Friday, January 14, 2011

I Have to Get Out of My Horse's Way

I walked into the pasture with Milo's halter and lead rope. He stared at me but approached, then bypassed me and went straight to Sarah. "What the heck, Milo??" I asked. Sarah just laughed and we loaded up. "Wow, look at his neck," she said. "Wait until you see his back!" I exclaimed back. As I unloaded at Diamond Hill Ranch, the cows were mooing and carrying on over their empty stomachs. Milo was tied on the side of the trailer next to the cows and kept looking them over getting a little antsy. I felt bad knowing I would be disappointing him yet again on not working with cows especially when he can see and hear them.

Sarah checked over Milo. His body is definitely changing since my first official lesson with Sarah in November. He was being very vocal (but its Milo - hes vocal with his mouth) flipping his head around to his side and showing her what needed fixed. His rib was off again, not out by what I understood, just off. Probably from the Cowhorse Equipment Saddle, we concluded. It fits nice, but not as nicely as the About the Horse. After Sarah put his body where it should be and even mentioned his shoulders being in better alignment, I tacked him up with her now familiar saddle.

"Do we want to start with any groundwork?" I asked.

"Lets just get on and see what we've got."

As instructed I climbed aboard. She had me right away back him up and lift his back because he was standing with his shoulders thrown forward. "Alright, now walk him forward."

I honestly dont know what I was expecting to get out of the lesson. I just knew I wanted Sarah to look us over and let us know what was needed next. I've known for a while now that my position isnt what it should be, but of course, riding alone doesnt give me the eyes on the ground. Right away Sarah corrected my posture. This lesson was going to be my position. She said I was doing a great job with Milo, but now we had to fix my position and get me out of the way to continue.

She had me scoot forward in the saddle a quarter of an inch and round out my lower back, something that is very difficult for me due to not only my lower back pain, but also the years and years of "equitation" riding telling me to arch that area and poke my butt out. Next she told me to lift my sternum to the sky and imagine my shoulder blades touching each other behind my back. "But keep your back soft and round," she encouraged at the same time. "This is hard," I replied. Sarah laughed.

She had me push Milo into the bridle and walk straight. Soon, Milo began stiffening to what was the inside, or the left side. He felt like he was not wrapping himself around my leg. So she had me bring his nose to the inside and push his butt to the outside. Hmm. After a few attempts then finally getting my body to comply with her requests, he seemed to straighten out again.

Focusing on a soft back and a raised sternum, Sarah then said, "You dont need to" ephasizing each of those words. Meaning, that I was pumping with my seat - basically over emphasizing the natural motion with my horse. "Well, I feel like Im constantly asking him to go, I guess thats why Im doing that." Sarah explained very well that with my over riding on Milo, hes down below going "Geez lady are you ever going to stop moving up there?" and he hollows out away from my excessive movement. Hmm. I pondered this. "Engage your core like you just blew out 21 birthday candles. Now hold that. And lighten your seat. A light seat is not a tense one, its just taking your weight off of his back." Sarah then handed me a dressage whip. She instructed that I should stop aiding for "faster" with my spur. Spur is for lifting, leg is for speed. If I wanted more forward I was to squeeze with my legs, cluck, then tickle with the dressage whip if needed. Wow what a concept to not use my spur.

As I attempted to follow these new riding guidlines, I suddently got it for a few strides. Then a bit longer. "Do you feel how Milo is reaching up farther underneath himself?" Yes, I could. It wasnt a longer stride really, he wasnt moving any faster, just engaging and reaching up underneath himself farther with his hind legs. Wow. If I do put myself in the right position my horse really benefits.

I moved up into the trot per Sarah's direction and worked on my position at that was well. She reminded me to hold with that outside rein and to direct a turn with my body and my outside rein. I was not to aid with the inside. This was a concept I had been working on since our last lesson. But what was more engrained into me last night was that it is OK to pick up on this bit more then I was. She reminded it is only a snaffle and will not hurt him. Once I figured that out and picked up my reins by about a mile, he really started to work with that bit and carry it nicely.

I was finally getting that new position. But then, "Stop wiggling. You're moving from side to side. Engage your core." I blew out my birthday candles and rengaged my core and sat with a quiter seat. "There, very nice Nina." Woo! A compliment from Sarah. My inards made a happy dance. Ahhh, so this is what it is supposed to feel like. We trotted around a few more rounds each direction, then Sarah said we would work on our downward transitions. I dont know if it was that she saw a bad one, or if I mentioned something, or if she simply has been following my blog, but I knew it was something we need to work on and so did Sarah apparently. I know that our downward transitions are my fault because I cannot seem to soften my lower back, and I will freely admit that, as I did at our lesson.

