I almost forgot that I was going to ride Milo bareback. I had tossed the saddle onto his back and prepared to cinch it down when I realized I needed to go bareback. I stripped it off and strapped on the 'ole faithful pink bareback pad. Bridle on and away we went to the arena. I wasnt expecting anything different, really, except maybe some tired quads after the ride, but I got some realizations from the ride.
Torso twists and hand to opposite toe stretching began my ride, such as I had done previously in the day on Wesley. I was getting that "off center" feeling again to the left, and kept up with the steady torso twists, not letting myself lock into a position. I experimented with getting Milo to lift his back as well, and suddenly it was apparent that what I was allowing under saddle wasnt really a lift of his back. I was letting him get away with say, a half lift, but not the real deal. I felt a significant difference without the saddle on between the "fake out" back lift versus a real lifted back. Realization #1.
Into the trot, and I continued with the torso twisting, and tried to find a rhythm again such that I had felt earlier on Wesley. Aha, equitated ankles again. I tried to allow a steady swing in my ankles again, but it was much harder bareback - engagement of the core did not come as easily as it had when on Wesley, and instead I found myself gripping with my knees. Relax, relax.....there had to be some level of engagement in my leg in order to stay atop of Milo. But I allowed my back to swing more freely and found more strength in my core. We snake trailed and I incorporated leg changes with each direction as well, remembering that my legs shouldnt just stay a neutral, and preping him a bit for the lope work to come with more outside leg. Nice snake trailing, but I still had to remind him to stay over his back.
I found an interesting thing though, that if I picked up on the bridle at all (ie back lift) he really sucked away from it. Probably the same amount he has been doing undersaddle, but it was much greater felt on my part when bareback. A good strong reminder to use my body to get lift from Milo instead of hand. Realization/reminder #2.
We loped off into the left lead, (second lope depart was very nice) and things felt ok, but it was really really hard for me to not equitate my ankles. But relaxing them resulted in a bouncing seat. It just required so much strength in my core, something I had lost in the last few months riding in my saddle versus bareback. I also resulted in gripping with knees again. But there were definite moments of correction and lift, a step in the right direction (it was usually on the straight of way, interesting note).
But, as I loped the other direction, it was nearly impossible to lope properly - for me. My left leg back not only tipped me way off center (to the point of almost falling off haha) I believe due to the fact that my left seat bone was still not centered with the right, but I was tipped onto my pelvic bone, and just generally was having a very difficult time. My horse was also extremely dropped on the right side, and from my outside leg was loping very crooked. Interesting. Something I want to explore more undersaddle, but at the same time I want to build the strength to actually lope properly this direction. Realization #3.
But towards the end of the ride, I was feeling very tired and had a very difficult time finding the left seat bone. More torso twisting, and trying to stay relaxed, basically everywhere while still engaged.
When I did get off, I didnt feel defeated or frustrated as my last few rides. There were some very nice moments where we had it all together. In fact, I felt confidence again like I had earlier on Wesley. Sarah was right: its coming. It just is taking patience, practice, repetition, and time. I will experiment more between the saddle and bareback and hopefully start unlocking those parts of my body. Always remembering to stay soft! But still engaged! This riding this sure is not as easy as people seem to think it is. Not. At. All.