"Back, back, back" I said to Milo, backing him out of Sarah's stock horse trailer. "Step...step.." I prepared Milo for the end of the trailer floor. Milo quietly backed out into the rain. I gathered my bridles and brushes and led him into the barn, tying him up to a wall inside. Diamond Hill Ranch was busy tonight with another massage therapist out to do the horses, Melissa and Grace getting ready for their lesson with Sarah as well, and one of the local drill teams preparing to have the arena at seven.
I curried my shedding horse, then tossed the saddle on him. I had brought both my snaffle and lifter bit, already telling Sarah how the last three rides had been in the snaffle, to help get him on the outside rein. I put the snaffle on first, but kept the lifter close at hand if we needed it.
Closing the arena gate in the arena, my horse was eyeing the open end of the arena. I led him down to help him get over the spookies, and he needed a little longing around me right there to get over walking past it. I had already told Sarah at the last lesson that I wanted some help with lunging work at the next one, so today was a great opportunity to do that. She was wrapping up a lunge with one of her horses, then had me put on a cavesson that was on Joe. She slipped it right over the bridle, as I tied the reins off up on the horn. A bit piece of equipment it was, with a large soft covered noseband adorned with a few small rings attached. A long line was clipped to the center ring (this is on the top of the noseband, not the bottom of the jaw where lead lines are typically attached). The headpiece had two nosebands and one throatlatch. Sarah buckled the throatlatch up as normal, but snugged down the noseband right in front of the cheekbone right down, as well as the last one, placed in the similar position of a halter.
Milo stood stock still, not sure what to make of this contraption on his head. He then decided lifted his head skyward and opened his mouth some. Deciding that didnt do anything, he put his head back down, kind of confused. Sarah said that what she aims to achieve on a lunge is not to drain energy, but to get the back soft and loose just like she is going to want undersaddle. I thought about my goals on the lunge line as well, and came up with that I want to get my horse with me. Even taking him to the corner he was eyeing, I was trying to show Milo that being with me means nothing will be of harm, he doesnt have to worry.
To create a supple and loose back, Sarah keeps them on a small circle, just lose enough to be able to touch them with her "wand" or about the same length as a dressage whip. This is about the same length as my C.A. training stick, so I can use that at home. She drives them forward with her body, then pushes the hip out to encourage bend through the back. I mimicked this with Milo, who was still finding his place in the cavesson. We know how to drive forward and push the hip out, I thought. But I focused more on using my body to achieve this, and less with the wand. When he wouldnt respond with body alone, I ticked his stifle area with the end of the wand, which is soft and plyable like a dressage whip. I really liked this light and sensitive connection I was getting with my horse, who was now holding his head down and vertical, and bending through his back nicely. I think a lot of it had to do with the weight and snugness of the cavesson, which gave benefits just as Peggy's snug halter does as well. He was very light to my line aid (which was nothing more then a drive really, or to keep his nose in and driving up underneath with his hind, instead of a nose poking out, resisting the bend).
I asked Sarah what the benefit was to the line on the front. I could feel and see notable benefits to the cavesson and it's snug fit, but was curious to the line placement. She said when its activated, it allows their nose to come down and in, versus when the line is on the bottom, it can let the horse nose out and away. After she said that it made total sense and I could see how it provided just that to my horse. I finished him up with out drive and hip exercise, done at both the walk and trot both directions, and felt that my horse was really working with me, not because of me, as I usually interpret after our "regular" lunge work.
It was time to get on, and once I rested my bum down in that saddle, I went right into the correct position. My back was still a little hollow, which Sarah reminded me of, but my hip and knee were open and my leg closed on Milo's sides. I had been working on opening my hip angle when riding bareback, and while it was hard because I didnt have the aid of the stirrups to help, I was able to get my body used to riding that way. It was really beneficial as well because not only does it help me soften my back more, but I could always feel notable changes in my horse when I would consciously be aware of my hip angle, and change them, which always responded in a freer moving horse.
Sarah had four cones set up, and instructed both Melissa and I to serpentine through the cones. She had us rotate our bodies and hips primarily from one side to the other, back and forth. She said the goal is to be able to achieve a neutral pelvis. Basically, from rotating side to side this frees up our bodies, as well as our horses. We as riders have to figure out how to hold this free self while not rotating from side to side. I was starting to get into a rhythm of it, holding each side for about three strides, then switching to the other, and always holding inward as we rounded a turn.
