Friday, February 18, 2011

It Always Stems from Me

Last night I had another lesson with the fabulous Sarah. She was due to have a lesson at 4:00 and I would need to retrieve her truck and trailer from her and go get Milo myself to save on time. I was fine with the idea of hauling myself, I've driven Boyfriend's monser F350 many times:

My only concern was the fact that I would be driving someone else's truck and trailer, and if something happened my head (and wallet) was on the chopping board. I drove her Dodge dually and three horse trailer carefully, and was fortunte to have nearly completely clear roads. Milo loaded right up, I grabbed Sarah's bridle with the elevator bit, a brush, and my saddle pad and hit the road arriving back at Diamond Hill Ranch at about 5:10. The earlier lesson called saying they would be running behind and would arrive at about 5:30, just about the same time I would be due to get on. But I didnt really mind sharing my lesson time, so long as I was still getting one.

Sarah poked at Milo, and he showed some great displeasure in the usual area - his first ribs were out again. This just makes me feel awful every time we see Sarah and she finds his ribs are out again. Not only does it make me upset that for however long they have been out Milo has been uncomfortable, but it also makes me feel a bit incompetant to keeping it in place. I do the exercises Sarah shows me to do for him, and Im trying to work him as listed and over his back as possible, not to mention I dont have a saddle to be riding him in, so is my bareback seat really that bad to throw his ribs out again?

Ribs back in place however, we saddled up and off to the arena we went. I climbed back into the familiar About the Horse saddle, and Sarah looked at my position. She was pleased with my newly found seat, but then demonstrated that my hips were still locked. She pushed my knee from the ground and my leg wouldnt move. She then rolled my legs out a bit, as she said "like a frog on a ball". This rotated my hips wider and brought my knee away from the saddle and my calf on Milo's sides. She pushed on my knee again, this time it allowed my femur to move away from the pressure, thereby showing my hip was out of locked position. This would help me gain more control over my seat and work with my whole body and not just my leg.

It was interesting as I warmed Milo up and held my legs on him like a frog on a ball, because just the night before when I rode there were periods of our trot work that I had rotated my legs into this position and felt that it openend my seat better. But being as my knee was away from the saddle and always being taught that that is a big no-no for equitation, I put them back to their locked position. Even warming up Milo now, I mentioned to Sarah how I actually found this position more comfortable for my hips then that of before. While by the ride's end my legs, back, and core were totally and completely tired, I did feel that I was riding more communicative.

The other lesson arrrived and came into the arena. I immedietly recognized the horse and the rider's name from 4H shows and competitions. A very accomplished rider, this girl and her mother had hauled from an hour away across the Hood Canal Bridge to come here. We said Hi, and as Sarah worked on her saddle fitting, I warmed up Milo. He was feeling a bit goosey like usual, with his neck being as Sarah describes "a noodle". Which is expressed as Im written here by his bulging shoulder, his overdeveloped left side, and the fact that he may move his neck, but not his barrel or hip (hence the noodle term for his wiggly neck, or goosey for me). I was having a bit of frustrations with him getting off my left leg (and both cinches were a joined X mohair so my spurs kept getting caught, which Sarah apologized for), and lifting his back. We were working at the end of the arena where the cows are housed and he was a bit distracted.

Sarah turned to me and asked to see a lope departure. Thinking about straightess (but not being effective) I laid my leg back and smooched. Milo pinned his ears and hollowed out, scrambling into a lope. "Outside rein, Nina, outside rein" cascaded the all too familiar words from Sarah. I tried to explain how I was feeling on him: lifitng my outside rein (right side) only seemed to dump him even further into the circle on that overdeveloped and bulging left side. The more I applied outside rein, the more his neck bent (or noodled) to the inside with his nose poked out. With him being so heavy on that left leg all the bumping and spurring in the world wasnt getting him off of traveling inward. Sarah had me try again (outside rein, more outside rein...) but this time had be set him up perfectly straight before the departure. I picked up with my outside rein, pushed him barrel out with my inside leg (difficultly) displacing his weight to the outside for a lope departure from the rear, half halt briefly, then lope depart. It was a much better departure, but apparely I still was supporting with my outside rein. "Pick up your outside rein, Nina. More...more...more...keep picking it up until I tell you to stop" as I grabbed rein centimeter by centimeter, never wanting to have too much feel on his mouth Sarah finally made it clear again saying "He needs something to lean on. Right now you are just messing with him but not communicating effectively." When I picked up what felt like miles of rein and pushing his barrel out, we finally got a nice lope departure. "There, good job, now do that 500 more times." Woah, I said after a few lope strides, bringing him to a stop, then a back up.

"He's backing crooked," Sarah said. He was. He was pushing his hip to the left in the back. She had me push his hip out both ways then ask again for straighness, which he gave a very nice straight back then. She let me mull this over again and work on some transitions again on my own (with more outside rein), trying to get the feel of that last departure I needed to repeat 500 more times now. He was getting better, after after a few minutes she wanted me to work on serpentines with him to unlock his shoulder while she worked the other lesson.

