging out his left shoulder, and it takes more requests from me than I like to try and keep him in line, only for him to bulge it back out again. So Sarah watched us warm up and showed us another exercise to tie it all together with on Joe. So I tried it on Milo. Than Sarah asked if she could get on him, and said he really needs to come up off of his shoulder, the elevator bit would help with that. OK.

She put Melissa's elevator bit that she had in her trailer on Milo, than got on. She quickly discovered just how disconnected Milo's body really is. She asked him to not only come up over his back, but also bend his back through bringing his driving outside leg up and through in an almost half pass looking maneuver. Milo was confused and wanted to revert back to the usual stance his body is accustomed to. This business of lifting and bending was too difficult, he insisted. And yes, it is. His muscles havent been asked to do that just yet, and it would take a little time to get him used to using those muscles in a different manner.

Sarah than had me get back on. Because Milo was insistent that it was far too difficult to bend and lift, he needed some encouragement from both my outside spur but also Sarah on the ground. I would drive with the spur; "I cant possibly, its to hard." Sarah would tap him with the longe. He eventually gave a few small steps. Good Milo! He was better to the left than to the right, which later made sense because the left shoulder is the one he bulges out (this ties in later too).

Sarah said to work on that a little bit, but he needs much more work on the counter arc (this maneuver) than the arc (basic circle) because the arc is an easy thing for him and he can also very easily bulge the shoulder out. We need to get him lifting his shoulder, raising his back, and bending (this is also driving) from the outside drive leg. She also told me that I need to be supporting with my outside rein far more than I am. Which was a very hard concept for me to understand. It seemed counter-intuitive. If I wanted him to be going to the left, why would I pick up on the outside rein? I pondered that odd theory while I walked Milo around a bit. When he just wasnt seeming to get it again (and Sarah was working with Melissa) I picked up on the outside rein. Voila, there came the shoulder control. I exclaimed excitedly "It works!!"

Keeping this new concept in mind throughout the ride was easier said than one. My own muscle memory would instinctively want to ask with the inside rein first. Gee, Milo and I both were having to work in a different manner.

I brought him up into a trot, but and asked for the lift and bend. It was very difficult for Milo, but he gave me one really good step to the left (his easier side). What a good Milo! Working to the right, I asked for the lift and bend (counter arc) and it was much more difficult to do at a trot. I think he gave me a small effort, but not a real step, but I accepted that knowing that it was new for his muscles and hard.

Sarah had Melissa doing this interesting lope exercise. She was loping on the right lead, counter arcing down the centerline. Than Melissa would turn Grace towards the rail like she wanted to change direction, but would old her outside leg in lope position still, encouraging Grace to keep it to the inside, than she would change direction again back to the centerline. It was interesting looking, but also appeared very hard. I didnt think much of it assuming Melissa and Grace where more advanced in their work with Sarah than I was. Heck, this was my first official lesson with her. Than Sarah asked me if I wanted to try the lope exercise.


"I dont think Milo is ready for that yet." I stammered. "He still isnt truly bringing the drive leg underneath himself at a trot, how can I possibly ask for that at a lope?" Sarah, in her wisdom, said, "This exercise with bring his shoulders up and help him to bring the drive leg underneath himself." Still worried, I asked her to show it to me again on Joe so I could really pay attention. She did just the same thing Melissa did, and I could see how it did bring the shoulder up. "OK, so ask for a lope," Sarah said. "Well, OK."

I brought him into a circle than pushed his hip in, " Do I need to ask for a lifted back to go into the lope?" "Just lope." Worried that my horse felt spent underneath me, and that we would inevitably fail at this exercise, I asked for the right lead lope (this is the side where he lately had felt very disconnected, and something I was describing as lacking drive from the rear). He stepped into his odd moving fashion and I said, "See Sarah, this is what I was talking about, this strange way hes moving." She just encouraged me to keep loping. I loped the rail a time or two, using everything in my power (and spurs) to keep him moving because with the slightest release of my leg he wanted to drop down into a trot, or change leads.

