I'm wondering if there is a corrolation between the last two exceptional rides I have had. A few days ago I posted about a fantastic ride I had, suggesting that I had found "it" again (referring to that connection I had felt sliping away). I was in the indoor arena, in the bareback pad, riding in a snaffle bit. When I rode on Tuesday after the trail ride, although the trail ride itself was relaxing and pleasant, the work in the arena had not been. I did not go into details, as it was nothing terrible, but nothing amazing as I had experienced the day before.
Wednesday I had another one of those exceptional rides. Everything came together - Milo was nearly completely acceptant of the outside rein (either side), was extremely aware of his body and what I might consider "present" in himself, and did not feel "off" in any way, may that be in lateral steps (no hinderment), bending his spine, and even in downward transitions. Overall, you could say as I will, that Wednesday's ride was absolutely fabulous. I felt more connected to my horse than I had even on Monday's ride, and everything came together beautifully. As MiKael said in the comments, Milo and I have been dancing as we should be. She also commented that like any dance the fumbles with come but they are easier to overcome if we allow ourselves to accept that it is part of the dance.
So what is the secret? What is so different between yesterday's ride, and the ones before? I'm wondering if it really has to do with all of the exterior stimuluses. Tuesday Milo was in the saddle, in the outdoor arena. Monday and Wednesday (the fabulous rides) Milo was outfitted in the bareback pad and in the indoor arena. While I can certainly credit some balance due to the level footing in the indoor arena, can I really go as far to say that he works better in the indoor? No, I dont think so. I have found in the past that Milo is distracted in the indoor, and tends to seemed "cramped" and "explosive" in the indoor (less straight lines, more people riding). While in the outdoor he overall seems (in general) more relaxed and capable to slow down. Unfortunetly, the outdoor makes him work harder and has uneven terrain, typically making the balance and cadence in our ride feel off as he has to work harder to maintain balance.
Or it could be the difference between the saddle and the bareback pad. I think this is a large factor. One of the reasons I believe it effects our work is that my legs tend to "float" in the stirrups. I have posted in the past how when I get back into a saddle I would lose my stirrups frequently. I dont seem to have this problem so much anymore, but I have found that I am not holding my weight in my heels. Not heels up, but not weight down. As when bareback, I balance off of my inner thigh, and my leg hangs gently to the sides. I never had stirrups to balance off of (discovered quickly I was balancing in the outside stirrup, so when bareback would nearly keel off the outside). While this was a good thing because it taught me how to ride centered and built muscle, now I'm having an issue when riding in the saddle. This seems to translate to all of my leg cues, muddling up the request.
Secondly, I think Milo still holds a level of fear about lifting into the saddle. He doesnt know that it fits him well, he instead (I believe) is remembering the years worth of poor fitting saddles, and the tension he held in his shoulders to accomodate for it. Granted, there have been more than a handful of rides (mostly at lessons) where I have felt my horse elevate and round his back underneath me, building trust in the saddle. I have only felt this a few times in the new saddle. What's happened? Well, I have a lesson with Sarah on Saturday, and it will be the first time that she asseses the new saddle on Milo for herself. I'm sure we will find all is well with the fit, but maybe something else is "out" back there - he still is displaying a low level of soreness to his back. Although, now as I think about it, he is rounding beautifully in the bareback pad...
I think what it really comes down to is that I have become very comfortable with riding bareback for the last seven months. I think we have built a relationship with those subtle body cues and shift of weight, that neither one of us feel it well in the saddle. I know that I feel as though I cannot feel my horse from my legs, and that cues in the stirrups are harder for me. I also find myself getting tangled in the rear cinch and a tendancy to "curl" my leg again. I mentioned at my last lesson with Sarah that I felt I had to cue excessively for Milo to respond. Maybe all that leather is just hindering our communication?
Or maybe I just think about things too much, and fail at putting all the thoughts I have had the past few weeks and months into a concise post.
At any rate, I look forward to my lesson on Saturday, and will bask in the happiness of the wonderful ride I shared with Milo on Wednesday, remembering the soft feel we had in the snaffle, the control I had over my own body, and the balanced work my horse gave to me.