Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Diaper on my Butt?

I warmed up Milo with the Connected Groundwork before getting on. Milo was distracted, looking around at the horses eating breakfast, and the cleaner mucking stalls. There was also a wedding being prepared for and some commotion from a four-wheeler. We found better connection at the trot (seems the trot is our strong gait lately) and just as I slipped the bridle on, Sarah came down from the house. We joked about her "Kenney Chesney" attire as she was sporting flip flops and shorts. After putting on her straw hat, I could now take her seriously as my trainer.

She had me ride straight away from her so she could watch my hips and seatbones. I commented how I found I could find my left seat bone by raising my left leg slightly, which brought my seat bone down. She agreed, and it didnt take but half a lap before she wanted to include a shim. A shim? For me? But we use shims for the horse's and saddle fitting issues. Out came a felt square and some gorilla tape, and Sarah slapped the shim to my left seat bone. I sat down onto the shim and walked around. My first comment was how much longer my legs felt, and how overall I felt very long from top to toe. "Interesting..." Sarah commented, and further explained what was happening with my hips.

She used her hands to help demonstrate, explaining that where one seat bone (the right) is at 0 degrees, the left is say eleven degrees tilted forward, which thereby means the seat bone is not making contact with the saddle. What the shim does, however, is raise that shorter side up and allows the seat bone to come to zero like the other one. I feel "longer" because with my seat bones level, my left leg could now freely extend from the hip joint and in essence, my whole left side lengthened to straight. Another interesting thing happened: my ankles automatically went relaxed and my core engaged. Not too long after this, however, and Sarah wanted to lengthen my stirrup holes by one on each side because she felt I was still holding tension there which flowed right up through my leg and into my seat and body. She wanted me to have to find my stirrups a bit, and stretch the muscle on top of my ankle to help loosen it up.

As we worked in the trot, she also encouraged me to just slightly press down onto my toe as my hip moved the opposite direction such as in our snake trails. This too helped relax my ankles and I found this, combined with the shim and therefore an entire change in my body, make Milo much more capable of moving away from my seat pressure. Sarah even asked if we felt more connected, and I agreed that we definitely did.

We worked on the snake trail, the two track and three track, circles, and through all of this, building strength in the topline as well as the hocks laterally (something that is needed for a good lead change). We found it was pretty easy for Milo to two track to the left, but the right side was much more stiff. This rang true in the snake trail exercises as well, where Milo came off the left easily, but coming back around from the right was stiff and difficult. Sarah encouraged me to continue working on these exercises at home and soon wanted to see our lope. I commented that the lope was ugly lately, and I had an inkling the last few rides that we needed wall reins. Interestingly, as Sarah watched us prepare for a lope departure, she said she felt the exact same feeling and went to retrieve her reins.

She attached the wall reins, and I let Milo get used to them again for a lap or so. Then we moved into the lope. Sarah wanted me to really kick his hip to the inside, and arc him to the inside as well. She then told me the best moment to ask for the hip, when it is just leaving the ground, for the greatest movement of the outside hock. This opportune moment was when the outside fore was just hitting the ground. "Now, now, now" Sarah would comment and she was right - cueing at these precise moments created the greatest lateral reach with the outside hock. I groaned, saying I had to pay attention to footfalls now, which from experience this last winter, rang to be very difficult for me to time properly. She simple laughed and said when I do it enough times, it will come automatic to knowing when to push the right button.

Sarah wanted me to take Milo onto a counter canter, and really push the left hock right again. I had been working on this at home in our counter canter, hearing the voice of Sarah tell me to push it out farther, and remembering the great lateral reach I have been able to feel on Wesley. "Good" Sarah said, and had me counter canter on the rail, then back to a circle. There were a couple moments where Milo broke and it was due to not only a lack in my driving, but he also really wanted to change leads. We came down the long side of the arena on the counter canter, and Sarah told me to change leads. She actually addressed the steps much clearer, but I honestly didnt really hear her as I had to tune into me and my horse. I barely felt that I even did anything (in all honesty, I think Milo changed before I truly told him to), but it was a beautiful change. I felt kind of cheated though because even thinking back now I cant say what I did to get the change. I had been pushing him back to the rail as his shoulder was drifting to the inside, so I think my inside leg coming to the girth, and probably a shift in my seat, cued Milo for the change.