Still concerned that she wasnt addressing this odd movement from Milo, she surprised me by saying, "Nina, you're on your forehand. You can get Milo off of his unless you are off of yours." Hmm, so I rolled back a bit on my seat and tried to straighten up myself. Milo seemed to lift up his shoulder, but at the time, I thought that it was just him raising his head into the air. Until later, Melissa, who had been watching, said, "As soon as Nina changed her body position, it was only for three strides or so, Milo changed dramatically."

Sarah kept me in a lope than had me bring it to a circle near her. I had somewhat forgotten about the new idea of the outside rein, than she reminded me and asked me to support him with it. His head was in the air, and his back was hollow, but she encouraged us to keep loping. She than had me just remind him with the inside rein to arc to the inside, while still holding the outside rein. She said very sternly, "Do NOT release that outside rein, hold it, hold it, DO NOT release it." So I held to it, and bumped a bit with the inside, my body and legs screaming at me from trying to hold a new position, and driving with the life of me from my legs, keeping him in the lope and not letting him bulge the shoulder out. There. There was a stride or two of a lifted, non bulging horse. I brought him to a stop and felt just as spent as I think Milo did.

My mind wasnt fully comprehending all of this and what just happened. Than Melissa made her comment. I stared at her a little dumbfounded. It wasnt until later driving home that I was able to understand what she had said and how it did truly apply. I dont remember what we talked about as the three of us sat there on our horses for a few minutes. My mind was trying to wrap itself around all of this.

We loaded up, and I asked Sarah in the truck, "Sarah, can the way Ive been riding be causing me back pain? Ive been attributing it to the desk chair I sit in at work, but can this be effecting it too?" "Definitely" she replied. I sat there and pondered. It all was making sense now.

"Sarah, we didnt address why Milo is moving like he is at the right lead lope." "It's because of the way you have been riding him." Flabbergasted, I said, "Ive been riding the same way for how many years, why would it just now appear in Milo?" "Because its the build up of years worth of incorrect position both in Milo and you." "OK, but it cant just appear in his right side," my smart ass mouth said. "Yes it can." Ah, words of wisdom from Sarah.

I thought for a moment. Than we moved onto a new subject.

I drove home and remembered what Sarah had said early on in the lesson, something I sort of heard but didnt take to heart. "If the only thing you take away from this lesson today Nina is to use your outside rein, that is still an important thing." The way that I am taking that now is this: My horse can only move in a manner in which I do as well. When I just get out of my horses way (famous words from Melissa) it works. I also remembered one more thing from Sarah: "Using the outside rein is a more sophisticated way of riding. We were all taught to direct with the inside. Once you start using the outside rein, your are speaking your horse's language, he now has something to balance with, and you'll be amazed how fast he progresses when you ride him this way."


Story said...

Most interesting! I also get back pain when I ride...and I also have a tendency to be on my forehand (I like that way of putting it). I like to blame years of riding hunters but it's really no excuse lol. I was just yesterday trying to make a list of mini goals for my rides this month and getting my butt under me was top of the list. Sarah sounds like a great coach.

paint_horse_milo said...

Im so glad to be working with Sarah! I agree, its the in my youth the only formal training I had was in english riding...hunters specifically, and I still naturally want to sit on my forehand. Its amazing how our horses asume our position

Rising Rainbow said...

I still remember the day I learned about that outside rein even though it's been many years ago. It was such an important day for my riding.

Anonymous said...

You're right - most of the pain we have in our bodies and the difficulties our horses have come from our body position and our braces. It's taken me a long time to learn that, but as you say the changes can be dramatic.

The outside rein - or rather inside leg to outside rein - is so fundamental.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Inside leg to outside rein - key. Don't totally lose the inside rein though.

Contact is relative. It's the difference between the two reins, not just how much contact you have in either rein. Something I'm just starting to get - theoretically at least :)