I had another lesson with the fabulous Sarah last night. I initially wasnt as "ampted" for one as I usually am, unfortunetely letting the drama from the last week effect my overall demeanor. But we had scheduled and Sarah was gracious about hauling Milo up to DHR for the lesson, so I couldnt cancel just because I was feeling down. If Sarah was recovering from pnuemonia and could give a lesson, I could certainly buck it up and pay attention.
I led Milo into the arena and saw two large traffic cones set up about fifteen feet away from each other. Sarah checked Milo over, complimenting on his well balanced feet and even mentioning that his posture looked better then the last time she saw him. She gave him a few adjustments and all seemed well. Instructing me to hop on, I did and began warming up.
Normally, I run a play by play of my ride or lesson, to better document exactly how I asked for something and the response. I like to think of things chronologically so it helps keep me organized. I dont think I can follow this route today because there was far too much going on to try and remember each part, and describe in detail - it would make this the world's longest blog post. Instead, I will address the important details seperately.
My position is off again. Just when I start to think Im getting it, turns out I really havent been as spot on as I would like to think. Sarah made me fill in the hollow of my back again, and when I just couldnt seem to do it, she told me to hunch over. Hunch over in the saddle? Isnt it all about sitting up straight and letting the water flow up and down easily inside of me? But I got her point to really emphasize in my body that the small of my back needs to be rounded. With a reminder to lift my sternum up and roll my shoulders back while holding a round back, I was finding it difficult to breathe, and somewhat painful to my lower back which always carries a certain amount of pain. But the change, Sarah said, was dramatic: my horse's stride from the rear was drastic as he really reached up underneath himself and formed beautiful "Vs". I could feel that he felt somewhat taller underneath me, but was concentrating so hard on holding this position, I was having a hard time recognizing anything else.
We moved onto arcing and counter arcing in figure eights around the two cones. We concentrated first on my legs independently and their aids. To the circle around the right cone, Sarah had me tip Milo's nose towards the cone and push his hip out. Coming around for the figure eight to the left cone, she had me tip his nose towards the cone and push his hip towards it as well. This proved to be hard for Milo (and myself, who was having a hard time breathing and concentrating on my position, as well as falling off center when reaching my leg back for his hip). She told me to ask for his hip when the opposide shoulder was just touching the ground. I knew what she was saying but just couldnt time my cue to ask at the right time. Poor Milo tried hard though even though I wasnt asking at the right time, and Sarah would tell me when he was tracking correctly, but I was having a terrible time being able to feel it towards the left. She addressed this because my body basically rides comfortably to the right. Of course she phrased it better, but I cant remember the exact wording.
We had to bring it down to a walk for me to work on my timing, which of course changed the right time for the cue. Instead of waiting for that front foot to touch the ground, I had to cue when it was just starting to leave the ground. I felt I was starting to get it a little bit, but was still frustrated that I couldnt feel when he was doing it right. If I only know he did it right because Sarah told me he did, how the heck am I supposed to work on this at home? I was starting to shut down a bit, and as I heard Sarah saying lots of things I know she was trying to help me understand better with, I wasnt absorbing any of it. There was so much going on I was required to do: sit correctly, ride off the outside rein (which I was doing wrong still, more on that later), time when Milo's leg was moving in accordance to my leg cue (but not look right down at the shoulder cause that would drop me out of position, one I was having a hard time holding anyways).
When Milo did an exceptionally nice arc and/or counter arc, Sarah had me send him out of the cones for a few strides, then halt and back up. At least I could show her that my lower back hinge was working well for stops - Milo stopped under himself nicely and backed up straight and balanced. Woot! Compliments from Sarah.
I tried to get it in my head that unless I freed myself of this frustration over the fact that I couldnt feel what was right and wrong to the left side, or that I was frustrated because I didnt know what I was asking for or what I was supposed to want (thats the way it is though when your learning something new), I finally was able to decide that there was no point to my being there in the lesson if I wasnt being there in the lesson. I tried to push the drama from the last week, and the feelings of inadequecy out of my system, and tried to focus on the words that Sarah was telling me.
