Saturday morning I was disappointed to wake up and hear the rain. I was scheduled for late in the afternoon for work and had planned on another lesson with Sarah that morning. I gave her a call to see what the weather was like at her house, about 30 miles away. Unfortunately, the weather was as bleak as it was outside my window, and the forecast for the rest of the day continued to call for rain. While a tough Washington cowgirl might have stuck it out and rode in the pouring rain, I decided against it knowing that I not only wanted to subject my saddle to a downpour, but I also knew my horse wouldnt be happy. He hides in his shelter at the first sign of a sprinkle, and it just would not be fair to expect him to work well in weather conditions he despises.
So we decided to make my next lesson this coming Monday on Wesley, and hopefully squeeze in another one the night before the show a week from now. I knew I wanted to ride my horse anyway, and hoped that the indoor arena at the barn would be relatively empty. I was disappointed by the changed outcome of the day, but ended up having a great ride.
Not only did I have exclusive access to the arena (the facility was nearly dead the entire time I was there, which wasnt all that early in the day). I turned up the radio and mounted up. Knowing that in my last few rides I wasnt allowing my body to really work with Milo and not fight against him, I tried to approach the first few minutes in the saddle with optimism and a greater focus on lightening my seat.
At the last lesson I questioned to Sarah why my saddle was producing dry spots just behind the withers. I had been frustrated that the saddle I spent so much money on was now producing these indicators of a poor fit. But moreso, I knew that the saddle originally was producing perfectly even lines, so the change could only be that I wasnt riding Milo and working him as I should be. In fact, the later held to be true this past week, but also Sarah found Milo's ribs and hips to be out again. After an adjustment, we found much nicer sweat patterns after the lesson. But what about this last week? What was I doing wrong?
As I warmed him up those first few laps I considered what the sweat patterns were showing. They indicated my horse wasnt lifting up into the tack from the wither and just behind it. Truly indicating that he wasnt properly elevating his back. I had also noted that the dry spots were larger on the right side than the left, further telling me that my horse was not working both sides evenly.
How could I fix this? While throughout the week I had been trying to focus on my lighter seat, I had noticed my horse wasnt as responsive to my slightly raised seatbones but rather responded more off of my spur. So as I walked him around (and soon jogged) I emphasized a lighter seat before a spur aid. Soon, I could feel the dramatic lift in my horse's back from just lightening my seat bones. I moved this into the jog and soon the lope.
Next I addressed the dry spot on the right side. This indicated that he was dropping his shoulder away and not lifting that side as well as the left. So as I worked him (all my warm up and about half of my riding has consisted of one rein only) I bumped lightly on the right rein and torso twisted as needed to encourage a greater lift in the right side.
I gotta say, our lope work (trot too, but we worked longer at the lope) was exceptional. And this was all one handed with only slight adjustments. Our departures were solid and with a soft jaw, and my horse stayed up underneath me mostly from the aid of my light seat bones. We loped the rail, circles, one center circle, and my horse stayed consistent and round. I have to add, how tickled I have been to find my horse is capable of feeling so "broke". We might not have a slow lope for a western pleasure class (not a goal I have anyways), but I now feel like my horse is touching on the capabilities that he possesses. It is truly something to feel to connected to him and so light in the aids, but have the work so exceptional and correct. Its almost a shame that no one was there to witness it, but I know the ride I had.
Milo got a break from the lope work on the right lead, and he got a lot of praise. He licked and chewed contently, reminding me how responsive he is to positive feedback, something I need to make sure I do much more often. After a breather, we loped off on the left lead, and while a bit more tired, he still worked very very well. There was a minor spook when a boarder took her horse past the back entrance of the arena, but after only a few moments my horse was back with me. I gave him another break, then worked only a few passes on rollbacks, something I had been touching on earlier in the week at the walk and trot. He did very well on the rollbacks too, receiving all A's as he loped right off after the stop, staying soft and round in the bridle. I made sure that I indicated the lead first from my hip and Milo picked them up easily. So I decided to take it to simple lead changes.
As I had spoke with Sarah on the phone that morning, she asked how the simple changes were since I was having such difficulty finding the flying changes in my body. I admitted that in the last week Milo was getting rushy, anticipatory, and very tense in the center expecting a change. She recommended doing one or two step simple changes on the rail, emphasizing straight, soft, and from my seat. I agreed it would be a good way to work on them where Milo was comfortable and unsuspecting of them.
After the short rollback session, I moved right into the simple changes. At first he was slightly tense, then I allowed my seat to soften and found I was tipping forward. I found my center again and we performed some very fluid one or two step changes on the rail, mostly from just my seat. After some consistent and beautiful changes, I had to stop myself from over doing it, but I was having so much fun! I slowed Milo to a walk and gave him more and more praises - he was being so good.
I threw in some spins at the end (which is a whole 'nother accomplishment - my horse is so much fun to spin on!) and after a cool-down I dismounted and hugged my horse, so proud of what we had accomplished that day. I texted Sarah in enthusiasm so pleased with the ride I had. She replied that things happen for a reason, and that I needed to have that ride on Milo that day. I felt that although I didnt get my lesson physically with Sarah, the excitement and joy I usually have after one was there after my quiet ride alone. I was elated. I even texted her saying I felt I was so ready for the show. Although no matter what happens, I know that I had a blue ribbon ride today. I am so proud of the progress my horse has accomplished.