I serpentined and torso twisted, finding my bearings in the saddle again. Milo was feeling a little on the lazy side as we warmed up, and once up to the trot, Sarah handed me The Motivator. The Motivator is basically a cross between a dressage whip and a training stick. Its as long as a dressage whip, but firmer, although still allowing some flexibility. The Motivator is designed by Peggy Cummings, and I have used Sarah's twice before for ground work exercises to make him reach laterally in his hind, as well as when I rode Wesley, and used as it's name suggests: a motivator or reminder to use their hind end.
Motivator in hand, I tapped Milo's croup as needed when he was dull to my leg aid. Milo doesnt walk fast to begin with, but there is a difference between walking slow with engagement, and just walking slow. A tap from The Motivator reminds Milo what his booty is there for. I had voiced to Sarah something I had been noticing in our lessons, and that is that Milo seems extremely dull to my leg aid. Bareback, it requires very small amount of leg aid, but under-saddle I'm constantly bumping him along and I hate when I end up deferring to the spur as the spur is not intended for forward. She remarked that under saddle he reverts back to his "old days" when he was not motivated at all to work due to poor fit and he was generally uncomfortable in many ways. The Motivator, or something of similar qualities, would be a great item for me to use for under saddle when he is lacking forward, and on the ground for exercises.
Fighting my outside (right) rein again, Sarah gave a great suggestion and that is when he feels like hes not reaching for that outside rein, bring my shoulder back slightly. Wouldnt you know when I just barely rotated my shoulder back, there came Milo on the outside rein. Its as if all along he's been saying "just put your shoulder back and I can get on the outside rein, sheesh Mom".
We worked on hip out and nose in on the figure eights, really making Milo reach laterally with his hind legs. And we could see where he has more strength in one hock versus the other. On the left side, he has what feels like a flat tire. He kind of scuffles along and wants to side step out instead of reaching laterally with his outside leg (outside leg - right, inside leg - left, even though the left is what is reaching outward). He doesnt want to reach laterally with his right (inside) leg and instead trying to compensate with the stronger left leg but just reaching that one out. So when he should be crossing his inside over the outside and reaching out with both, he is only reaching out with the outside, not with the inside as well.
We started to get a few correct steps, and moved onto the half pass across the figure eight diagonal. Much harder for him still to half pass to the left, where his right leg is required to reach up and over. I learned a valuable tip from Sarah and that is to not set a goal or length for the half pass. Instead, half pass a few steps, go straight, half pass a few more, go straight again. And the outdoor arena is great for this exercise because its sides are so long I can work a lot into one line. Sarah mentioned this will be a great exercise for Milo because it isnt drilling the maneuver but gives him subtle breaks in between each one. And it was amazing how much faster and better he was getting with the half passes just a few minutes into the half pass to straight exercise. He was doing well so we upped him to the lope.
I pushed Milo out and loaded his weight onto his outside leg, then swapped my hip and just barely cued with my leg and he popped right into the lope. It was engaged, it was straight, and it was slow being as he lifted his withers and shoulders for the lead. Sarah even commented it was probably the best lope departure he had done (but the one to follow felt even better!). In the right lead lope, I easily found my outside rein and per Sarah torso twisted out and in, to neutral, back out, and counter balancing for Milo on the turns. And this here is an interesting concept but its necessary for Milo and I. In a turn, you generally look in the direction of the turn, correct? Well going to the right is where my body naturally holds my left hip forward and when my left hip is forward, it pushes Milo's shoulder out that direction as well. Unless I am in neutral or centered pelvis, he will drift that shoulder out. So, on a turn, I need to look in the opposite direction of the turn so he can balance and keep his shoulder up through it (there were a few examples in that video post I did). Im not sure if this will be needed always and forever, but in the meantime with both of our learned habits and ways of going, this helps to get me off of my left forward hip, and allows Milo to lope straight.
Sarah told me to do a half pass on the canter, and at first I thought Oh God, Milo can't do that. But much to my surprise, I rotated my hips slightly and put my leg back, and in went his hips. His shoulder drifted so I had to hold with the outside rein and block the shoulder to help him reach with that one as well. And wouldnt you know, Milo half passed a few steps at the canter. We went straight and did it a few more times. The we went onto a circle and soon a counter canter. With reminder to keep Milo's nose to the inside of the counter canter circle (but away from his lead direction - so a counter bend counter canter), Milo was moving really well. We were on the right lead and Sarah told me to ask for the lead change. What?? We're doing flying changes today? I had to circle a few more times, then I swapped my hips as had been done on Wesley, and I felt a big change in the back and suddenly we were cross firing. But Sarah had her hands in the air and a huge smile on her face. Why is she so happy? We are cross firing. She said that he changed on the rear, but I hadnt bumped his nose slightly to get his front on the new bend so he didnt pick up the lead on the front. But most importantly, he had changed on the back, the most important element to a flying lead change.
This got me excited, that my horse was so in tune with my hips and the way I was on his back, that when my hips changed, so did his. What a good Milo. We walked for a little while, letting him catch his breath.
Soon we were back on the trot circles to get his hip out and an arc. Into a left lope now, with the most fantastic and elevated lope departure I have ever had on Milo, and we half passed a little at the lope, although this direction is harder just as it was at the trot. Milo was feeling good and we went onto the counter canter, counter bending as needed. Sarah said we can counter canter as long as it takes for Milo to feel balanced and absolutely begging for me to switch my hips. Which I did, and bumped a little on the right rein for the front and OMG! Milo was now loping on the right lead!! We loped a few more strides and I sat down in the saddle with a woahh. Milo in the dirt, I looked to Sarah who was going more crazy than me.
"Flying lead changes: Check" said Sarah.