Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Little Mare that Did

"I think you should ride Ellie Mae today," Sarah said after I finished my Pop Tarts and 7Up. Ellie Mae? What about Wesley? That mare had just sorely bugged me earlier as I cleaned her stall and I gave her a glare as I walked past her stall a few more times. I didnt want to ride her!

When I was cleaning the stall she is super pushy about being in the stall while I clean it. I want her out in the paddock and then when I'm cleaning the paddock she can come into the stall. Twice she thought she was sneaky and bolted into the stall, only for me to shoo her back out and her to fly out into the paddock, snorting and upset. Then I thought I could be sneaky and grab a pile right outside of the stall (there is no wall dividing the stall from the paddock) while keeping her outside still. Normally when I clean the paddock I close the stall door so she can go into the stall. While thinking I could get this really close poop pile with her still in the paddock, she did just the opposite and jumped right into the stall. I tried to get back ahead of her so she wouldnt exit and although the wheelbarrow was blocking most of the stall doorway, my coming towards her made her leap out of the small opening and right into the narrow aisleway. Of course she trotted down to the end stalls and horses, and Max reached over the stall door and very stud-like grabbed ahold of her blanket. Two more horses had their heads over the stalls and all were nosing and ready to squeal. I didnt want to walk into that very narrow aisleway for two reasons: 1. all of the horses and the chance of getting between them all and kicked or bitten (or striked if it led to that), and 2. Putting pressure on Ellie Mae might make her jump up the small incline to the opening that held straw, hay, bedding, and tools. If she got up there, she could not only hurt herself on the pallets and objects, but could also sneak under the tent of the shelter and escape onto the property.

I quickly turned down the idea of simply hand guiding her back into her stall. She already didnt want to listen to me and she could very easily get past the wheelbarrow (which was now partially blocking the aisleway) and escape out the aisle. So I blocked the aisle with the wheelbarrow as best I could and retrieved a halter just outside the stalls. Ellie Mae had now turned around and looked to be contemplating jumping up into the hay storage (and possibly escaping), or getting more squealy with the boys now positioned behind her. I quietly brought the halter up to her and for a split second I thought she was going to shy away. But I fitted the halter on her and threw her back into her stall, sending her back out into the paddock and exiling her out there for the last couple of scoops I needed to take.

When all was said and done I walked past Sarah with a heavy wheelbarrow and grumbled a question on if she was known for escaping. Sarah without a doubt said, "oh yes". I thought about how much I didnt like that mare while I emptied the load and finished cleaning, glaring each time I passed her stall and her still snorting self.

So, this was the mare I was supposed to take my lesson on now, to try and communicate with and learn something from? Ugh. I haltered her up (quietly) and brought her into the cross ties. Nothing eventful happened as I groomed and tacked her, except for some pinned mare-ears at the saddle reminding me that mares have never been my friend.

I climbed aboard and we walked - at a brisk pace. I knew from watching others ride her that she can be quick and somewhat short-strided, but I didnt know how much she seemed to resent the bit. If I lifted on the reins she simply lifted with her head and hollowed away from it. She was so robust around the waist I felt I was sitting on a couch. Even though her saddle size is the same as Milo, she felt almost pony-like in comparison. But we walked around and she jigged a little, Sarah told me to torso rotate back and forth and to start developing an awareness of my femur.

This last weekend was a yoga session and Peggy day out at Sarah's farm (one that I was not able to attend thanks to work), and one of the concepts that everyone learned from the weekend lessons was a better definition of what our core is, and an awareness of our femurs. Firstly, the core, as Sarah told me from the yoga instructor, was the entire part of our bodies, minus the extremities. I had remembered reading this idea on Melissa's blog just a day prior, and had already been thinking about it. But Sarah added onto that an awareness of the spot between our shoulder blades. She said that for our core to be engaged we needed not only our abdominal region, but that upper location on our back as well. She said, "make your shoulder blades smile" with the idea being to engage that location, but not shove our shoulders back and hollow out the back as is typically occurred in equitation. It coincides with the idea to lift at the sternum, but to be aware of the spot between the shoulder blades for engagement as well.

I thought about this as I continued to walk and trot on Ellie Mae. I was encouraged by Sarah to respond to her evasions by more leg and engagement of my core. This moved us into the acknowledgement of my femurs as well. Sarah wanted me to be aware of them and to let them loosen up. She had me do this by "jiggling" my legs lightly with the concentration at the femur not the lower leg. The idea was to loosen the leg from the hip joint then below. As she described to be later after the lesson, you can have total freedom of the lower leg to cue or move, even if the femur is locked. So just moving the lower leg does not mean that the femur and hip is relaxed. I needed a stronger awareness of the upper part of my leg and it's attachment. I got a better idea of this in the lope.

Ellie Mae was difficult and resistant to a lot of the same kind of work I have been doing on Milo and Wesley. Instead of a willingness to work, like with Milo, she fought the work accepting it as too hard and simply evading from my requests. Most of what we were working on was engaging her abdominal muscles and working over her back while still traveling forward, or more specifically, a shoulder fore or hip in on an arc. When I asked for the simple arc on a circle with my leg back at C, instead of bringing the hip in she just wanted to lope off. I hand it to her though that her lope was not quick or terrible, but it really was not the right answer. Sarah told me she believed a lot of the training she had had done previously was not fun for Ellie Mae, which really made her resent a lot of things. Furthermore, when Ellie Mae thought she did something right (such as lope off when I asked her to bring her hip in) it was very difficult for her to come back down to a trot and quit loping. She got something in her head that she was supposed to do (and was easier than what I was really asking for) and was hell bent on doing just that.

When I did get her back to a trot and repeatedly she loped off from the hip in request, Sarah had be change it up and work on a shoulder fore. As you might remember when she has had me work on this with Milo, the shoulder fore is asking the hip to go out (slightly) while the shoulder stays on the straight line and body remains slightly arced. This too was hard for Ellie Mae, but after a few tries we finally were getting a few willing steps.

The from the shoulder fore (which you might recognize sounds a lot like a lope departure), I could half halt and smooch into the lope, which we did. At the lope, Ellie Mae was quick and hollow, and as I result I started to brace against her and lock my hips and femurs, which resulted in a driving seat. Sarah called me out on it, and encouraged me to engage my entire core and really let my legs jiggle as we loped. It was hard for me as her body was so round and her stride so different. But eventually I was able to relax my outside leg, it was the left one that was still holding on for support. A few more lope circles later and more concentration, and I was finally able to let go of that leg. We loped in tandem together and I couldnt help but say, "Ohhhh..." as it finally was making sense. Ellie Mae found a perfect rhythm and relaxed as I had. Sarah even commented that the quality of the movement I was getting out of the mare was exceptional.

We were able to repeat the work the other direction, and I couldnt help but enjoy what this little mare had to offer. Opinionated as she was, sneaky as she is, she taught me something. And I couldnt wait but to rush out to Milo and try it with him.

Ellie Mae

1 comment:


Hi I'm a show jumping rider from Italy =)
I love the first picture!
keep in touch:

see you soon =)