Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to Basics

Astute readers may have noted in my last post the mention of a lesson on Wesley last Thursday. Readers who know me and my writing style probably questioned why an elaboration wasnt made on that topic, especially since I have a specific label for those events, and further that I hadnt had a lesson with Sarah in months. Well, the story isnt elaborate or anything, but I really just couldnt figure out how to "sum it up".

I had one of the worst lessons I have ever had. Initially I left the lesson feeling like I didnt absorb any useful information, was yelled at, and I felt I really just didnt want to return. Granted, it wasnt as extreme as my emotions were making it out to be, but it was still a difficult lesson to hear.

I rode Wesley bareback and the main "goal" was to get him to lope without the aid of my leg. So, I had to figure out a way to ask him to lope through my seat only. I still was supposed to hold the correct arc for the lope departure, and could smooch all day, but could not use my leg - it had to come from the seat. Numerous failed attempts and I asked to watch Sarah do it. She got Wesley to lope multiple times without her leg. When I got back on, I still couldnt manage to get him to lope. I had no clue what the hell I was supposed to do with my body, my seat, to accomplish this. Sarah kept describing the movement and feel of that moment when they step into the lope, and mimic that with the seat. I just could not do it.

I left the lesson upset, with myself, and with Sarah. I didnt ride Milo that day, and when I did the following day, I tried this idea of loping from the seat. A frustrated half hour later and all we had accomplished was my horse ignoring my verbal smooch cue. I was fed up with the entire idea of it and didnt ride or think about the lesson for a few days because every time I did I got angry.

But one thing I did retain and continue hearing was Sarah saying that riders/horsewomen/whatever, need to hear the horses. Tail wringing, pinned ears, scrambled gait (all things she described of Milo), are all responses to the rider and the horse telling us something. We just need to listen to what they are saying.

Yeah, yeah, this is all stuff I have heard before. But one day this last week I was grooming Milo and tacking him up when I noticed the pinned ears and tension through the body. I stopped and took the time to put his ribs in place, if thats what it was, then decided I wanted to work some of the tension out of Milo, using some of the methods from Peggy Cummings. I did the spine roll (one of my favorites) and one along each side of the neck, encouraging Milo to relax and "telescope" forward. I then worked his TMJ on each side. Milo, true to himself, tried avoiding the tension in his body by reaching for the lead rope and finding something to chew on. Without forcing him to not grab it (ie, holding the rope, or tearing out of his mouth - all actions of tension and aggression), I simply kept working that part of his body until he would relax and release.

By the end of this, my horse stood differently, had a quiet tail, and soft eyes. I finished grooming him and put him up. But the thought remained that I needed to find that relaxation and release the tension that was ever present in myself and Milo. Initially when I left I thought I should just go back to some Peggy work, which I probably still will do, but without pulling the book out that night, I actually was given a different book.

Boyfriend's Mom gave me this large hardback book by Bob Loomis titled, "Reining: the art of Performance in Horses". I figured it would be a cool book all about reining and maneuvers. But once I started getting into it, I realized it is so much more about horsemanship and correct riding, all things that were coinciding with the exercises and frame of mind that Sarah has taught me. Aside from some other cool information in the book (and I'm only a few chapters in) was the mention on creating a "wall" on the reins and bumping the horse forward into it. Direct result - relaxed poll. Elementary stuff, I figured. But then I thought about the actual action and feel of it. Not steady pressure, not hard reins, not pulling, just a barrier that when the horse gets to  he responds to. More important, however, is the bumping of the horse into the bridle, creating a drive from the rear.

And this is where it gets really embarrassing.

I realized that I have never asked Milo to do that.

Seriously. I'm going to let that thought sit there for a moment.

An elementary, foundational piece of knowledge I have been apprised of for years, but have never actually done. Oh I have "softened" Milo's face plenty of time, got him "on the bridle" and flexed, but I had never achieved (consciously) that barrier with my hands that never snatches, pulls, or forces.

So, with that simple knowledge in my mind now, I went into a ride yesterday. Saddled up, outfitted in a snaffle, and had only one clear goal in mind: to never pull on the mouth. To achieve forward and lifted through my seat and legs alone and my hands were essentially never going to pick up on the mouth. I set my hands (although that wording still feels like rigidity) and waved, bumped, or moved my legs in any fashion that encouraged Milo to push forward from the rear and into my hand. I was ever present of my seat as well, as that was another thing Sarah mentioned that I held way too much tension in and still sat hard on the spine.

Without locking my legs, my seat, or creating any tension but allowing Milo to come up into my seat took conscious thought, but not a lot of effort, really. I was a much lighter and quieter rider.

When Milo did come forward off my leg and into my hand I remembered when Sarah held my hand and explained the "pull" between the hands as a metaphor for the reins to hand. Basically, and its hard to explain, but meeting Milo with the same level of contact that he offered me, and the melting into it. Not holding, not pulling, just meeting it there.

By strictly sticking to my goal that I was NOT going to ever pull on the face but to always bump him back into the bridle from my leg resulted in some of the best strides of our career. Some of the couple strides strung together at the trot particularly were phenomenal. Everything was so light and effortless, and really was what people describe as a dance. The longest we went like that was one length of the long wall in the arena, and only a couple of strides were we there in the lope. And the lope is a whole 'nother story. Its hard for me to ride quietly and as well as I can at the trot, but when I did release my tension, never pull on the reins, and bump Milo into the bridle (although a few times he just tried faster), there were a few moments that were perfect.

So...this is my new goal. I guess I'm starting from the basics again. And Im not mad about my lesson anymore. Maybe I can get Milo to lope from the seat eventually, once I figure out how to allow it in my body. But for starters, I am going to erase tension, pulling, and force from my rides, and really try and listen to the horse.

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