Sarah watched me quietly as I warmed up Wesley. Remembering what she told me during our last lesson, I tried to remember to keep the contact through my reins as steady and straight to the bit as I could; I wasnt supposed to cross over the neck and give an indirect aid, we were working on straight. As Sarah reminded me in this lesson, straight cannot come from an indirect rein aid, I had to think of the reins like a chute, and my job was to keep Wesley straight in the chute. This analogy worked much better for me than trying to simply keep my rein contact straight to the bit.
Further working with my rein aids, Sarah demonstrated to me how when I simply curl my wrists to engage the bit, it simultaneously makes my upper body curl downward, and hunch over. The idea is to stay tall and engaged in my body always and through transitions. So she demonstrated a better way to aid with the rein; come upward and out slightly, not a big dramatic movement like you might imagine, but simply picking up the reins in a different way that would not only still aid in a straight manner (and with no indirection), but also allow my body to maintain up and breathing. I could think of this as maintaining a pizza slice in my reins, with the base of the slice being at my hands, and the tip at the bit and mouth. This subtle change was amazing in the results I would get from Wesley.
Sarah kept reminding me to breathe throughout everything. To steady by body, and Wesley's, by breathing rhythmically. She further explained that studies have shown that horse's breathing rates are far slower and more methodical, more meditative, than in humans. If I could slow down my breathing and get closer to that of the horse's it relaxes the both of us. And when I do, it truly feels meditative. Breathe in through the nose for a few strides, breathe out through the mouth for another few. It was amazing.
I just had to remember to continue breathing while cuing for something. I found (Sarah pointed out) that in any cue I tend to hold my breath, which in turn makes me tense by body. I thought this through and discovered that I hold my breath in an anticipation for the horse not responding. Its as if I wait there for a minute and think, "I hope you are going to do as I ask". Even as I cue, I dont seem to truly expect that what I ask for is going to happen. It seems that I subconsciously think that the horse is always going to choose the wrong answer, and I will have to discipline as necessary. This realization made me somewhat sad.
Sarah simply reminded me to breathe through the transition, believe in the horse, because if I don't believe that the right answer will happen, then the horse can pick up on that doubt and subsequently, be doubtful, probably then resulting in the wrong answer.
When our trot, walk, and transition work was good, we walked for a few moments before moving into the lope. In this work was where the lightbulb really turned on.
"Half halt ... lope," Sarah would instruct for our lope transition. The idea in the lope departure is to get the outside drive leg engaged and ready to propel forward. The horse's energy needs to be back and on the drive leg to cleanly step into the lope. This is why we push the horse onto the outside drive leg, and therefore, onto the outside rein, while maintaining an arc to the inside. The half halt comes when you feel the outside drive leg just come forward before hitting the ground, because the half halt asks that drive leg to come into the ground and prepare to, well, drive. Half halt, lope.
As we loped a twenty meter circle, Sarah asked if I felt how Wesley was tipped at his back, much like a motorcycle looks when going around a corner. I could feel it, and I voiced that I feel like Milo moves like this a lot. Without really knowing how to correct it, I usually just picked up on the inside rein in an effort to lift the inside shoulder. In fact, Sarah said, it is not the shoulder we need to focus on, as that is just the result of the loss of the outside drive leg. Wesley was tipping over because he was not over his drive leg, and therefore the shoulder fell down. To capture that outside drive leg was to use the half halt at the precise moment, again. With the half half, I would also need to maintain that Wesley was on the correct arc, and my body was allowing it as well. Sarah instructed me to rotate my body into the direction of the horse's movement. Not tip my weight into the inside, but rotate towards the inside. As soon as I found that perfect degree of rotation, Wesley slowed down and stayed upright. I couldnt help but give myself a little grief as I poked fun at how simple it was and yet how I just couldnt seem to find this on my own.
After we caught some air at the walk, it was time to try the lope the other direction. Half halt, lope. Still riding without stirrups, this direction was suddenly harder and Wesley was much more quick and rushy. Sarah quickly noted that I needed to get my weight off of my outside (left) seat bone. This was causing Wesley to drop his shoulder to the inside, which further resulted in me sitting more deeply on the left seat bone. I noted that this is an extremely difficult direction for Milo and I, where I feel that because of the shim needed on the left side, I have to compensate for it by sitting deeper on that seat bone. And when I do, we motorcycle. Just as we had done the other direction, I needed to rotate my body into the direction of the horse's movement, and get my weight off of the outside. She further encouraged me to bring my outside leg further back, and create an arc in my body for Wesley to follow. As I tried to rotate my body in, I thought I was at the right degree when Sarah told me to bring my shoulders more into the turn. I turned by upper body more and voila, Wesley come up straight, and was able to power from the drive leg. We loped circle after circle, as I concentrated on how different (and correct) this feels versus the motorcycling. How was m body different? How did my seat bones feel? Was I breathing? As I memorized all that this felt like, I continued to work on my breathing, and as I slowed down, so did Wesley. I was able to keep a feel on the reins, but give him more slack.
It made so much sense.