The serpentines...did not go so well. Even though I had a lot more rein and was utilizing my outside rein, Milo still was really resistant to it diving into the new direction change shoulder first, bulging out. He wouldnt get off my left leg or rein and just as I was starting to feel like I couldnt ask any "harder" Sarah had me bring him over to her. She ran her hand down the muscle just in front of his left shoulder, a technique Peggy Cummings does (although I dont remember the name now). Milo braced against her hand, raising his head up and "turtling back" as Sarah says he does. "Right now, his shoulders are locked. We need him to lift his wither but he can't with these locked shoulders." As Milo walked away from he hand pressure, he finally stopped and relaxed, letting her help him release the tension in that shoulder. She then ran he hand down the front of his shoulder, grasping a muscle down in the front and lifting up. Milo backed away from that, as those muscles have been "taught" to do (turtling back) but finally stopped and lifted his wither up, dropping his head. "Good Boy" Sarah said, all the while explaining to me how this was beneficial and how he needed to unlock those shoulders and allow his wither to lift. She went to the other side and did the same on that shoulder. Milo walked out of the pressure, but this time was not bracing against it. She said sometimes the horse has to walk to release the tension, "Your so smart Milo," she said, "knowing you have to walk, good boy." He released nicely, and lifted his wither and her hand in the front.

Sarah then said that she felt Milo needed the "lifter bit" now. He needs something more fixed in his mouth, not joined like the elevator. She directed me to its location in the trailer and I found it, looking at the strange bit I had in my hands:

This bit concept, but stainless steel and without the showy dots.

Always concered about what is being put in my horse's mouth, I asked the mechanices of this bit. She said it works just like the elevator, but is fixed so it will help him stay straight (less noodle effect) and lift at his wither. She said he might be a bit fussy with it at first but he should pick it up fine. She was right. At first, he very dramatically bent his head to the right pushing his neck and shoulder out to the left (basically overexaggerating what he was already doing before). But he didnt mouth it or fight it so much as he did when the elevator bit first got put in (maybe he likes the tongue relief of the port more, or maybe it feels much like the elevator, Im not sure). Said had me hold on the outside rein, then pick up a bit on the left and push his barrel over just as we did before. More outside rein, was the usual command, she stated very clearly again that I have to support him with the outside rein especially in this bit. Its a shank bit and does not have the flexibility of a snaffle. Sarah said this bit was not only going to help Milo achieve more straightness and lift, but it was also going to make me use my whole body more, not just my hands. I thought, gee I dont use my hands that much anymore, I never want to get on my horse's face. But Sarah saw differently very quickly and adressed that I was riding with my right hip forward.

She said that when your horse is drifting out with that shoulder, first thing you need to adress is yourself. Milo is used to you riding with that hip forward. He moves easily to the right because that is the direction of my hip, but moving to the left is harder because my hip isnt allowing him to travel correctly that way. To combat this, she told me that when I feel that shoulder moving out, I need to literally look over my inside shoulder. This displaces my hip to the outside and allows him to follow suit with his shoulder. I did, and she asked if I saw the difference in my horse. Yes, I did, he stopped bulging the shoulder out. But I then said that I didnt feel anything differnt in my body. She said I wouldnt now, its very slight, but eventually I will. She had me work on his, and give Milo a chance to figure out the bit as she turned back to the other side of the arena for the other lesson.

This really was working. I was supporting with my outside rein, and it was allowing Milo to travel straight, even with lift at the wither. We worked on a large circle, then serpentines, then straight lines, all the while focusing on straightness and an outside rein (and my hip). I picked him up to a trot and he moved easily in that gait as well. After a few transitions and one final nice halt and back, Sarah's other lesson was over, and my body was spent. I dismounted and gave Milo a pat. Sarah showed me how to relax Milo's shoulder muscles on the ground as she had done before, and the differences in Milo's posture and neck were amazing.

Absolutely exhausted and tired in every muscle of my body (as Im sure Milo was too) we untacked and loaded up. Sarah said she would leave a headstall out at her place this afternoon (she leaves for a horseshow today) with the bit on it and I could take that and use on Milo now, replacing the elevator. Im excited to ride more in it, as Sarah had said last night, Milo is coming along so much better then the first time she met me, which made me feel great.

ETA: I as thinking back on this lesson again after posting, and realized I missed another key point (so much knowledge coming its hard to remember every imporant detail), and that was that I can be WAY to easy or "nice" to my horse. I feel that I always want to give Milo the benefit of th doubt, a release for even the slightest effort. An example of this was right after we put the new bit on, and I asked Milo to lift up then walk forward. He lifted, but after a leg cue for forward moved his head side to side, hollowed, out, pinned ears, and swished his tail basically saying "no way I dont want to lift and go forward too diificult, I dont wanna." I asked for lift again, and forward this time I got forward but no lift, I somewhat unconsciously gave him back some face after he moved forward. Sarah pushed saying I am NOT to give him his head when he didnt give me his back. I basically told him "Oh Milo, its ok if you didnt lift up, Im just happy you walked forward." This makes a lot of sense, I do that a lot and its always at the halt to walk transition, its basically Milo giving me the finger and me saying tha I appreciate the thought. I was glad for Sarah to sharply address this saying I CANNOT do that.

She also had to remind me to keep some contact on the bit. She said she liked that I want to let him stretch down and she likes that I have softer hands, but he needs to work off of the bit or else the purpose of this bit is not going to be achieved. Its easier said then done, the reins just seem to slip out of my hands on their own. I guess Im just used to giving Milo some rein when he stretches down, which is great, but he still needs to be flexed at the poll with his head stretched too. She reminded me that it is ok for me to pick up on the bit, I just have to keep reminding myself of that when I ride him without the Hawk Eyes of Sarah.

1 comment:

Rising Rainbow said...

sounds like a productive lesson. Good for you!