I warmed up Milo with the Connected Groundwork before getting on. Milo was distracted, looking around at the horses eating breakfast, and the cleaner mucking stalls. There was also a wedding being prepared for and some commotion from a four-wheeler. We found better connection at the trot (seems the trot is our strong gait lately) and just as I slipped the bridle on, Sarah came down from the house. We joked about her "Kenney Chesney" attire as she was sporting flip flops and shorts. After putting on her straw hat, I could now take her seriously as my trainer.
She had me ride straight away from her so she could watch my hips and seatbones. I commented how I found I could find my left seat bone by raising my left leg slightly, which brought my seat bone down. She agreed, and it didnt take but half a lap before she wanted to include a shim. A shim? For me? But we use shims for the horse's and saddle fitting issues. Out came a felt square and some gorilla tape, and Sarah slapped the shim to my left seat bone. I sat down onto the shim and walked around. My first comment was how much longer my legs felt, and how overall I felt very long from top to toe. "Interesting..." Sarah commented, and further explained what was happening with my hips.
She used her hands to help demonstrate, explaining that where one seat bone (the right) is at 0 degrees, the left is say eleven degrees tilted forward, which thereby means the seat bone is not making contact with the saddle. What the shim does, however, is raise that shorter side up and allows the seat bone to come to zero like the other one. I feel "longer" because with my seat bones level, my left leg could now freely extend from the hip joint and in essence, my whole left side lengthened to straight. Another interesting thing happened: my ankles automatically went relaxed and my core engaged. Not too long after this, however, and Sarah wanted to lengthen my stirrup holes by one on each side because she felt I was still holding tension there which flowed right up through my leg and into my seat and body. She wanted me to have to find my stirrups a bit, and stretch the muscle on top of my ankle to help loosen it up.
As we worked in the trot, she also encouraged me to just slightly press down onto my toe as my hip moved the opposite direction such as in our snake trails. This too helped relax my ankles and I found this, combined with the shim and therefore an entire change in my body, make Milo much more capable of moving away from my seat pressure. Sarah even asked if we felt more connected, and I agreed that we definitely did.
We worked on the snake trail, the two track and three track, circles, and through all of this, building strength in the topline as well as the hocks laterally (something that is needed for a good lead change). We found it was pretty easy for Milo to two track to the left, but the right side was much more stiff. This rang true in the snake trail exercises as well, where Milo came off the left easily, but coming back around from the right was stiff and difficult. Sarah encouraged me to continue working on these exercises at home and soon wanted to see our lope. I commented that the lope was ugly lately, and I had an inkling the last few rides that we needed wall reins. Interestingly, as Sarah watched us prepare for a lope departure, she said she felt the exact same feeling and went to retrieve her reins.
She attached the wall reins, and I let Milo get used to them again for a lap or so. Then we moved into the lope. Sarah wanted me to really kick his hip to the inside, and arc him to the inside as well. She then told me the best moment to ask for the hip, when it is just leaving the ground, for the greatest movement of the outside hock. This opportune moment was when the outside fore was just hitting the ground. "Now, now, now" Sarah would comment and she was right - cueing at these precise moments created the greatest lateral reach with the outside hock. I groaned, saying I had to pay attention to footfalls now, which from experience this last winter, rang to be very difficult for me to time properly. She simple laughed and said when I do it enough times, it will come automatic to knowing when to push the right button.
Sarah wanted me to take Milo onto a counter canter, and really push the left hock right again. I had been working on this at home in our counter canter, hearing the voice of Sarah tell me to push it out farther, and remembering the great lateral reach I have been able to feel on Wesley. "Good" Sarah said, and had me counter canter on the rail, then back to a circle. There were a couple moments where Milo broke and it was due to not only a lack in my driving, but he also really wanted to change leads. We came down the long side of the arena on the counter canter, and Sarah told me to change leads. She actually addressed the steps much clearer, but I honestly didnt really hear her as I had to tune into me and my horse. I barely felt that I even did anything (in all honesty, I think Milo changed before I truly told him to), but it was a beautiful change. I felt kind of cheated though because even thinking back now I cant say what I did to get the change. I had been pushing him back to the rail as his shoulder was drifting to the inside, so I think my inside leg coming to the girth, and probably a shift in my seat, cued Milo for the change.
Finally, Sarah shed some more wisdom for our turnarounds. She commented that I was sitting on my outside seat bone during the turn, and I needed to be sitting on the inside one, "holding the inside hock to the ground". I was really confused: all this time I thought I was supposed to be on the outside seat bone to "open the door" for the turnaround to the inside. I thought if my inside seat bone was down, that I was blocking movement. Incorrect, Sarah told me, and demonstrated on my back that if she pushed down into one side, my reaction was to hollow and bend away from it. So when I am sitting on the outside seat bone in a turnaround, I want my horse to arc to the inside, but am creating a response from him to hollow out the outside which in turn, bends him the wrong direction.
I tried to change my seat bone into the turn instead, which was a little confusing at first for Milo too, who had been taught by me to turn away from the seat bone. His confusion led to some stepping out of the turn, but with a half halt on the outside rein, he was directed back to the turnaround. Honestly, his spins were much better and he was able to hold his pivot foot solidly all the way around (so long as I could stay on the proper seat bone).
So many more lessons learned at this lesson with Sarah. Now I have to find a better way to keep my shim attached to me, without leaving gunk residue on my jeans and saddle.