Finally, Sarah shed some more wisdom for our turnarounds. She commented that I was sitting on my outside seat bone during the turn, and I needed to be sitting on the inside one, "holding the inside hock to the ground". I was really confused: all this time I thought I was supposed to be on the outside seat bone to "open the door" for the turnaround to the inside. I thought if my inside seat bone was down, that I was blocking movement. Incorrect, Sarah told me, and demonstrated on my back that if she pushed down into one side, my reaction was to hollow and bend away from it. So when I am sitting on the outside seat bone in a turnaround, I want my horse to arc to the inside, but am creating a response from him to hollow out the outside which in turn, bends him the wrong direction.

I tried to change my seat bone into the turn instead, which was a little confusing at first for Milo too, who had been taught by me to turn away from the seat bone. His confusion led to some stepping out of the turn, but with a half halt on the outside rein, he was directed back to the turnaround. Honestly, his spins were much better and he was able to hold his pivot foot solidly all the way around (so long as I could stay on the proper seat bone).

So many more lessons learned at this lesson with Sarah. Now I have to find a better way to keep my shim attached to me, without leaving gunk residue on my jeans and saddle.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Frustration in the Pasture, but Progress Under Saddle

Well, there's been a certain re-occuring trend happening the last couple of days....

And no, its not just a "cute" picture of the ponies running in the pasture. 
Witness more as I tried to catch him on Tuesday:

Yeah, ten minutes of this crap two days in a row was not ok by me. He already worked himself up into a sweat and huff, but his little booty got a serious session right there in the pasture as well. And too bad for him that he was tired, because he still got a regular riding session. Not my fault he decided to work himself twice. 

I was so frustrated that morning, I was literally in tears. Why has my horse decided that now, after four years of my ownership and always meeting me in the pasture, he has decided he should just blow me off and run amuck with Chica? I'm sure he has learned the behavior from seeing Chica do it to her owner, and I'm pretty positive that the bond they have now created makes him want to just spend his time with her. Either way, I am not at all happy about the situation and am truly at a loss for how I can correct it. 

On Wednesday, instead of running away, they trotted away. And on Thursday they walked away but I was able to grab ahold of Chica before she looked like she would escape again (thereby coaxing Milo to go along with her). But even with Chica in my holds, Milo walked away. He eventually got closer to Chica as I led her away, then I was able to snatch him by his fly mask and halter him up. 

What is the best way to correct this? I refuse to use food as a motivation to catch a horse, who, knows better. It is ridiculous and only a band-aid in my opinion. Do I work him after catching him as a disciplinary action,since normally if he would meet me there would be no extra working? Or might he associate then my catching him with additional work? I have no idea how he might interpret it. I guess the good news is that the antics were decreasing in magnitude as the week progressed. But I must say, I am nervous for Saturday when I need to catch him and load up for my early morning lesson. Will he make Boyfriend and I wait for god knows how long before I can catch him? Planning for ample time will have to be done, but I am so frustrated by this whole situation. It is wrong to have to plan around a stubborn and disrespectful horse. 

With that out of my system now (and please, if you have advice, give it), I have to say that our other work together has been going great. I have been working much more on the off side (but have been forgetting to lead from the off side when catching and putting him away...just off side work on the longe. But I will work on it more!), and have seen improvement on his way of going since then - much less diving to the right (even under saddle now, interesting how addressing something on the ground can help under saddle), and he is much more comfortable taking line and expanding the radius of the circle. 

With the ground work going well, the under saddle work has too. Great trot work, loping is coming back along one handed, and he felt so well on Thursday (and the arena was clear) I was tempted to work on lead changes. So I did. An interesting thing happened: instead of difficulty changing from left to right (finding the the left seat bone), this time that was the easy change (and easy it really was, much more smooth than we have ever had a lead change before) and changing from right to left (finding the right seat bone) was an extreme challenge and both times I only got a change on the front. What is going on there? I wasnt able to figure it out but I'm hoping Sarah can address it at the lesson this weekend. I even pushed the envelope a little and from one lead change I asked for another without counter canter work in between after only the length of one side of the arena. And Milo changed (this was from left to right, btw)! Maybe we will try lead changes at the horse show next weekend? Maybe it would be a good challenge for us....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Few Discoveries, and a Bad Milo!

