I mulled this over a bit as I drove from her facility to where Milo is boarded. Having kept my tack in the trailer after the lesson for cleaning, I dropped it off at the barn first, then turned the truck down the driveway towards Milo's pasture. A final gulp of my Pink Lemonade, and I went out to catch him. He lead quietly, albeit somewhat slowly. I groomed him and forgot to tell you all that I had trimmed his straggling mane. It is now more even and a few inches shorter. I figured it helped even it up a bit and should allow for more even growth now. Oh, notice the clean bridle path too? I had been letting that go a little long as well.
And a better close-up:
I tacked up Mr Milo, and noticed that he wasnt near as sensitive to his back as he had been only a few rides prior. He also didnt walk forward into the cross-ties with an elevated neck and dropped back as I threw on the saddle. Progress? Staying consistent with the Cashel pad I think could be helping, along with a step back from the body work I was doing with him on the ground, which could have only been causing further soring.
I outfitted Milo and headed down to the arena. In my last post about the lesson I discussed the wall reins that Sarah had me use to help Milo elevate his wither and push from the rear into the lope departure. Later on Saturday Boyfriend and I made our way to Home Depot for starters for our garden, so we went to the rope section as well and that evening I fashioned my own wall reins. Cheap and inexpensive, I constructed 16 feet of climbing rope with four snaps (two with larger rings for easy rein passage), and electrical tape.
Looks like a lot going on here, but you will see that the wall reins attach to the cinch rings outside of the shoulder, emphasizing a "wall" for Milo to help own his shoulders. They do not attach underneath his legs in a more draw rein like fashion, creating more downward tension. Again, the purpose is for Milo to lift at his shoulder and hold his shoulders straight.
As I started the ride, the wall reins where inactive, with the clips attaching to the bit affixed to the d-rings on the front of the saddle. Keeping the wall reins handy if needed, but out of the way. All started well, with a nice warm up at the trot, bending through the body, and remembering to not "set a course" of riding. Milo was engaging from well from the rear and lifting up into the saddle. He seemed a touch speedy, but was engaged so I let him go. With consistency on both outside reins, good walk to trot transitions, and bend through his body, I wanted to try the lope departures first without the wall reins on his "good side". I loaded his outside hock, held my outside rein, remembered to sit on my butt with shoulders back, rotated my hips and into the lope we went. Not beautiful, with a lowered head, but no wither lift and some bracing on the bit. Back to the walk and we tried again. By the third or fourth attempt, Milo loped off nicely with a minimal wither lift but no tension through the bit. I walked him a circle or so and changed directions.
I figured we would certainly need the wall reins for this side, but initially Milo surprised me with a good level of softness on the outside rein and holding the outside shoulder on his own. The first transition I tipped forward, which resulted in a not so well transition. I set him up again, and he was very brace-y on the bit, so I decided to put the wall reins on for this direction. I dont so much like how much the wall reins bring his head in, but it does help with the transition and we need to help Milo build the appropriate muscle and muscle memory to depart correctly.
Theres one terrible transition in there, but we can see it is caused by my rocking forward onto my pelvic bone. Establishing what I thought to be a good transition with the wall reins, I removed them to try again without them. Looking at the video now, it appears he is leaping into the transition more than lifting into it. Still better than without the wall reins on, but good to see that that isnt exactly the feel that I am looking for.
Naturally throughout the ride Milo got periods of rest especially after some time in the wall reins to allow him to stretch out a bit. In this clip Im just letting in trot out and find that engagement in his rear again as well as a nice fluid, lifted back.
Now we tried those departures again without the wall reins. Theres a level of tension and anticipation for the departure, so I brought him back down and emphasized a strong inside bend, then a good outside load of the hock, maintaining some bend on his head to the inside (a leg yield pretty much). Unfortunately, the really nice departure was not caught on film, but the subsequent lope afterwards briefly is. I tried this new camera angle, but clearly it doesnt show as much as my other attempt. Next time I'll put it on the short side of the arena to try and get more on film. If you look close you can see how the wall reins were attached to the d-rings on the front of the saddle when not in use, if you are interested at all. Watching these videos helps emphasize to me what Sarah said at my lesson; "Just ride, dont overthink it" and I believe I was doing that. Thinking bend, then load outside hock, then lope. I need to just set him up but not get so attached to those beginning steps, as I have found it tends to lock down my body.
With that final good departure without the wall reins, I let him walk out and brought him up to the barn where I found that nasty streaming dirty sweat from the rear of the saddle pad. Clearly its hard work for Milo. He got a warm rinse off to clean him off and let his muscles cool down slowly. In the cross-ties, I tried another one of Peggy's exercises, Spine Roll. Basically you "push" the spine from side to side allowing some release of tension. Her book says its a great exercise for horses with tension in their shoulders and wither, so this seems an appropriate exercise for what we are working on.
Milo put away with sun-block and a mostly dry coat, I headed to the college for a much needed study session - final is on Wednesday!