I really took the information given to me during my Monday lesson with Wesley to heart. I can't express how badly I wish the tension in my ankles would just vanish. But years of equitation riding, instructors barking for you to shove your heels down, and using it as a balance point has made reversing those habits very difficult. But I have been trying.
After my lesson on Monday, Heather and Missy and I went on a short trail ride. Milo hadnt been worked in four days, but I just wanted to allow my horse to move freely and find some real relaxation in my ankles. Just before ditching the stirrups, I noticed that they felt oddly short. I had ridden Wesley with stirrups set at Sarah's setting -one hole longer than mine. My stirrups now felt far too short and although I was riding without them, I logged away the knowledge that the next time I needed to lengthen them. Which is ironic because at the last lesson Sarah thought the stirrups needed lengthened, which I had disagreed to feeling the extra hole made me lose my stirrups.
We enjoyed a nice quiet trail ride. Milo was certainly not over his back and I had to keep a conscious effort o stay relaxed and allow my leg to swing and bump with rhythm. I tried lifting my knees as I had been earlier, but continued to find it difficult to maintain soft ankles in the meantime. I also noted after the ride that the saddle has slid back an inch or so and there didnt feel as though there was much clearance for his shoulders. I didnt think much of it knowing he had not been working over his back, but kept the observation close at hand. I also noticed that he needed increased one hole on the rear cinch and two on the front, but thats a whole 'nother bag of worms I will not discuss on the blog.
The next day the same thing happened after our ride: the saddle had slipped back. I had been trotting and turning, no stirrups, and although trying to remember to stay soft in my ankles, things werent panning out as I was so desperately hoping they would. Just about the same mediocre ride played out the following day and I then texted Sarah suggesting that the saddle fit might need looked at again. Maybe it could just use a shim or a different pad? The saddle certainly doesn't fit wrong! She responded saying that it was clear Milo was not coming over his back. I had to get him forward and engaged. She told me to leave the trotting and turning alone for a bit and get him over his back. I felt as if we had hit another serious wall - I couldnt even get Milo to lift his back by applying pressure to his belly after the ride. I was feeling dismayed, frustrated, and incompetent ... again.
I took Thursday off from the barn to get some errands done. Friday morning was a whole mess of a morning. Without going into too much details, I was late for my exam, truck wasnt running, and I had left my riding boots in my truck, not transferring them to the other vehicle. Upon realizing this after class I was sad at the notion of not being able to ride now.
But...why not ride without spurs? I could ride in the Georgia Romeos I was wearing now. I had actually been considering lately about riding without spurs, knowing I dont want to have my horse reliant on them. Without any real reason why not to though, I simply hadnt approached that subject. Although it had been nearly three years since I had ridden Milo without spurs, I mounted up anyways. Staying religiously stirrup-less, we mosied around a bit free of spurs. But I wanted to see what my horse could do. He was, in fact, responding well to my aids already. Why not trot?
Into the trot we went and my horse was still listening to the gentle poke of my heel against his sides to lift his back (ever so slightly). As the ride progressed, however, it was taking more and more leg to keep him coming over his back. He must realize there is no spur behind my leg now, I realized. I'm screwed.
Then I thought about the last few words from the text message from Sarah. Get Milo over his back without force. I thought about this as we trotted around. "Without force." I had no spurs, I certainly couldnt make Milo lift and engage. What Sarah was emphasizing was that Milo had to find the lift on his own. How could I do that? I thought some more, then I thought maybe lifting my seat would work. Just as Sarah had shown me to do this last summer, ask Milo to lift with my seat first, then spur if ignored. I seemed to be missing this first step lately. Lift with my seat. So I did. And Milo lifted up underneath me. Without leg, without spur. This was a real concept for me here. We trotted around longer, I tried to stay diligent in allowing my legs to swing back and forth. Strong in my core, lifting my seat. This was working.
Into...the lope? Eventually, yes, it did. Some support on the outside leg, remembering to stay soft everywhere in my body and still lift with my seat. Eventually, we did get some beautiful lines of loping. Downward transitions were not good. But I had just made a breakthrough. Riding without force. Finding my seat again. Next is what my boss suggested: back to bareback. No spurs. Let's see what we can accomplish.