Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Lesson at Home

I was really eager for my lesson on Tuesday. I hadnt had a lesson with Sarah in months, and this time she was coming out to my place to give me one. There were so many things I wanted to ask her, and have her look at. First, she checked over Milo. He was super vocal about what needed fixing; his first and seconds ribs were out, (which explained the sour ears I had been getting when tacking up) he was out in the girth area, she checked over his hips, decompressed his knees and fetlocks on the front, and checked over his organs. His liver was a little hot, but not horrid, she commented, and recommended a ten day supply of Dynamite Excel right before the next full moon, which we would then worm him with Panacur or SafeChoice, the only two options that Milo agreed with. DynaPro was also suggested, just like last spring, to flush out any toxins in his system. Fortunately, I have DynaPro left, and Sarah gave me a supply of Excel.

Sarah looked over the hay that I had, and didnt like what she saw. I have two bales left over from the Orchard Grass and she liked that much more than the Timothy. She recommended I go back to the Orchard Grass and sell the remaining Timothy bales I have. She has six bales or so of Oregon Orchard Grass I could buy from her, which I would gladly do. Hopefully I can get rid of the half ton timothy I have.

I tacked up and we got to work. I wasnt sure what we were going to work on today and after not seeing her in a long time, I figured a critique on my riding was going to be in order. But she started off by saying that when we work our horses at home, we need 75% from them, that way when we are at a horse show, we can just ask for 25% and not have a big deal. Especially in western events where a draped rein is sought after, the horse needs to respond from our legs alone. Today she wanted to teach Milo and I how to be shaped from just my legs.

By shaping, it can mean anything: directional, speed, but what we were working on was body control and shaping Milo in an arc. Nose in, hip in, was the focus, and Sarah also taught me a new way to cue. There are only so many places to put the leg for a cue, Milo for example wanted to lope off as I was asking for his hip in, which was partially evasion from the exercise being difficult, partially showing that I havent been asking for the lope with my hip placement, and partially because, well, the lope off has been putting my outside leg back. Sarah recommended "painting" his side with my leg. In a sweeping motion I just wave the leg back and forth across the C region, avoiding poking with the spur. This exercise is to build strength and relax, there is no need to get aggressive about it and create resentment in both of us. "Baby Steps," she reminded me a few times. If Milo didnt respond with his hip in with the painting, I was to bring his nose to the outside and move the hip away in a way thats easier because horses want to move their hip away from their nose like a man carrying lumber - turn one way, the rear end goes the other. The exercise of nose in hip out would reinforce my painting cue, then I would bring the nose back in and continue painting for the hip. If I got the hip but lost the shoulder (which is easy to do), I would reinforce the wall of the outside rein by bringing Milo into a spin and reinforcing keeping his shoulder up. We worked this at the trot and when things were coming more together, we moved it into the lope.

Sarah told me to use my corners to my advantage for this exercise. As we came into the corner (if properly) Milo would already be shaped into the arc of the direction we were traveling. Just before making the turn the new direction, I would capture the hip and keep it in the same line of travel on the other side of the corner, so the image that came to mind was the western pleasure horses crab loping along the rail. While this is NOT the ideal we are looking for as far as loping, it was what we wanted (in a sense) for this exercise, although with more shoulder control as well. Think of it like a half pass at the lope, but with less diagonal direction and just forward along the rail. Just like in the trot work, this too would build strength and help with leg control, put more foundation on our spins, and moreover, help build strength in Milo's lope which is getting better but still scrambly (which a lot come from the downward shoulder, which I will get to in a minute).

We worked on this, trying to utilize the corners, and was having a hard time. Milo didnt respond to the painting of my outside leg, and lifted his head to evade the bit as I asked for his nose to come in. We tried it over and over and it wasnt working. Then I lost the outside shoulder so made a big correction of it, which Sarah commented was too aggressive. I went back to the trot, and re-emphasized the exercise at the trot, then went back into the lope and tried again. We got a couple strides of what we were looking for and as I released and relaxed along the last part of the straight-of-way, Sarah commented on what a beautiful lope it was. All this work is going to help get the lope where it needs to be.

As Milo got a breather, we discussed Milo's neck and shoulders. The area just in front of the withers does not have a lot of definition, and he travels like a pleasure horse - his neck ties in low and he comfortably keeps his head low, which unfortunately bring the shoulders down too. We did an exercise to encourage Milo to start lifting at the shoulders and rounding in that area in front of the withers. An easy way for me to see the difference was in the filling in of the area on his neck, but more importantly, I could feel a huge difference when my horse was lifted at the shoulder. Again, Sarah reminded me to not micro-manage and help Milo every step of the way. She told me to listen to the rhythm of his footfalls and to use a backing exercise to slow him back down if he quickened, and to further encourage the shoulders to stay up. 1.......2........1........2 was the footfalls, and she told me to stop holding him up - to let the reins out when he was lifted and test to see how long he could go until I needed to bring him up again, all the while paying attention to the rhythm (which we were at the walk). When at the beginning Milo very commonly wanted to over flex his neck and bring his face behind the vertical, when he was traveling correctly, his poll was the highest and his nose perfectly on the vertical. I was amazed by how hugely different my horse felt underneath me. His shoulders got big and elevated, the arc in his neck made me feel like I was riding a big dressage horse. The careful way in which he placed his front legs as he tried to hold his shoulders up made me grin. "Ten days of this, and you will be surprised on how he looks" Sarah commented, even recommending doing this small work on the trail. 


An Image of Grace said...

I just had the same lesson last night as was pretty blown away with the results. I have a lot of work to do - but I finally believe that my horse can do it!

Story said...

I love your blog! You seem to have an incredible knack for running into the same training problems that I'm having at the same time lol. I'd be interested in hearing more about the exercise to lift the neck and shoulders. Also, great tip about the lope cue. In my efforts to create tons of forward I think I've become aggressive in some of my cues and the mare does not appreciate it!