After my realization last Friday, I talked it over with Sarah, who had to laugh at my connection made. If I am hindering Milo's ability to lope off and transition down as smoothly as he is capable on the longeline, then how can I not get in the way? Sarah recommended, simply, to stay out of his way. Milo knows the smooch/kiss cue for the lope on the longeline, just use that same cue undersaddle and just go with him. She recommended still setting up properly, but I could do that without needing my reins or legs, I can cue with just my seat and a smooch.
I was really excited to try this out on Milo. I finished her stalls, finished the big pastures at Milo's barn, and finally was ready to try it out. I had decided to ride bareback so help improve my feel and to help Milo learn the subtle seat cue for the lope. But before that, I had some other things to try out as well. After noticing his toe dragging in the last videos, I put a single trot pole out to work over. Not to drill over, but to work over. I worked on a figure eight, circles, and a flat figure eight (crossing over the pole at an angle), but focused mostly on staying quiet while going over the pole, but with connection. I have a tendency to let Milo loose over the pole and he wiggles all over afterwards. That was another emphasis made for straightness on the approach, and the after. I started remembering again why my seat positioning is so important, and how just keeping my seat bones even resulted in Milo staying straight on the approach, over, and miraculously, afterwards.
I was excited, all the work was really productive and everything was feeling really good. When the trot would get quick, I would breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, trying to slow down the tempo in my body and melt into Milo's back. And it worked. For a few strides, then we would speed up again, and I would go through the same process. It was rewarding to know that I could slow Milo down with my breathing just as I had done on Wesley, but at the same time I couldnt help but wonder what I must be doing in my body to cause him to speed up again.
When all was going well, I simply tilted my hips and smooched. Milo trotted for a few more strides and raised his head slightly, not sure what he was supposed to do. I smooched again a couple more times, just as if we were on the longeline. Then Milo stepped into the lope, not as beautifully as I had seen on the longeline, but with a lot less tension then we had recently been getting undersaddle. I worked on the transition a few more times (still having issues with the downward transition...) and soon he loped off at the slight tilt of my hips and single smooch, strong and true, if not a little bulging at the left shoulder. Come another try and I learned the importance of paying attention to the direction of my hips. I had learned through the last few transitions that I could still prepare him for the lope departure by positioning my hips to the outside slightly to encourage Milo to start loading the outside hock, then change my hips for the lope depart. On this particular attempt, I loaded the outside hock but smooched without changing my hips. Milo loped off on the counter canter lead. It made me smile that he was listening so well to my seat that he picked the lead that he thought it was asking him for. It reminded me that the lead (and lope departure) comes from the direction of the hips, not the leg or the hand. I couldnt help but feel pleased.
In our loping, I reminded myself to stay over my inside seat bone, and half halt with the outside rein when the drive leg was coming to to the ground (or, for me to feel easily, when my seat was down in the three beat stride) when I felt us motorcycling. I tried to lope over the pole and do a little work at the lope over it, but hadnt set it in a good place for a lope circle, next time I will remember to.
As we loped along the long side after working on the departure again a few times the other direction, Milo was up and over his back, straight and everything felt perfect. I breathed out with the word Woah and softened the hinge in my back. Milo stopped on a dime, and I felt his hip sink right into the ground. I even heard the skid sound of his left hock as he left a trail in the dirt. I couldnt believe what I heard and got off just after Milo righted himself. I looked down into the dirt and saw the couple inch skid track trailing behind his left hoof. I couldnt help but smile widely and pat my puffing horse on the neck. So many lessons learned today, Milo. What a good ride.