Sarah had me trot around her then on the quarterline ask for a halt. Which I did in my usual way: slam my seat down and back, and throw my legs forward. Milo responded as usual, an attempt to put his butt down but hopped (as has been evident in our last few reining videos). Sarah said I needed to keep my leg on him, or at least, to not throw them away, and to simply soften my seat and lift my hand straight up. On the next attempt I tried, but still threw my weight back and pulled back on the rein. Sarah really tried to explain to me what I was doing wrong and I wasnt getting it. She made it clear by a simple hand gensture.

You see it with those big time reining trainers. They appear to be leaning back with the horse's slide. In reality, if you were to put that horse's butt back out of the dirt, the rider would still be straight. I was leaning back but not with the motion of my horse. Instead, this jammed by weight into his shoulder and gave Milo no opportunity to come up underneath and causes him to hop down to a stop. Another way she explained it, was when you see jumpers throw themselves up over the horse on the jump, not letting their horse put them in the right position. I was doing this in reverse. Ohh.

Ok, so I know what Im doing wrong. How can I do it right now? Just soften my seat, say Woah at the same time, and lift my rein. I tried again. I very much over exageratted my lifted hand but still had a stiff back. On the next attempt I got a somewhat softer back and a better stop. Sarah instructed me to try at a lope now.

Well this gave another lesson in the lesson on how to correctly aid him into the lope. I had always been under the impression, from whom I got this specifically Im not sure, but to push his shoulder out, push his hip in, and cue for the lope. When I went to do this, Milo got all sorts of fishtaily and drifted out with his shoulder. Sarah instructed to just ask for it in a straight manner. Straight? This was a new concept. I focused on getting his body aligned, staying soft in my back, lifted at the sternum, and engaged with my core, and asked for the departure. He did it, not beautifully, but hey I havent asked him to lope off straight in, well probably ever.

We tried the Woah again. I brought my hand back in what I thought was a lift, and again did not soften my back but rather tried to lean back again. I could start to sense by the next attempt that Sarah was really trying to find a way to get me to understand. She and I both knew that I knew what I was supposed to do, I just could not get my body to do it.

"Try to just let go of your rein, forget about his head, grab your horn and just soften and say Woah," Sarah suggested. That attempt was really bad. I was thrown forward and jammed my toes down.

She then showed me via her own body what I was supposed to do. It was simply, soften your back and Woah, and lift my hand. It looked so effortless when Sarah demonstrated. Alright. Into the lope again, and soften, Woah with a lift. Holy crap. I softened my back. I didnt lean back. I lifted my hand. And Milo gave a nice stop. More compliments from Sarah! *Happy Dance*

So that is what I am supposed to do. I think we tried it the other way, and I softened by back and we stopped well again. "I feel like all I did was kind of rotate my hips back." I said, a bit confused. Sarah let out a sigh and raised her hands in the air. "My work here is done!"

I walked Milo out and gave him pats. Still thinking about what my body finally did. I think I got it.  Sarah said she wanted to get on him for a moment, so I softened by back and asked for a halt. "OMG! Did you see that??" I asked. Sarah's back had been turned, but Milo stopped soft and lifted underneath me. Omg! I did it right?! We stopped correctly? Sarah said she believed me and good job. I got off and patted and patted Milo. Sarah didnt get on afterwards because since Milo stopped so nicely it was a perfect place to end the ride. I joked saying Milo heard she was going to get on so stopped well to avoid it.

We loaded up and went home. Sarah asked if I had gotten enough to work with until our next lesson. Oh boy do I. I need to get out of my horse's way. Famous words I have heard before.


Story said...

I so know what you're going through! It really sounds like we're at a similar stage in learning this reining stuff.

I'm in the same boat with the back thing (including the back pain). Trying to convince myself that not only is it ok to round your back, it's even correct, just goes against so many years of being drilled on the opposite! For me I find it feels more natural if I really relax my leg, right from the hip down. If you tip forward at all or arch your back, all that just naturally tightens up. Oddly enough I also found this made me stop losing my stirrups.

I think the tendency to lean back on stops is very common. What I try to do is concentrate on the soft round back position all the way through my run down. There really isn't anywhere to go on the stop if my pockets are already in contact with the saddle...just a slight rotation of the hips exactly like you described, whereas if I'm getting tipped forward (very tempting as the speed increases...hello two point?!) I'm more likely to throw myself back on the stop.

It took a lot of getting past all of the drilled in equitation, but I'm really starting to love this new equitation. It feels so much more effective to me, and so much more comfortable.

Sarah sounds like a great teacher.

Anonymous said...

I agree, I even mentioned to Sarah when I was riding correctly that "I can actually look up and see where Im going." Wow what a concept,huh?? LOL. And I was having serious problems just before this lesson on loosing my stirrups. DIdnt have a problem afterwards when I sat correctly. I just tend to overthink my stop on the rundown and forget to actually ride all the way to the end.

Sarah is a great teacher. I hope to read more about your riding too, post more often!

Anonymous said...

Sarah sounds like a really good teacher - you're fortunate. It's usually all about us, and about things we do that get in the horse's way - great write-up!

Story said...

Haha! I have an actual riding post in the works following a productive lesson last night. :)