Poor Wesley was a bit stiff and sore when we pulled him out of his stall yesterday morning. I found out that the big handsome boy suffers from navicular and today his hind feet were bothering him. Sarah warmed him up on the ground first, getting him to step out laterally and engage his front end. It took a little time, but soon Wesley discovered again that he can use his hind end. He wasnt lame or off, so Sarah let me have my lesson on him still. What an experience that was.
Typically, when I get to ride Wesley, we are working on me and Wesley is teaching the rider. Yesterday, however, it was refreshing to be on the other side of the spectrum, the side that Sarah is usually at, getting the horse back to straight and fluid where he needs to be. I learned a valuable lesson that some rides we get a lot of "work" done, but other rides we need to focus on getting our horse back to that optimum level. This, Sarah said, was why she had me doing this on Wesley. Because of the last horse show. And because I needed a lesson in riding behind the flying lead changes. I needed to be shown how to work the horse, in his off days, through his body and back to prime working condition.
It was a great lesson. Sarah reminded me to keep my ankles relaxed, stretch tall, and hold the beach ball in my stomach. She further got me to "melt" into the motion of the horse and really feel when he was fishtailing, pushing his shoulder out, or generally not being straight. There were some fantastic moments. And after the ride I exclaimed that "I had ridden without a diaper! There is hope!"
A few hours and a couple clean pastures later, and it was time to try this out on my horse. Milo had just had three days off and I knew we were not going to be at that "optimum level" to get a whole lot of "work" done. I had to be receptive to the subtlies that my horse was providing to me, and respond to him accordingly.
However, it seemed, as soon as I sat astride my own horse, my holding patterns came flying back at me full speed. I had an incredibly difficult time relaxing my legs and finding that perfect "sweet spot" I miraculously found on Wesley earlier (I have a hard time keeping my leg straight below me and slightly behind the rear cinch. But on Wesley I discovered how to keep my ankles relaxed and keep my leg where it is supposed to be). Rather, I had a hard time of it keeping my leg further back in my own saddle and my own horse than on Wesley. It was frustrating. My horse was also a bit confused by my efforts to hold my legs in a somewhat different location.
We worked on some of the same exercises I had done with Wesley earlier, and I was shocked and dismayed to find how crooked and drifting my horse is. Is it because I came from moments of true straight on Wesley that I could now see and feel the crookedness in my own horse? I also realized that I was throwing away my reins for Milo and not picking up a contact on him as I so readily was able to do with Weez. What's the deal?
I got about two thirds of the way through the ride before things finally started to click. I was able to find the sweet spot for my leg and maintain relaxation in my ankles. I could have a steady contact on the reins without fear that I was holding my horse back or over using the rein. There was one stretch on the rail where my horse was locked onto straight, and I could feel it. We finally got a lope that was not scrambled and didnt feel like two guys in a horse suit, as all the lope work prior had felt.
If I could just find a way to stop those holding patterns and muscle memory in my own saddle and on my own horse, things just fall into place. Always more to be aware of.