Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Experimenting with some Connected Groundwork

Milo and Jake will love it when those trees grow their apples.
 I had another fabulous and extremely productive lunch "hour" time with Milo on Monday. I had purchased a single "Driving Line" from Peggy Cumming's Connected Riding store and received it on Thursday evening. I hadnt used it yet or posted about it because well, a far more exciting piece of equipment had arrived. I decided to purchase this "special" line for only $10 because I personally was able to feel the difference in it versus a regular lead line.

You might remember at the Peggy Clinic I attended in March that I was demonstrated on by Sarah the benefits of a snugly fitting halter, and also the sensation that Peggy's nylon lines gives. I had been trying to "comb the line" with my own lead rope and it just wasnt mirroring the feel I had experienced with that driving line. This purchase also has a dual role: because the line is 21' long, there will be plenty of line to use when we move into the Connected Lunging. While that might be a long ways away, at least I wont have to worry about buying a lunge line or not having the right equipment.

As you know, I had received my long awaited book last week and I have slowly been turning the pages of it, taking my time to let concepts solidify, even re-reading passages to better understand what I will be looking for and the feel. I have only (although I say this loosely because things will take time and we are in no rush) made it few the first basic exercises including Drawing the Bow, and Combing the Line.

I affixed the driving line to Milo's leather halter. As you might have picked up from recent photos, I have switched from my nylon halter to my leather halter now. I love this leather halter - it is years and years old, has been used for showmanship even at shows, but because of it's age it is soft and pliable. While I would like to get a leather halter that clips off at the throat instead of having to unbuckle the crown to take off, this will have to do for me for now (I need to restock my savings account after this last *ahem* rather large tack purchase). I switched to the leather halter not just because it is supple (the nylon is soft and pliable too) but because it allows me to snug up the noseband, and it also I feel, is safer to tie to in the crossties. It might just be and old wives-tale, but tieing in a nylon halter just makes me a bit nervous (as did tying in the rope halter I used for years).

So anyways, I attached the drive line to the leather halter, trying my best from memory to attach it as the instructions in the book show. Looking back, I found I did it correctly, with a minor change needed to the slip knot - attach on underside of cheek piece and not on top of. So granted, Peggy uses a fleece noseband on the halter before the lines X over the nose, I did see a few examples in the book where it was not present so I figure until I can buy one individually, or make one, we should be good with no fleece noseband.

I also threw the saddle on, but was anticipating not riding, if that may be. I wanted to keep my mind and body clear of time constraints or expectations and figured if we rode we rode, if we didnt that was ok too. After Dave from About the Horse, Inc saw some of my recent photos on facebook, he recommended that the saddle be brought forward about six inches more then I had it, and also said to ride with just a navajo pad, the bulky cashel pad was not needed for the saddle, it should fit on it's own without it. I figured maker knows best, so I only used my folded woven pad that I purchased for showing in, and brought the saddle forward. I tested it out making sure it still would not hinder Milo's shoulders (Im a little anal over this now - but with good reason I think) and of course it did not, and when Milo lifted his belly he still had full shoulder freedom.

Saddle still fits, even with a thin pad! I think I can relax, this saddle is fitting!
Oh, and I LOVE the "show pad" under it, I think it looks just gorgeous!
It was windy and blustering out and with the added bonus of an empty arena, I ventured to the indoor arena. I started out Drawing the Bow and letting Milo get accustomed to some contact on his face. He didnt do much at all, so after a few of those I began to Comb the Line, while relaxing my body into neutral posture, rotating my body with each comb of the line. I fell into a steady rhythm - not fast or slow, and just ran my hands along the line, feeling it's "bumpy" sensation and soon I felt a slight meet of contact from Milo. His eye softened and he "telescoped" forward momentarily. I "took him for a walk" to let him process, holding the line as I would to Draw the Bow. Every few steps, Milo would telescope forward, then suck back again into his old ways of moving, but telescope again. It was interesting to "observe" (as I wasnt turned right around facing him) him figuring out how to use his body. Slight inclinations to be with me were much appreciated, and I wasnt expecting anything more from Milo. I slowed into a halt, changing my hands and turning as seen in the book. I tried a few times until the last halt was square and with weight on the rear.

About a degree or two of lowered relaxed head, compared to first photo. Look to the rear and you'll see Milo also is wearing his skid boots for the first time! No sliding yesterday, but he can get used to wearing them, although he didnt care.
A total feeling of peace and solidity overcame me, and Im sure Milo, as I patted his neck. I knew this was quite an accomplishment for our first day in Connected Groundwork, but was surprised that this much success was atributed to maybe ten minutes of "work". I took the halter and line off, and slipped the bridle on. My horse had a lowered head, a soft eye, and for one of the first times in our time together Milo did not try and bite or grab the headstall as I brought it up over his head. He even quietly and slowly opened his mouth and let me place the bit in there gently. This might not seem like much, but my ever-busy-mouthed horse is always grabbing at headstalls, reins, or lines, anything near his face. This spoke hugely to me the amount of calm this small connection had brought over my horse.

The calm transcended under saddle, and we merely worked on maintaining our outside rein - the right rein. Almost the entire ride was devoted to this rein (I know some of you are probably reading thinking what the heck - you always work both sides, but sometimes we need to accomodate for what the horse needs and I have felt that Milo is really needing disctinct work on trusting that right rein). We circled, we arced, and I thought I might need my own motivator, so I grabbed a dressage whip from the arena wall. Motivator in hand, I was able to remind Milo that nose in hip out is a forward motion, and requires lateral stepping from the hind leg. We worked on straight lines on that right rein, turning, slowing down by my body, arcing with only my seat, and more of what you might consider "basic stuff". But its payout was tenfold: by the end, my horse was relaxed and engaging while holding that outside rein. And I was relaxed and really feeling connected (I know using that word sounds so cliche in the context of this post) to my horse.

