After my lesson on Wesley, I really wasnt entirely sure how I would approach my ride to follow on Milo. All I knew was that I would work in the outdoor arena and allow myself plenty of space and not get concerned about an impeding turn or end of a line. I was fortunate that this particular week there was no summer lesson camp at the barn, as they use the outdoor arena for the majority of the day. I was also fortunate in that the arena had just been dragged and all poles, cones, and barrels were moved out of the way. Only one person had made tracks in the fresh dirt before me, and they had mostly worked on the rail. As you may know, I hardly work on the rail.
I worked Milo on the ground before the ride. Mostly because I thought he might be a little excited to ride in the outdoor as we had not worked down there for well over a month and a half. But I also felt that I needed to find some connection with my horse before I rode. I have found that if I have any sort of doubt about the proceeding ride, a good session of ground work helps build both of our confidence.
Milo was not excited, but was distracted, and needed a lot of coming the line to help him find connection on the line. We spent a good amount of time just working on the ground, but soon I got on. I walked him around a lap or so one-handed, and tried to find engagement and lift through my seat and leg with only minimal hand as needed. We moved into the jog and it wasnt long until my horse found a great rhythm. He easily moved laterally off my leg, loading the outside hock and filling the outside rein. I reminded myself to give him more head as Sarah had suggested on Wesley, allowing Milo to carry himself and make a mistake as needed. I found it only took a few corrections and soon I didnt need to touch his face again, I could rebalance him with my seat and leg. He felt great so I put him into the lope.
We loped first to the right. Typically, Milo has a hard time with dropping his shoulder or tipping his hip out on this lead. Again, only a few corrections were needed, and my horse loped around with cadence and balance. I was particularly pleased because he not only had his own head, but I felt a true rhythm in our pace together. I didnt have to worry about if I was pumping with my seat, but I knew my core was engaged. I really was having a great time loping him around. I couldnt believe this was my horse. To produce this lope and on top of it, in the outdoor arena with has deep spots, dips, and is usually very difficult for many horses to find balance in. And yet my horse felt spectacular.
I decided to challenge myself and I found straight through the center of a figure eight, then sent him into the counter canter, still one handed. I did have to assist here and there, but my horse still stayed well balanced, even wanting me to change the lead for him. I wanted to fatigue him some more though, and I went back and forth from one circle here on the correct lead, to a few more there on the counter circle, always making sure we were nice and straight between the two. I didnt want to change him on the circle so I sent him on the center line and prepared to use my leg to push him onto his outside hock. Milo anticipated me and broke to the trot. I set him back up again and found a good lope, and tried again. No lead change. I realized I was leaning forward and not really pushing him over before changing my seat. So I set him up again. I needed more support from the reins this time, to help support him. I went two handed and tried once again. This time, we changed, back to front. It took about two strides after the cue for him to change, but it was correct and we did it. He got lots of praise, and I texted Sarah with the happy news.
Milo needed a breather as we had been loping for a while that direction, and it was quite warm out (well, for us Washingtonians living under a rain cloud). After some time though, I put Milo into a trot and got him mentally ready to start working again. I had him pick up the lope from the walk, however, and I could tell from the get-go that my horse was quite tired. We were back to that "scrambling" lope and with me tired too, I was pumping with my seat. I really focused on myself and tried to hold my core. After getting some stabilization, I then lifted my seat and held with the rein as I had needed to do on Wesley to get Milo to lift up and drive from the hind. It took a few circles, but we finally got a balanced lope this direction, although it still did not feel as fantastic as our lope earlier. I maintained my one-handed riding and again reminded myself to give Milo more rein and balance myself. If Milo needed to hold himself up, I needed to as well. After I let off of his face and found my seat again, Milo dropped his head and lifted his back, loping a nice circle. I sent him straight, then to the counter canter where he immediately broke to a trot. Milo was tired, but he couldnt do that. So again I set him up and we got a counter canter circle, then back to the correct circle.
We played this dance a few times; I didnt want to ask for a lead change before I knew we were actually ready for it. But I asked too soon. Anticipating and tense, Milo kicked out on my first time asking. Too much leg, I thought to myself, and set him up again. Tipped forward that time. Try again. Didnt follow through with the rein when he needed the support. Set up for it again, find a balanced counter canter again. Finally, it all came together, and while it was painstaking and again not perfect, it was correct from back to front and we did it. I gave him praises again and spent a long time cooling out my puffing horse.
What did I discover the most that day? The ta-day for today, as Sarah put it. The lead changed might not have been beautiful and they came through difficulty, but we got them. Ta-da. What I want to focus on more was the beautiful ride we did have before I began working on the lead changes. I think that was the real ta-da for today. I let my horse have his head, I let him hold himself up and I truly had a fun and rewarding ride loping my horse easily around, finding straight, and remaining balanced. Ta-da!