She had me move him into a arc to the left and once established, half halt with the outside rein and tap with the outside leg to rock him onto his inside leg to start a spin. With reminder to ride his body, not just positioning his head, she helped me gain more control over his shoulder and barrel to allow him to travel around in the spin correctly. There was a moment where he brought his inside leg forward then planted it and traveled around it for about three strides, Sarah said. I had felt the improved footsteps, and she asked what I felt differently. He had lifted me right up. She told me to walk him out when he does that nicely, as we dont want a lot of steps at it right now - we need to strengthen that joint.
Now we tried to repeat this the other way, but it was much harder for Milo (Im sure I was in the way too with my drifting hip). Trying to establish a correct arc to the right was difficult in and of itself. Milo wanted to move his head into a different position and as Sarah put it, "post his hock". With a reminder for me to ride the body and establish control over the shoulder, we finally got a good arcing circle. A small half halt with outside rein, and driving forward, we wanted him to plant that inside leg up under himself and rock himself around it. But tried to post his hock, whereby he keeps it directly under his hip, not up underneath himself. A reminder that this was the hock with the beginning arthritis in it, we knew we just needed to build strength into it. But Milo gave two small nice steps on it, and I walked him right out.
For my own sake, Im going to define what the arc, counter arc, leg yeild, and half pass are. Only because If I dont before moving forward I might confuse myself. I associate movements by themselves, and generally not with their titles.
The arcing circle is the harder of the two arcing types. Arcing on the circle sounds basic because its where the nose and hip are both going into the circle, and the body bends like a banana. This sounds like basic circle work, and while it is, it still is taxing and requires concentration. Sarah made it clear (yet again) that the bend is through the body, not just where the head is positioned. So Milo essentially needs to wrap around my inside leg, tipping his nose to the inside, and with my outside leg back, tucking his butt in and reaching up under towards the inside.
The counter arc is the opposite of the regular arcing. The nose is to the outside, and the hip is pushed to the outside, but the body is tracking towards the inside. I dont think I described that very well, and Sarah, please comment if I got this wrong.
Leg yeilding is when the nose and hip are going two different directions in a forward motion. So Milo's nose is tipped towards the right, and the hip is moving into the left.
Now the half pass is much harder. The half pass is where both nose and hip are traveling together in a forward motion, much like a sidepass, but forward. So tip the nose to the right, and push the hip that direction as well, and drive forward. The half pass was where I discovered what happens when my horse thinks he cannot do what Im asking.
Trying to keep my hips even with my shoulders and centered, not falling off to the side with the leg aid for the hip, Milo was working in a trot. The idea was to come around one cone pushing his hip out in a counter arc, then when at the top of the two cones with a pathway from one to the other across the center, half halt with the outside rein and half pass across the diagonal of the cones. Milo did a nice pass through half passing to the left (body curled towards the right). I could feel it that direction, and after opening up my mind to absorbing the information, was now much more capable of feeling all of the footfalls that Sarah was so diligently trying to get me to understand.
Coming around the next cone's corner, I swapped leg aids, and was now pushing his hip in a counter arc to the left, preparing to half pass across the diagonal to the right. Milo gave a few trying steps, but as I half halted with the outside rein, he blew right up into a bouncing temper tantrum. Never really trying to get me off, he leaped and bucked in place, telling me just how hard this was and he didnt wanna. I picked back up on the outside leg and drove him fiercly back up into our trot, back onto the counter arcing circle to the left a few times. I prepared to half halt and half pass, and with the half halt from the outside rein, he threw himself into a second tantrum. Driving him forward once more onto the counter arc circle, and really telling him to give me that hip and shoulder together, he finally did a half pass to the right. Good Boy! Sarah exclaimed and told me to send him forward out of the cones. I did, we then stopped and backed. Milo was puffing with his head dropped. I could feel him accept that it wasnt impossible, he just had to use his body in a way I had never asked for before.
