I pondered this situation as I led him to the barn, groomed, and tacked up. Orange peels won't hurt a horse, right? I guess he's feeling the vibe with the new orange halter? Beats me, but he seemed ok so down to the outdoor arena we headed. It's freshly graded footing was far too tempting for me to ignore, even with the high mid-day heat.
There was a small patch of shade along one side of the fence, with a perfect location for my drink for easy access. Milo dropped his head to try and snatch some sprigs of grass growing at the arena edge - as if he doesnt have enough grass in his pasture! He is probably one of the luckiest horses at the barn with his forage access! So ungrateful...
I got on, from the ground as the mounting block was outside the arena and in my laziness I didnt want to drag it in. But I was pleased that the saddle didnt tilt off center too bad, but I always feel a bit guilty getting on from the ground knowing I'm torquing Milo's back a bit. Did I mention it was warm out? I had my black helmet on which doesnt allow for great airflow, and already I was feeling warm. (Oh right, I didnt tell you? After my little accident the other day, I am going to spend my birthday cash on a new helmet. What with the trainer at the barn being fallen on just two days before my accident, I think the universe is trying to warn me to wear my helmet, and so I shall. Even though I dont like it)
I warmed up Milo on a loose rein one-handed, letting him scope out the arena a lap or so since I hadnt done groundwork with him prior. He was a bit of a looky-loo, but not bad also considering I hadnt ridden him in two days. He needed a few reminders to stay light off my aids (bulging shoulder, ignoring neck rein) but soon he was on page with me. I trotted some straight lines and circles, and tried focusing in on the uneven sweat marks I have been consistently seeing from him. While I get a beautiful mark on the left side, I have been getting a dry spot on the right, indicating that his right side is hollowing out. I have known this for a few weeks now, but never seemed to know how to approach it. But today, it seemed to come to me.
As I worked Milo, I was very aware of the fishtailing from the rear, and the dropping of the right shoulder. It might have been because I was able to watch part of a lesson at Sarah's that morning, with the horse loping crookedly. Maybe seeing this on the ground and hearing Sarah's suggestions to the rider helped me find it in myself and my horse? Who knows, but I do know that I was very aware of my horse's dropped right side and instead of the usual pick up on the right rein, I heard the voice of Sarah in my head telling me to support with the outside rein to not allow him to simply bulge his body out that way. Rather, it would make him stay straight and all he could do to respond to the inside rein was to lift on that side. And by golly, it worked. I had some of the best circle and straight work I have ever had and I could truly feel my horse was straight and lifted on both sides.
After a brief walk break (the heat seemed to make my horse a bit sluggish), I prepared to go into the lope work. I didnt have a goal set in my mind like in the last few rides, and after our first few strides into the right lead, it seemed what I would mostly be working on would be getting straight and coming over his back. The outdoor arena doesnt allow for very consistent work with its dips and deep spots, and Milo was very inconsistent with our lope. Another reminder from Sarah told me to give him his head and I found when I went back to one handed (I had grabbed two to school) my horse relaxed and lifted much better.
I seemed to find straight and lifted again, and while not as well as at the trot, it was certainly an improvement from our usual drop on the right side. We loped and loped and I only counter cantered him a circle or two before moving onto the straight line. Something told me my horse was already pretty fatigued and as I came to our first straight on the quarter line, I found the new bend in Milo's body to the left, switched my hip and only slightly needed support from the new outside rein. Milo changed his lead, back to front. I was amazed. I really didnt think I would going to get it and thought I would need to go back and school the counter canter again. But Milo very pleasantly surprised me by changing his lead, and with such little effort as has been needed in the last few rides!
Absolutely giddy, I texted Sarah, questioning if I should get off right then and there. I really wanted to do it again, but with such a clean change, she agreed that I should be done. I slipped off my horse and gave him a ton of praises, putting the halter on to cool him out from the ground. Sarah further suggested to not try changes again for three sessions and instead focus on arcing, counter arcing and lateral work. Things I havent been touching on as much with my head so focused on our lead changes. I agree, let that good change settle, and reinforce other body control exercises before coming to it again. Either was, I was ecstatic and could not stop smiling.