Disappointed by next week's work schedule, and with Boyfriend being out of town for the next five days (BIG sad face), I wasnt sure when I would be able to get another lesson on Milo - Sarah hadnt seen him since the horse show. I texted her Thursday saying I was in desperate need of a lesson. My rides werent going well, my horse felt uneven and definitely not coming over his back. I was attempting to work on our lateral and arcing exercises as Sarah recommended after my amazing lead change three days before. But something wasnt connecting with us, and I knew it had to be coming from me. I needed Sarah to tell me what was going on. When could I make it out to her place again?
I was voicing these concerns to my boss and also friend (her daughter boards and trains with Sarah, and I have known them for years through 4-H, they also used to board where Milo is now for a portion of the time he has been there), and she volunteered to take Milo out to Sarahs today since she was already taking her daughter out to ride. I was ecstatic! All I needed was for Boyfriend to drop the trailer off at the barn before heading into work in the morning (leaving for fishing weekend afterwards). Boss came to pick us up sharp at 9:20.
We had a nice haul and it was great to have time to chat with both her and her daughter. We arrived, and Sarah was in high spirits, excited that Boss had volunteered to haul for me on short notice, especially because Sarah will be leaving in the next couple of days for a week long vacation. We both wanted to get another lesson in before this week long break.
I quickly addresses the uneven feeling I had been getting from Milo, and suggested that I thought his hips were out. Sarah checked him out, and indeed, he was out. A quick adjustment, and we were ready to get started. Then Sarah volunteered to strap her spurs on and hop aboard Milo. Of course I had no objections, I really had been wanting her to get on and see what she could tell me. Sarah had only climbed aboard Milo once and that was early into our training together. I wanted her to get on him again now months later, and also address any crookedness that could be going on that I can not feel through the crookedness in my body.
I was embarrassed by how my horse behaved.
Its known that Milo is a Momma's Boy and he doesnt have many other people ride him. But he was snarky, tail swishy, pinned ears and hollow. I felt like a mother whose child is severely misbehaving - in front of others watching as well! Boss commented how agitated he looked, and I could do nothing but agree, and continue to feel embarrassed. I watched how Sarah worked him and saw she was performing very shallow serpentines all along the rail. I thought he was simply acting wiggly, but started to see a type of pattern, realizing it was what Sarah was asking for. Soon, Milo lifted up over his back and his hind legs starting tracking up inches farther then previously. He was telescoping his head and neck forward and reaching in his stride. Then Sarah dismounted and asked me to come over.
She gave me a personal demonstration of feel. Pushing against my chin with her thumbs, she asked what my reaction was. It was to resist against her. Then she positioned her thumbs underneath my chin with a "lift" feel to them. Again, she asked my reaction, which was to follow the feel towards her. This is what is going on between Milo and I. The more I pick and pull on the bridle, the more he wants to resist and tighten against it. Rather, if I lift through my body and support with the rein when needed, he wants to come up into the feel and work with me. Feeling the difference was huge in understanding just what my cues were creating.
Sarah said that I needed to get off his face and find straight in our bodies again. She recommended a lot of trot work because it is a diagonal stride which evenly works both of his sides and is the best gait to work on straight with, and encouraging coming up over the back.
When I got on, I torso twisted back and forth, trying to get within my body. Sarah had me pitch out a lot of rein and to not pick at his face. In fact, if his head came up at all I was to not touch the rein, but to get him to come back up through my body. It was a bit hard, I admit, to not immediately pick up on the rein when he raised up, but Sarah also encouraged me to tap lightly with both my spurs, right then left right then left in stride with the trot. Soon I caught the rhythm, and in fact my whole body swayed back and forth in small torso twists in time with my leg and the stride. Eventually, I didnt need to tap with my leg or spur anymore, and I could just lift my seat-bones and continue to move back and forth with Milo. There were short moments of this great feeling and really feeling my horse coming up over his back, but they were there and just need to be built on.
Sarah then had me do the "snake" exercise, which is what she called the shallow serpentines she was doing with him before. These were just small turns right to left - hardly a few steps off of straight - and the goal was to have Milo find that softness in his jaw and really come over and through the neck with softness and reach. But, I wasnt to turn him each direction with my rein. We had to do it with my body. It was difficult to find at first, but eventually my horse started to really get into the "snake" rhythm and reach up with his stride. It felt great.
But naturally, there were still instances where I wanted to use my rein, and it also became more apparent that I was not straight through my body. Sarah had me do a "butterfly" exercise next. This was a figure eight but at a 90 degree. Basically, only half of a four leaf clover pattern. At the trot still, I needed to find those turns in the butterfly through my body, to totally open my inside rein, and not raise or do anything with my outside rein except support but only as needed. Further, I had to not rely on my outside leg to turn the direction. It was apparent immediately that our turning to the left was far better than going to the right. Sarah asked me what was different in my body from one direction to the next.
I had to think for a moment and feel my seatbones. There it was - my right seat bone, dug into the saddle with little to no contact with the left. Obviously turning to the left was easy because my right seat bone was directing movement that direction. But turning to the right was hard because that still heavy right side was blocking movement that direction. It took a few tries, and concentrating really hard, but I was able to find my left seat bone more for those right turns and Sarah commented that the last three or so runs through the exercise were much better, I had found the turns through my seat.
Obviously, getting in tune with my seat and my body position is paramount to correct straight riding, but the lead changes will never come through imbalance in my seat, and crookedness in mine and Milo's body. Sarah said to back off of them and the lateral work for now, and just find straight and soft in our bodies. A sharp recommendation to not pick at his face was implemented as well, with the reminder of the pressure I had felt from her thumbs on my chin.
It was exactly the lesson I needed, and exactly the words and feelings I needed to hear. More homework, and more work in my body.