The last few rides I decided to take a few steps back. Thursday I outfitted Milo in the saddle and Cashel pad, snaffle bridle, and began with some connected groundwork. And by this I mean some basic connection exercises: combing the line, drawing the bow, some shoulder delineation, caterpillars, and drawing the bow and combing the line in motion. I added some bending through Milo's spine as well, asking the hindquarters to reach out and under. With a calm and responsive horse, I climbed aboard. I kept the ride simple; long serpentines at the walk with lots and lots of torso twists. I wanted my horse to "find himself" again and not turtle himself into his shoulders with tension. After some time, I felt some engagement coming from the rear, and I upped the serpentines to the trot. I continued with our long straight lines, and easy large turns, torso twisting in a rhythm. A few times I had to remind myself to breathe slowly and methodically, to bring Milo down from a slightly heightened state. But we found a rhythm again, and my horse was pushing up into the saddle again.
I moved into some figure eight works, just asking for balance on the outside rein, and some arcing as needed. It was about 50/50 for Milo staying on the outside rein. The work wasnt perfect, but we were progressing to what I know we can be again. A few hock strengthening exercises, and I was happy with the ride, dismounting and putting Milo away.
I didnt get to see Milo until Monday - thats three whole days! Don't go calling me an irresponsible Momma, I would have loved to go but gas prices leave me consolidating my driving still. Sarah struck up a deal with me knowing I am in a rough patch but not wanting to spend money on lessons. She needed work on Mondays, and in exchange I can have lessons. So yesterday I made my way to her place and cleaned the stalls and watered the horses as she worked her Wesley and Max. I was able to sneak some peaks at her riding, and it was great to be able to talk to her again.
I headed out to Milo, and the closer I got to the barn, the harder it began to rain. Looked like I would be riding in the indoor. I haltered my horse who was surprisingly grazing in the rain. He has been without a blanket now for about a week, and typically even with a blanket on is a big baby about the rain, always hiding in the dry shelter. I guess that incoming spring grass was just too tempting.
He lead quietly with me to the barn, where I groomed him and chatted with the barn feeder. Milo didnt seem like a handful, but was mouthy grabbing at the cross ties and sensitive to touching his shoulders (by sensitive I mean mouthy - not biting but a lot of head activity, not sensitive from pain. He can get like that I think its from when his ribs were out, I believe he (like with the saddle) still associates a touch with pain so gives a loud reaction). I thought it would be a good day to start with some groundwork and go from there. So I outfitted him in his pink bareback pad thinking if I was going to get on, I'll give his back a break. It would be a good opportunity to find my seat again, and help Milo trust lifting up underneath.
He seemed a little opinionated at the "lunge" work, not seeking a connection from the line and resisting to walk forward freely. So I stopped him and worked simply on combing the line, and finding some connection. He started to meet me and close his eyes into his dreamy, zone-like state he gets into when we find connection. I then did some shoulder delineation to help his muscles relax, and incorporated some forward motion from that. Milo seeked some connection now and kept his head telescoped. He let out a huge sigh and licked his lips, so I stopped him there.
For those of you who have been trying some of the exercises in Peggy's book, what changes have your found in your horse now after some consistent work? I have found that after finding connection, my horse is relaxed through his shoulders and neck, with a telescoped head and neck. His posture changes and he carries himself more over his hindquarters. When I stop him as suggested from Peggy in the book, he stops easily and square, with a relaxed demeanor and still telescoped head - meaning he is stopping from his rear and not planting on the forehand. I have found this quite interesting to observe the apparent changes in my horse, after only a few weeks with a handful of exercises - I havent even finished the book yet!
So onto the ride, I climbed aboard, and Milo got a little tense and fidgety. His head went up and his back braced as he tried to scoot away a step or two. I stopped him and sat calmly, finding my neutral position. We stood quietly for maybe thirty seconds, Milo reaching his head down and relaxing his back. The lesson student rode by giving me an open change to get onto the rail, so we did. I started with a lot of walking, probably moreso than I typically do. I spent a long time torso twisting and waiting for Milo to start engaging his rear. Once he finally did, we cruised around a while like this, thoroughly enjoying the connection. I pushed him into the snaffle now, taking hold of the outside rein. First was the hard one - the right rein. But Milo surprised me by picking it up quietly and still staying straight. I would change my hips and lightly put my leg back and we would arc. I counter bended as needed, and brought my shoulder back when needed too, Milo was actually seeking contact.
This continued at the trot, my horse was driving from the rear, I could feel his back lifted so much more than I had in recent rides, his head was down and his contact was reaching. He wanted to find that balance in the outside rein, and he was floating around the ring beautifully, even as we changed directions, circled, arced, or half passed. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, in tune with myself and my horse and elated that we were getting some nice work done.
The arena cleared and I started to lope. Milo was snarky in the lope at first to the right - pinning his ears, avoiding contact, and hollowing his back, and trying to drop down to the trot. I would bring him back down to a trot, re-set him up properly and as needed, repeat until we got a nice balanced departure and lope strides that were collected and on the outside rein. It took some attempts, but finally he loped off nicely, began seeking some contact again, and lifting his back. He tried dropping his shoulder through corners, but I didnt correct him too much I was just seeking a cadenced lope - which it was on the straight lines. I remembered to keep my leg on him as I cued for a downward transition, and Milo stepped into the trot not beautifully, but still balanced.
I gave him a breather and got him rebalanced on a circle again, holding his shoulder on his own. Ready to lope off in the left lead now, the next lesson came in so I postponed it for a moment until I figured out where they would be in the arena. They began lunging, so the arena was now cut in half as I wasnt going to lope by a horse on the lunge-line. No matter, I loaded Milo on his outside hock and changed my hips for the lope. Again, he first few were a little rough, but by the third transition or so he stepped into it nicely with elevation. He easily found the outside rein this direction (odd since it is the right one), and loped right off with a lifted back. We loped a few circles, transitioning as needed, where he gave some nice downward transitions. The other horse was done lunging now, so I loped him in some straight lines utilizing 3/4 of the arena while I could. Milo loped beautifully straight, still seeking that outside rein, and balanced. I brought him down to a trot in another nice transition, and let him walk out a bit.
His head was low and his back still up as I let out the reins for a breather for him. I cooled him down in some more of those hock exercises, moving them into partial spins as well. I walked him straight to the rails and by the third one got a nice tucked stop, so I slid off and gave him a solid pat and good boy.
Maybe I just needed a little Sarah influence?