Milo was alert as he stepped off the trailer and onto Sarah's property. His head swung around and I tied him up to the trailer. Sarah was outside and had been expecting us, this was the lesson I had earned by working on Monday for her. Boyfriend had been a sport and hauled me to her property early Saturday morning. I groomed Milo and tacked him up, then led him into the arena so Sarah could check him over, and assess the saddle's fit. I hadnt mentioned before, but a photo taken of Milo and I made me realize that my rear cinch was not being snug down as much as it should be. But the rear cinch was as tight as it would go - the problem is just that the cinch itself is too long. I had brought my other one (the one it didnt come with and there fore does not match - oh no!) so Sarah could determine if it would be better to use. Which she did, and we snugged it down to where it should be. I sent an e-mail to Dave at About the Horse, Inc, hoping I could get an exchange for the cinch he sent, but havent heard back yet.
Milo still looking around, Sarah handed me a Motivator stick and I did some groundwork with him. He was in his nylon halter and lead rope attached to the side, which would suffice for minimal groundwork exercises. The idea was to get Milo focused on me and utilizing his body. Within a few minutes, he was more present with me, still with pricked ears, but meeting the contact in the lead rope, engaging his rear for a few steps and bending his body while I asked him to reach up and out with his inside hind. He wasnt phenomenal in his attempts, but baby steps are accepted steps right now - just building strength in those hocks. Sarah commented how different he looks in comparison to when she first met him, exampling that he no longer looks like "two guys in a horse suit" and instead is beginning to look like a very nicely put together horse, whose posture has changed, saying what a pretty boy Milo-Triton was (Triton being another horse she had worked with who exhibited a mouthy demeanor much like Milo). The other direction, to the right, I must admit, I am less coordinated, and after a few walking circles I asked Milo to trot which he refused. Continuing to motivate with the stick on the top of his rump, he finally let a huge buck out and went into the trot. Bad little Milo! But a few minutes of trot work yielded some nice engagement and lateral stepping, and my horse was feeling more present still, so I led him over to Sarah. We decided to put him back into the lifter bit (I had brought both it and the snaffle). I had felt that in my last ride he was really understanding to work off of the outside rein again, but I knew I was going to need the lift and support of the lifter bit for our canter work.
Not sure what Sarah was going to have me work on this lesson, I began walking him around her outdoor arena, torso twisting and letting him take in his surrounding, and the many new horse eyes watching in. Soon Sarah directed me to pick up my reins more, which I did, allowing Milo some support. She commented how well he was tracking up at the walk, and soon asked me to trot. He finally got over the other horses and hunkered down to some work; we did some basics, circling arcing, leg yielding, changing direction, and most importantly, regaining that shoulder control again. All was going well and soon Sarah said to put him into the lope, reminding me to load him onto the outside hock, rotate my hips and off into the lope. I did and the usual happened - Milo's head popped up into the transition and it took a few strides for him to re-balance. Sarah instructed me to do it again, this time taking up more rein, and directing me to not allow him to pop his head up, to really set him up to transition correctly. Again, we got a popped and bracing head, and Sarah said she wanted to put him in "wall reins" today. I thought about that as she went to retrieve them - I had never heard of wall reins before.
Sarah came out with a polyester rope with four snaps attached and she attached them to his girth rings on the outside of his shoulders, through the end of the bit and back over - they were looking more like draw reins. I think Sarah saw some concern on my face - everyone has heard the terrible things about those dreaded draw reins. Sarah explained that these were wall reins, meaning with the rein through the outside it creates a stronger block on the outside - more like increasing the outside wall pressure so he cant pop his head up and instead needs to rotate onto his hind end and lift his wither into the transition. She further explained this is not for a headset as draw reins are commonly used for, and not a use for everyday as they can create a dependency on them. They are to show Milo that he needs to stop looking for a evasion to the bit and needs to depart from the rear.
