I finished cleaning Sarah's stalls, and the fact that it was noon and I had only consumed coffee for the day was starting to get to me. I had the spins and needed water. I decided to watch her ride Jackson, and decide afterwards if I felt up to taking a lesson on Wesley. I watched her do her thing, and the half hour sit in the shade with a cool breeze helped get the oxygen back to my brain, and I was excited and ready to ride Wesley. I remembered that this is the feeling I'm supposed to have when preparing to ride. Not what I had been experiencing lately, but I felt like my mojo was coming back. Yay!
I wasnt sure what was going to be in store for the lesson. I was sure Sarah would find some magical key to my problems, as usual, but I also felt there was going to be some harsh words about my riding. Things had been feeling so wrong lately I was a little unsure about what was to come.
I started out on Wesley just walking and torso twisting. Soon, Sarah recommended stretching my back by reaching from hand to opposite toe. After a few, she told me to allow a total stretch in my back, so my head could face down as well. Weazle wasnt going to go anywhere, so not seeing where we were going for a few moments was ok. I got a few well needed stretches, and as I came back up, I felt just a bit more centered in my seat. I commented that I felt like I was teetering off to the left side, as I had been feeling when riding Milo as well. She watched me straight on and said that no, I looked centered. I figured that was the deal and that all the crookedness in my body just made center feel different and weird. Sarah recommended that if I start really feeling "off" to go back to torso twisting and not allow myself to get "locked" or "stuck" in one position. A recommendation she has been saying to me for as long as I have been working with her. And yet, I always need to hear it.
Again with the torso twisting, and Sarah had me go into the trot. Again I was not focusing on my hands, as I had been trying to retrain myself on for the last week or so, and Wesley certainly wasnt collected, rounded, or engaged. Sarah told me to relax my ankles and stop "equitating". Huh?
It took a bit of concentration to "release my ankles". Then she said I needed to allow my ankles to "flop" in tune with stride. I simply just needed to not worry about having a pretty leg. But....thats what I've been told to do for thirteen years! But I obliged, and after a few moments I was riding from my seat. Suddenly, Wesley dropped his head and raised his back and I commented to Sarah that without balancing off my stirrups, I now had to rely on my core and I could instantly feel my abs engage. The engagement from my body and relaxation in my legs and back allowed Wesley to engage himself and move properly. It was a definite "aha" moment.
I let my body move with him, and we snake trailed for a little bit. There was a moment when I truly felt Wesley's hip engagement, just for a moment, and Sarah commented that that was great and what I was wanting to feel and work towards. I also noted that that was probably the first time ever that I had honestly felt engagement from the hip. Like, actually felt it in my seat. Sarah could only laugh and say that that was good, but I locked that feeling into my mind. I had never felt that engagement before.
We moved into the lope and Sarah reminded me that she wanted to see me really get into my seat and relax my ankles. Immediately I wanted to fall into my "equitation" ankles, but remembered to relax. My core engaged, and Wesley loped beautifully, head down, back up, hip engaged, and with little to no rein except for guidance where needed. It was really cool, and in fact, was so easy. Who knew that being soft and relaxed, but still engaged, was the golden ticket?
Sarah wanted me to counter canter Wesley a bit and really kick his hip out in the counter canter. Counter canter work on the left lead (traveling to the right, counter canter remember, so on my right (heavy) seat bone) felt great. Some reminders from Sarah to keep his nose to the inside and really get the hip out was warranted, and there were some nice moments of lateral reach from the hip and the shoulder, and even some nice straight back to the canter circle. We got a lead change in easily, and worked the other counter canter lead. We had some issues.
Wesley was very upset wanting to change leads and not at all reaching the hind end out. Sarah reminded me that this horse can counter canter all day long, the issue was coming in my body. I had too much inside rein pressure and she reminded me that I cannot force what Im looking for, I have to set him up properly and allow it to happen. As long as I am where I should be. She sort of left it at that for me to figure out. Still with too much hand and no lateral hip, I knew it was coming from my lack of left seat bone. I went down to the trot and tried to find it there. Aha, I had locked into a position again and tightened my ankles. I softened my back, softened my ankles, and allowed myself to find my seat bone, not force it. Suddenly, Wesley moved out laterally. He dropped his head, lifted his back, and moved out as I asked. Again, its just staying soft and engaged.
Back to the lope (we actually got a few strides of real western pleasure loping, which Sarah greatly complemented on) and onto the counter canter right lead. I found my left seat bone much better and we had some nice counter canter work.
Then, somewhere thrown in there, Sarah commented about my outside leg being at "neutral" when loping. It needed to be back in C when we were loping. Wait, what? She told me to put my leg back about two inches behind the rear cinch (but remember, that the rear cinches on the Dave saddles and the way she fits the saddles has the cinch much closer to the front - only like an inch away in fact) and I should have my outside leg back and my inside at neutral. I changed my leg position, and AHA again - suddenly it wasnt so hard to find my left seat bone. With my leg further back, it just naturally falls into place.
Sarah further explained this benefit for a lead change. The outside leg basically is always there to keep the horse in the lope. Then say we come into the center in a reining pattern, and for a moment, it comes to neutral like the inside leg asking for straight between the two circles. Then the new outside goes back and the new inside opens up for the new lead. This totally makes sense with the lead change "steps" she had been telling me before as well: arced, straight, new bend, hip change into new lead. But the legs are much more active that I previously gave credit for. This seems like some elementary knowledge I somehow have been missing out on.
With my legs where they should be, my ankles soft, my back soft, and an engaged core, I loped the rail for a few laps and everything was perfect. Wesley moved beautifully, and we were in sync. I stopped him square and round. Everything felt great. As I cooled him out, I tried for a few turnaround and suddenly they were far easier too. It seemed I finally had all the right basic buttons for this horse and it was by far the best ride I had ever had on him. We finally spoke the same language, and its as if da Weez sighed a relief that this lady could finally ride him correctly.
I love the feeling I get after a lesson with Sarah: confidence! And a sudden awareness and understanding. I couldnt wait to try this out with Milo.