I was riding Milo and a few voices were going through my head:
(Coming from a judge) "I want to see how the horse will react when the bit is applied" - Mario
"Keep contact on the bit through your transition" - Sarah
"When you drop the contact Milo asks "Where did you go?" and lifts his head" - Sarah
"Your first step is to fix that lop transition" - Mario
And I had a few images going through my head as well:
One of Mario riding Milo in the October Reining Clinic. One moment while I was riding today I saw exactly what Milo was doing when Mario was on him. Milo couldnt stay on the bit contact throughout the lope transition. I felt just what I saw was going on with Mario and worked him through it, rather then stop and start over, just as Mario had done.
I had flashbacks to lessons past with Sarah when she repeatedly told me to keep the contact during my transitions.
I suddenly found what that contact feels like.
It started when I warmed Milo up. He bounced from rein to rein, an outside half halt here, an inside lift here, back and forth we went and my horse was definitely not straight, and definitely not over his back. I stopped and backed him and kept the same contact on the bit from the stop, back, and forward again, just as Sarah had had me do times before. Something about doing that again made me think that maybe I needed to just hold contact longer in my lope transition then I was.
So I did and to make sure I did I held my hands a little higher so I could visually see that I maintained contact. And Im talking about contact here, not pulling, picking up and letting go over and over (as is normal for me), but actual, consistent contact. When I did this at the trot and sat on my outside seatbone Milo, easy as pie, loped right off into the lope. I kept this contact through a few circles and, miraculously, he never faltered, tipped his shoulder in, scrambled, sped up or slowed down, nothing, just stayed loping consistently and for the first time in a long time I felt his back raise and a good lope.
I had also realized, one day while I was leaving the gates of work, that I havent been saying the word "woah" while asking for a stop - again. So as Milo loped nicely on my consistent contact, I stopped him from seat and voice, he stopped squarely, nothing to write home about, but nice and over his back. I let him catch his breath a few moments, then turned him the other way, with contact, trotted off, then asked for the lope the other way. Wow! His shoulder shot right up into the air and he loped right off, right on the contact I was holding. A few beautiful circles and I stopped with seat and voice. Skid! I heard in the dirt and sure as shit, there was a pair of elevens about 24 inches long. Sure it isnt six feet or more you see at the NRHA Derby, but this was progress! I tossed my leg over him and patted him, admiring the tracks he left behind.
Now I know what Sarah and Mario were talking about, and this is something I definitely need to keep doing. I suddenly realized I had been using my bit to less then it's intended purpose because when I held contact on it and Milo was on the bit, his shoulder and wither came way up, hence the "lifter bit" title given to it. Wow! What using a bit properly can do! But, I also need to remind myself that moderation of the contact is key as well, I cant get carried away on hanging on his face or anything, but making sure that the contact is mutual from both parties. It was a great ride!
Oh, and last week Milo got his first slide plates on. :)