I tied my leather reins to my saddle horn, and walked around the arena a bit, letting Milo get used to the wall reins. He was figuring them out pretty well and Sarah asked me to gather them up and go up into a trot. I discovered how different they felt (naturally) but also how much more outside support they were giving to Milo who now was much more aware of his shoulders. Soon, Sarah instructed me to set him up for the lope departure again and this was to the right. We were departing from a walk, to really emphasize lifting his rear and departing correctly, not just falling into it as can be done at the trot. The first few attempts werent very good with Milo she said, looking for every attempt to not have to depart on his hind end.
Soon, it was evident that a lot of the forehand "popping" was because of me (as things always are) - I was rocking forward onto my pelvic bone, putting my weight onto my forehand and Milo therefore had to lift himself and me up off of it. Once this was realized, I attempted the next time to sit on my butt, but still support Milo with the reins. This time, Milo departed much better, so we changed directions. This side is much easier for Milo, whose inclination is to bend more easily in this direction. And by this I mean his whole body - while the other side he easily arcs his barrel and hip, he bulges out the shoulder thereby not bending his entire body as he does on this other side. After a few attempts, and I maintained my weight on my seat. and engaged my core, Milo departed beautifully with a lift at the wither similar to that I had felt when I had my lesson on Wesley. I loped Milo off straight for a little while then down to a walk giving him lots of praise and patting. I let out the reins and let him stretch himself out. This was important Sarah said because they can easily get tight in the wall reins, so a lot of transition from wall rein to stretch is imperative.
I gathered the reins up again and we tried it again the harder direction to the right. It took a few attempts again, but finally he departed ok, but although his head had remained down with his back up, and he departed from the rear, his wither didnt lift and he held some bracing on the bit. So we tried again, and he got a minimal wither lift the next attempt. Sarah said she wanted the wall reins off now and to try it with just the regular reins now. So we did, and I was reminded to pick up more rein, as is my usual problem. In my efforts to be "nice" I'm not supporting Milo as he needs it, and therefore making it harder on him to perform correctly. There will be a time where I can cue with a light rein, but now he needs the support of the rein and lifter bit to move correctly. And we have to get Milo out of his evasive pattern of popping his nose to the sky for the lope transition (which in part is due to my position).
So I asked again to the left, holding my outside rein soft but firm, and he departed nicely after the second attempt. Again, a short walk, then reverse and try the harder direction. As I needed to correct with the rein, Sarah noted I was allowing my hands' movement to tip my upper body forward. While I was trying to stay on my rear, my front end was crumpling forward, and even just a shoulder change, Sarah noted, is reflected to the horse. In fact, she said, when we "disappear" like that (no support in our own shoulders) it can scare the horse because we are no longer there for them, but suddenly engaging the bit. I realized after she said that that was precisely what I was doing. So I tried again and got a better, not wither lifted, but better depart.
As we had arrived late, it now ran into the time slot for her next lesson, so Sarah left me to try it again on my own as she helped with the saddle fit of the next horse. I worked on it, and working on it, and soon discovered in myself that I was overworking it and Milo was getting dull and tired. So I worked on some basic walk to trot, nose in and hip out again to regain hip control (he had began to swing it in in the lope depart in an effort to not have to depart off of it). Finally, after some time I asked again and while it wasnt totally beautiful I felt a minimal effort of lift in his wither so I called that good - I wasnt going to get much better from a tired horse in his hard direction.
The next two riders came into the arena, one lesson going to be on Wesley. I pointed out to Boyfriend the horse that shares his name, and he later said how pretty he thought Wesley was. Maybe he was a little biased? Milo cooled down, I led him to the trailer and tied him up. Boyfriend went to fill his water bucket, and I found Sarah who was going to give me some Histocorbidyne, a recommended "immune-booster" from Dynamite. She recommended all competing horses be on it as it boosts their system during times of stress and exposure to other horses. The 25lb container from Dynamite is $170, something she new my unemployed self would not be able to afford. So she scooped a few helpings into a bucket for me and it would at least provide for Milo in the next week or two while this EHV-1 scare is in place. I thanked her profusely for it, and the lesson, and she thanked Boyfriend for taking me. I would see her again on Monday for work, but would probably receive that week's lesson on Wesley, as I can't expect Boyfriend to haul me every weekend, just hopefully every other weekend.