The Lesson Begins Here
The drill team was beginning to file into the arena, even though it was only a quarter after six. Affirmed by the barn manager that they had the arena at seven, Sarah directed them through the arena to the attached smaller covered arena (think of a rather large round pen - this is where the cows are typically housed). Milo was a little distracted now with the commotion, but still seemed to come back to me.
Sarah said for our canter and counter canter work, to incorporate two of the four cones for each circle, thereby giving my lope work much more room then the single two cones allowed. I picked up a trot, and worked through the new figure eight, in-visioning my hip position from inside the canter circle, to outside as we moved to the second circle for the counter canter. I could see it, I was just hoping I could actually do it.
I tried to aid for a lope. My horse was fighting against it, so I tried to compensate by then picking up my outside rein. But it was too late: we had fallen into the lope, my horse was not balanced on my outside rein, and everything was spiraling down right from the initial lope departure. As I continued to lope the first circle, trying to develop some cadence and round strides from Milo, I was getting more and more tired my the second. My horse was not moving freely on his own, he was demanding me to keep him forward with every single stride. Sarah told me to rotate my hips to the inside of our lope, I turned my body, but the hips didn't follow. She told me to bring my left hip forward so many times I cant remember, but after about the millionth time I somehow was able to actually hear it now, and comprehend, ohh that hip. As I tried to turn my hips (both of them) into the inside of the circle, my inside leg was beginning to cramp up. I continued to drive stride for stride, but was distracted by this mild pain in my calf now, and was forgetting how to free my hips. All the while, my horse was lugging, couldn't find a balance point in my reins, and to compensate I started picking at his head. My brain couldn't seem to focus on moving my whole body, but it was easy to start nit picking on Milo's head - after all, this is the cycle we always fall into. Its habit now after four years together.
Somehow we got a decent lope going, although this nit picking hands hadn't been addressed by Sarah, who kept telling me to free my hips. We rounded the first circle, and I really tried to push my hips to the outside and drive him around in the counter canter circle. What I thought was rotating my hips out, really was just my torso, and my left hip remained stationary. My horse was falling to the trot, but I drove and drove and drove and somehow kept him in a counter canter long enough to make it back to the first canter circle. I was getting really, really tired, and was continuing to be unfair on his face. Sarah's reminders to find my outside rein were heard, but instead of letting Milo find the outside rein, I was trying to force him onto it by bumping and over bumping with my inside rein. Too much to where not only was he over bent, but wasn't looking for the balance of the outside rein himself. Things were falling apart. My horse, as Sarah put it, was upside down. And now, after my unfair demands for him to be round and supple, without me actually doing it either, was making my horse not want to work with me, and we were fallen into the black hole of our habits. Sarah repeatedly told me to stop picking on his face, as that is what Milo is asking for now so he can be right. "How about I put a bit in your mouth, Nina, and rip and pull on your teeth?"
I don't really remember actually come down from the lope work, but Sarah told me to go back to my hip rotations. She said she knew I was frustrated, was this evident in my back? Was my back now tense? I knew it was, and I was fuming inside. I tried to take a deep breath, but shallow ones were drawn in instead. "Go back to your serpentine" Sarah said, so I did. Rotating in and out, right to left, trying to feel my hips again. Still being picky on the bit, Sarah made me drop my hands and focus on my hips. I was breathing better now, and was finding my rhythm. My horse was still trying to find my negative habit so he could react to it, but it didn't come. I was looking in the direction of my hip rotations, and basically was ignoring any temptations my horse was giving me.
He seemed to finally sigh a shallow breath, and there it was, my horse was engaging for a few strides. I kept rotating, and breathing deeply. Finally, we were one again, my horse lifting himself and beginning to trust in me again. I serpentined for a little while longer, at the trot as well, and finally stopped in front of Sarah. She asked what I was feeling, what I was thinking. As I opened my mouth to respond, I discovered a large toad was living there. But Melissa needed Sarah's attention for a moment, and I tried to swallow him out of my throat. It wasn't enough time though, as Sarah looked back up at me and asked the same question as well.
I squeaked out that I know how beneficial the hip rotations are, and then suddenly, my face turned red and distorted, and I was a faucet. Tears streamed out and I was taking quick shallow breaths as I tried to explain what was going on. Sarah said it was OK, I needed to get the frustration out. I don't remember how I said it, but I was upset with myself for allowing myself to start blaming Milo, and nit picking on Milo, and being hard with my hands when the blame was really lying on me, and my body locking down. I crumpled down into the saddle, feeling small. I was so mad at myself for letting my mind do that to Milo, when just ten minutes before we were working together as one. And I knew that I did this at home as well. There are many a night where I don't feel right as I put my horse away, knowing that I didn't do by him right. All those past unfair experiences where piling up, and I continued to weep. People where looking at me know, and I felt like a five year old in a lesson. But I didn't really care, because I felt bad for what I did and was doing to my horse.
Sarah tried to make me feel better by saying that Milo is a difficult horse, and he basically tries to push my buttons when we get into those periods. I defended him saying no he wasn't, it was all me, and tears streamed again. Sarah kindly said that I shouldn't be so hard on myself, what I was doing certainly wasn't abusive. Milo's mouth never gapped open, I wasn't spurring the sides off of him. I just knew that what I was doing was unfair. She reminded me the huge leap we had made in the two weeks since the last lesson. The way we connected tonight, the vast improvement in how my horse was moving. How hard I had worked in those two weeks, and its payout now. We had just moved up to the canter when the both of us really weren't quite ready for that harder work yet. She said that in the canter he needs to be in the lifter bit, as he can respect it much better then the snaffle. She said, next Friday we can work on it more, and I piped in saying I wanted to ride her horse, Wesley, because I need to free my hips and feel what a lope is supposed to feel like. So we agreed, next Friday I would take my lesson on Wesley.
I patted and stroked Milo's neck, and had finally stopped crying. I dismounted and we led out as the drill team took over the arena.
I tied up Milo to the wall, stripped off the saddle and curried him out. After all dried and tucked into his blanket, ready to go, I patted his big white face. What a good Milo, I thought. I took hold of his lead rope, and he stopped and rested his muzzle on my shoulder, softly breathing into me. He looked me square in the eye with his knowing brown one, his ears forward, his demeanor soft. I blew back into his big nose, and rubbed his muzzle with both my hands. When I finally felt content and OK again, he dropped his head down, and we loaded up into the trailer.