Sarah moved us into the trot, telling us to keep rotating side to side with a soft back. All seemed well, until suddenly my horse kept feeling like he wanted to speed up, and when he wouldnt respond to just my seat slowing down, I would bump him in the face. Sarah saw, and said that when he was "speeding up" he was really engaging his hind end and moving out properly. Every time he wanted to do that I was inhibiting him from doing so, and trying to bring him back down. In reality, he was only doing as my body was suggesting. She told me to not slow him down when he does that as this is the correct driving work we are trying to achieve. But, if I do for whatever reason want to slow him down, to remember to do so with a spur to ask for lift, a round back and if needed, if Milo doesnt listen to the first two cues, then bump a little in the face.
I was finding my rhythm back again at the trot, and was starting to really feel the difference in my horse when he was actually engaging himself beautifully. It was really fun actually, because my horse was maintaining a steady pace with a loose rein, all based off of the soft back and neutral pelvis I was creating. It really was fascinating to feel this high degree of correct movement form my horse.
Melissa needed to come off the serpentine, and Sarah had me move Milo onto the end two cones and work on our figure eights as done the lesson before. I tried to incorporate the hip rotations on the circles, and Sarah made it clear in my mind by saying that whichever direction I want Milo's hips to go is the same direction I need to rotate my hips towards. As I tested this out, I found it amazing how much it really effected my horse. So much so in fact that I didnt need to use much leg on him at all to move the hip out in a circle. He still needed some leg to arc in, as that is harder then just stepping his hip out of the circle, but it was blatantly obvious to me how much my hip placement directly effects, and allows, my horse's hips to move properly. I also noticed that when rotating my hips, it allows my leg to stay closer on him, and when I needed to aid with the leg, I didnt "curl" it around him as I was previously doing. Instead, I maintained a soft and steady contact with my leg and was able to aid quietly that way. It really was very, very cool how this was all coming together. Throughout the figure eights I really didnt need to use my reins much at all, except as an outside balancer when he would need it to keep his shoulders in line.
I upped this work to the trot and as I experimented with myself and my horse with my hips through hip in, and hip out, and change direction, and do it again, I was really starting to actually have a fun time. It was really remarkable to me how close and connected my horse and I were working together. All because of my hip placement. Sarah even commented how beautifully my horse was moving, and I knew it because I could feel it.
Sarah said that we would try our leg yields and half passes next. I joked my saying I didnt want to go to the next level, as I was having such a good time here, and didnt want to compromise it. But we moved on anyways, as progress cant happen through staying in what is comfortable.
We worked on the leg yield first at the trot, and as I would come around the outside of the cone, my horse was arced. Sarah would have me counter arc him, then rotate my hips towards the direction of the yield. It became clear in my mind as well, that a leg yield has my horse wrapped around my outside leg, with his body turned away from the direction of travel. Might seem elementary, but that concept finally was grasped for me. We leg yielded to to right, then as we would turn the corner and prepare for the yield to the left, the same steps applied: arc to counter arc, hip rotation, and yield. This direction was much harder for Milo, but we also know that this driving hock is weaker for him, as evidenced in our spins. The first few attempts resulted in Milo breaking down to a creeping walk, but when he would actually still yield, it was still enough for some praise, as this is tough work for Milo. I was proud of myself too because as my horse would decelerate, I normally would get thrown out of position, but I was really making the effort to stay in correct position, and this whole concept of hip rotation and neutral pelvis was really aiding myself as well as my horse.
I discovered, thanks to Sarah's educated eyes, that in the leg yield to the left, I was really cuing him to half pass. On the third attempt to leg yield, Milo dropped to a walk and actually half passed. Well gee, good boy, but that wasnt what I was after. But it really was my fault because I was asking him for a half pass, not a leg yield. I needed to be able to change my body position from what was easy for me in the yield to the right, to what is hard for my body to change to the left. But with this conscious knowledge now, I was able to leg yield him, at the trot, to the left. I trotted him out of the figure eights and let him stop. What a good Milo!
Loping was still to come, Sarah gently reminded, and I said I knew I would need help then. I was already seeing my body lock down to the hip rotations. This could have been a contributing reason as to why all hell seemed to break loose.
To be Continued.