I have held off on saying this because I didnt want to feel like I was whining or complaining about the recent move, because I really am happy with where we are now. But I just kept feeling like it might have been poor timing. You see, right before we left the old barn (and I mean right, like a week before leaving) I felt like I was getting a breakthrough with Milo, especially at the lope. I could ride him all day one handed, maneuvering through traffic in that busy arena, feeling like I had a lot of control with just my body, and for goodness sakes, my horse's lope had slowed down and he consistently kept his head level and his back up.
As soon as we moved, all that seemed to be lost. For the last two months since being at the new place, Ive been having a whole lot more frustrating rides than notable fun or "good" ones. I kept saying to Sarah how the small arena was the culprit and Milo "just doesnt have the room". I was getting pretty frustrated with the situation, and was feeling that the horse I knew I was getting to disappeared. I was needing to ride with so much more hand, more leg, and still we were no where near where we had finished off at at the old place.
I tried regulating my breathing, hearing all the words that Sarah had suggested for me to get into my body. I was ditching spurs, saddle, and lifter bit to try and reconnect with my horse in the way I knew we could. I was looking back on videos from this summer's horse shows, and wishing beyond anything I could just get back to that place we were at. Why were we going backwards??
Sarah said that the universe creates what we need. Sounds foo-foo, I know, but it really is true. There is a reason why the best situation for Milo and I resulted in a smaller arena. Sarah was convinced that this would make me gain the shoulder control she keeps talking to me about. There would be no ignoring it like I easily could in a larger arena. She further said that if I could ride in a small arena, and master all the difficulties that it presents, I could ride in any arena. It's true; smaller is more difficult with less straight long lines, and more fast approaching corners. Its easy to get dumped onto the forehand and freight train around the arena in laps. But this arena, if I was ever going to get further with Milo and I, would make me gain control over the shoulder, and hopefully help me get back in my body.
The last few rides have been real breakthrough for me. I cant state which one in particular was the "turning point", but in roughly the last five rides things have been coming around, slowly but surely, just as Sarah said they would; "it's coming". I knew I had been using too much hand and not using enough of my body. I knew I could direct my horse with my body alone, heck I had been doing that already (but I didnt know how much I really could until of late), so I decided to ditch my reins (for the most part) and hold onto the tails. I obviously held enough that Milo wouldnt be tripping on the reins or anything, but I really wanted to make sure that I didnt touch on his face unless absolutely necessary.
Do you remember my post a few weeks back about just loping? I started scratching the surface in that ride. I began letting myself go and just ride the lope. In turn, Milo started just letting himself go and not worry over the upcoming corners, or a possible snatch on the reins from me followed by a tense body. I felt horrible where at usual places that I might have picked up on the reins, Milo lifted his head away and hollowed out his body in anticipation of tense pressure from me. It took a few times, but eventually Milo started to trust that I wasnt going to do that.
I hadnt learned all there was to learn yet in just that ride. In rides to follow I began to understand more about just how much my body position effects my horse. I started to learn how to use my seatbones effectively, and when needed by the movement of my horse. Sarah had always told me that our bodies are always changing in the saddle to accommodate the horse. I always just wanted a clear "roadmap", if you will, of when and where to use my body. I always wanted to be told the precise moment so I could autopilot it and do whatever it was. I wasnt really listening to Sarah saying that we change when the horse needs it because that would require understanding how my body effects his. And moreover, feeling when I need to help him out. I didnt want to do it, because...I didnt know how I could help. I couldnt feel those subtle changes. I'm starting to now.
For instance, I have said time and time again that Milo's shoulder drifts out to the left and how it is caused by my heavier right seatbone. I've known this, and yet, I could never seem to balance out with my left seatbone without all my weight going onto the left. While it is true that when asking for a turn say to the right, I sit a little heavier on the right seatbone with my hips turned in the direction and my body showing Milo which way to go. So I got the turning part down, but straight wasnt working. For whatever reason, I had not been translating that I could (and should) put some weight on the left seat bone when tracking along the long side to the right. That would tell Milo to turn to the left, right? Wrong; if I'm sitting too heavy on my right seatbone causing Milo to move away (to the left), then I just need to have enough in my left bone to balance it out. That point I was not able to feel. I could think about the logistics behind it all day long, but I could yet get my body to do it.
Finally, I am getting to where I can feel when my horse needs me to balance him out, and make the small adjustment when needed. It's been incredible!
Furthermore, I've been saying how he dives his shoulder down into the corner. A somewhat local cowhorse trainer has been posting short training tips onto her Facebook profile. One video addressed the common "shoulder diving". She explained that the shoulder dive is not coming from the shoulder, but a lack of drive from the rear. No duh! I KNEW this, Sarah had told me this a hundred times (well, maybe not that many times). We had a whole lesson on this where I should sit heavier on the inside seat bone to "hold the hock/leg down" and this is where I could half halt with the outside rein at the opportune time to further reinforce his weight staying over his hind. I had been working on this (scratch that, forcing this) having long conversations (yelling matches) with Milo where we hadnt been getting anywhere with it. Looking back, I know I wasnt using my body to tell Milo how to use his; I was using heavy aids and a rigid body trying to force him to do what I could not feel. Embarrassing.
Finally, it seems, I have figured out how to ask him to hold the hock down with just my body and only very, very subtle half halts - one handed I should add, on a loose rein! I have also figured out the lope departure, through body position only and a light smooch. My enlightenment on the nuchal flip I think has helped too, but I've discovered that that flip too can be found through my body alone - amazing! I'm not going to lie, our rides have been fun. Just yesterday we were working one handed, and I felt so incredibly in tune with him. I could adjust his body back to straight when needed with just body position from me, and I could lope straight and lifted on straight lines and circles. And never once was there a moment (even initially) when he was strung out or racing. He stepped right into a true lope right from the get go! My ride was so fun yesterday, we even worked down the fence as if there were a cow, and wouldnt you know, it was like my horse knew there was a cow there or something. He stopped and turned and loped off (or trotted) time and time again without missing a beat. It was so incredibly fun! I couldnt help but pat and praise Milo, all the way back to the barn, and he got kisses, hugs, and more cookies. I love this horse I knew I had - I love this connection I didnt know I could get, if I just tuned into my body.