You think that was the breakthrough wasnt it? The climax of the lesson? It was an important part and a mental breakthough for Milo, but the real wall for me was coming up. We still hadnt loped. Sarah laughed saying she could work on these arcs and counter arcs all day, as they are a great and important tool for everyhorse, and especially for Milo who has never been asked to carry himself in these ways, and will be pivotal for our lead changes.
Coming across the diagonal of the cones again, Sarah had me leg yeild through them, then half halt and lay my outside leg back for a lope departure. I have a terrible habit of throughing my reins away at the departure, I think in an effort to help balance Milo for the lope. I figured, if Im not hanging on his head, he can find the most comfortable position for himself to lope off. Good idea in theory, but not correct. More on that later though. The idea was to establish a nice arc around the right cone, then with my leg still holding his hip into the right, come across the cone diagonal again and drive him around the next cone in a counter canter, hip out. I could already see how beneficial though will be for lead changes. Milo did the first attempt very well, but lost his drive halfway around the next cone. I established a right lead lope again, and brought him across the diagonal, driving to keep that hip to the outside and counter canter around the cone. Again, he came apart, but this time a mere two strides into the counter canter. I could feel that I was hindering him, but I didnt know how.
First of all, I need to stop leaning forward into the lope departure. That right there is a cause to why Milo lifts his head up into the lope. He's basically telling me, as Sarah put it humorously but I unfortunetly can't show you her hand gestures (and btw I find it hilarious to watch her half pass around like shes a horse, then arc and sidepass, hehe), to get off his forehand, lady. This was a contributing factor to not only the lope departure, but also in this counter canter exercise. When I needed to keep driving him up across the cone diagonal, I was leaning forward and asking for more. Of course he was breaking to a trot, he couldnt balance with me driving forward like that. Sarah tried making that clear, but it really didnt hit me until I was driving home.
But we did finally get a full circle of counter canter and I was able to bring him out of the cones for a small reward again. We didnt, unfortuentely, get to work the counter canter much the other way because there was just one imperative problem from me that Sarah was just dying to get me to fix before we could continue.
You know how Im always saying I need to pick more outside rein, more outside rein, and still, more outside rein? I get that, but Im still not doing it right and heres how she made me realize it.
She made me grab hold of that outside rein and plant it down in the center of my thigh. See, with all this issue of Milo always tipping his nose to the right and bulding into the left, I try and compensate by just like, always holding onto that left rein. I need to be riding off of my outside rein, always. The inside rein just gives gentle reminder to stay straight and on the outside rein. So with my hand glued to my thigh, when Milo would try and yeild to it, I had to bump him back straight with the inside rein. The whole time Im thinking, but this isnt working, hes bent to the outside, more outside rein makes him bend himself that way. Sarah persisted with me though, and made me hold it, bump with the inside and continue. Finally, he was traveling straight and balancing off the outside rein. "Is your horse bent right now?" Sarah smartly asked. "Well..." I tried to fight for an excuse but came up empty. Sarah proved me wrong. The counter intuitive thinking was actually correct. "Now, holding that outside rein, do not let it go, pick up the lope". Oh my God, I thought. Im tired, my horse is tired. But I knew we had to break through my habits and Milo's traveling style (due to my habits) on this outside rein.
Into the lope we went and my hand was still affixed to my thigh. My horse was fighting it and skittering up and down. I bumped with the inside rein, but knew I had to hold my outside rein solid. Driving him up as needed, trying to stay centered (but at this point my total positioning went out the window as I just could not mentally or physically hold it anymore, but at least I was trying to stay off his forehand), we loped around circle by circle, and then the magic happened. He was traveling off my outside rein. He was straight, my inside rein was slack, and I had never felt my horse move like that before.
"I've always liked this horse," Sarah said, "but he never knocked my socks off. Tonight, he did that. There is so much potential in this horse."