Among getting a great feel, I learned something else valuable in the ride - how to perform a downward transition. Sounds elementary, I know, but this is something Milo had I have struggled with for a long time. A lot stemmed from my braced back and my incorrect cueing for the transition. I read something valuable earlier in the day, something I had read many times but didnt really read. A downward transition is a forward motion, we still want the hind end to engage. I've known this for a while, and yet I wasnt applying it to my riding. I experimented with a simple walk to halt transition. Initially, I was stopping with my seat - sounds correct right? But what I was doing was stopping hard with my seat, not allowing Milo to come up into my seat. Follow? I was basically tensing my butt and sitting deep - this causes a slightly braced back. Milo would always stop hard and sharp, typically on his front end and his back would hollow and head come up. Normally, I would just force the issue and put his head back down. But here I had a thought. So I unhinged my back for a stop. Great, I got a stop without tightening my seat, but it was still a stop on the front feet with a dropped back. So then I thought, I should stop with a closed leg. Sounds strange for a reiner, I know, we always stop with legs off and forward, and this works for our "slide" from the lope, but I wanted Milo to still be lifted as we stopped.

This goes back to one of my first lessons with Sarah, and even my ride on Wesley. We worked on stops at this early lesson, and Sarah wanted me to keep my leg more on Milo. Then when I rode Wesley I discovered a spur stop trained horse. Well that isnt what Im going for for Milo, but I can still keep a closed leg on him. So I tried it. I unhinged my back and remained soft through my body. At this same time I didnt release my leg, but didnt squeeze. Milo stopped with an elevated back. So I got off.

Now I have done this a few times especially from the lope to trot transition. But it was always sort of out of "I happened to", and I would get a nice downward transition. But it was never done with a conscious effort or knowledge to it. Now I think I can work on this new found tool and go from there with it. Sometimes it really just amazes me how often I am not engaging my mind and my body when I am riding, and how often I read or hear something and yet it just doesnt get through. But finally theres this moment where it clicks, and I have a mini aha moment, where all the words, thoughts, feelings, and emotions all come together to show me the accumulation of them all.

Look at how Milo is holding his head after the ride. He was licking and chewing and had such a soft expression as well.

Oh happy, relaxed, Milo.
This horse thing, really is very, very cool.

Slight side note: I had a question in the comments from Story of All Gear No Skill asking about how I like the smooth seat versus a suede seat on my saddle. I actually had a hard time deciding as previously I have disliked leather and preferred suede. But I decided on the smooth leather because I had the opportunity to ride in Sarah's smooth leather and found that I really liked it. (It helps when the seat is your size - I had a smooth leather seat I hated but it was also a 16.5" seat so I really slid around). I then rode in an entirely roughout About the Horse saddle and found I liked the ability to move around as needed and not feel totally "stuck" to the suede. So, to answer the question of how I like the smooth leather, I really do and Im glad I chose it. It definetely helps that the seat size (15.5) is correct for me and keeps me in place.


Rising Rainbow said...

Sounds like you got some good work done. That's very cool. Those AHA moments always seem to be so simple once gotten but not so simple in getting to that place. It takes a lot to get through this process.

My show saddle has a smooth seat. I really like it but it also fits me well. I don't know if I'd like riding in a smooth seat if the seat was too big for me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I hated the smooth seat on the saddle that was far too big. But in sitting in one of close to proper size, I realized that a well fitting saddle makes no difference with smooth seat or not. In fact, a suede seat make me feel like I was "stuck" (and the suede I rode in was a 15.5 - my size).

Yes, sometimes I feel so elementary in my "discoveries", but this isnt a race - I have my whole life to figure out how to get to something.

in2paints said...

The work you did with Milo today sounds amazing! It looks like he really responded to it well. I always enjoy reading your posts because the things you try with Milo make me think about different ways to try things with Lilly. I'm going to experiment with her regarding what you've been saying about the stops and downward transitions... very interesting!

Story said...

I love how you are so open to trying new things. I was talking to a lady last week who was saying how some of her friends follow this clinician or that clinician and her favorite part was getting to borrow ideas from all of them.

You know, I never rode in an English saddle with a suede seat (although curiously enough a woman at our barn has a dressage saddle with a suede seat), so I don't know why it sounds so scary in a western saddle. I suspect that if I had a chance to ride in a smooth seat that fit me I'd probably find the same thing...that the suede seat is restrictive.

Anonymous said...

in2paints - Im glad that you find enjoyment in reading! Sometimes I wonder if no one "gets' what Im saying, or that people think my blog is too wordy. Then I realize I dont really care because I created it for my own record. But hearing that if gets your thinking about what you can apply to your own riding makes me feel great. Which ties into

Story - I find that learning is through knowledge. Having an open mind and not blindly following one way of doing things has been totally enlightening. I have found that my success is greater when i learn how to apply tools in ways that work for us, it keeps my mind thinking and always adapting for me horse, not just following X because thats what I was told to do. As for the suede dressage saddle - sounds interesting! Still makes me feel like I would be restricted.

smazourek said...

I think I do the exact same thing with down transitions that you were doing. I ask much too hard and my horse slams downward on his forehand with his head inverted. Hrm... I'm going to have to try and see if I can get a similar AHA moment.

BTW- I don't think this is elementary at all. It takes a lot of body awareness to figure out what you just did. I've seen a lot of international dressage riders that don't have that kind of awareness.