I gave Milo some good-lovin' scratches halfway through cleaning the pasture. Another pasture left to clean, but I wanted to give Milo a little attention in the meantime. Finally it was time to catch the red pony, and as I entered the pasture, it started to rain. Milo was in the far corner of the pasture, and as I neared he lifted his head and trotted straight towards me. Good Boy, Milo, I thought, eager to get to the barn before getting soaked. Just as the thought ran through my mind, and Milo was about fifteen feet from me, he turned tail and took off across the pasture with Chica.

Last week I witnessed Chica pull this stunt to her owner, and once Milo decided it would be fun to do so as well. It only took a few minutes of his lunacy before he decided it was in his best interest to come to me. But this time, the both of them were flat our refusing to be caught. I could barely get within fifty feet of either one and they would book it to the other side of the pasture. Round and round we went, me walking a line of about twenty feet back and forth from their running to one corner to the other. I was starting to get mad. I was getting drenched by this summer rain, I already have been suffering from a head cold (again) and after already spending my energy cleaning stalls at Sarahs and cleaning both pastures, I did not have the energy to go chasing after some hooligan horses.

A solid twelve minutes into this insanity, and I decided I would fool the dumb beasts with "oats" in their feed pans. I tossed a couple small pebbles into one of the buckets and shook it in the shelter. Slowly the two horses meandered their way towards the stalls, curiosity and eager stomachs taking over their shenanigans. Chica entered the stall, with Milo closely behind her outside. As she checked out the false oats, I got a rope around Milo's head. Removing the fly mask, there was a brief moment as Chica left the stall I thought Milo was going to take off after her. But I got the halter on and some firm words in, and Milo sure as hell got his booty worked right there in the pasture.

I know this can go two ways - some of you might think that Im only reinforcing to Milo to not come to me in the pasture by working him as soon as he is caught. But from experience with a few horses pulling this stunt, I have found that they tend to associate their bad behavior with discipline. Last week when Milo did this, the very next day he didnt think twice about leaving Chica and the grass for me. Im hoping this pans out the same way when I get him tomorrow. Either way, Chica is a bad influence! And Milo is a little stinker for following her lead and blowing Mom off.

I felt bad about working him on a tight circle on the slick grass, but Milo needed to understand that twelve minutes of deliberate refusal is absolutely unacceptable. Not to mention its a big pasture, there's no way I can chase on after him.

So anyways, I brought Milo into the barn, who promptly called out three times while in the cross ties. A few swats and he gave up the call. And I decided that more ground work was needed before getting on. Out came the Peggy halter and line. Working in the arena, I was pleasantly surprised to find how connected Milo was to the line. I also made a few observations:

First: I had removed the line from the inside, so it was fastened over the nose and on the off side of the halter, so the line was not looped around his neck like I have been keeping it, allowing me for more length of line when out on the "longe" circle. He seemed to respond well to this single outside connection, and in fact, ate up the line and reached out for a larger circle. This is unusual for Milo, who is usually much more comfortable only a lead rope's length away from me (most likely stemming from all the close-quarters Natural Horsemanship stuff I previously had done with him). Interestingly, as I watched Sarah longe a few horses that morning, I was wondering how I might be able to convince Milo to stay out on the line without the excessive coaxing from my body, voice, and longe whip as have been needed.

Why was he willing to extend the circle today? Could the excess line have been all he needed to increase his circle? Was this what he had been really waiting for all along? I think it goes a little deeper.

Second: my body felt more "in tune" within myself. From reading Melissa's post  and talking with Sarah about the recent "Peggy day" held at her facility this weekend, I learned a more significant difference between "twist" and "rotation" in the body. Sarah said that Peggy commented that the word "twist" provokes a psychological attachment to tight and stiffness. Whereas "rotation" was much more "open" and with a softer feel to it. Think about it; twist is a tightening action, like when you twist a rope. Rotation is a free motion, with no retrain. So thinking about that in terms of our "torso twisties" Sarah has had us do when riding to find our bodies, that signifies more of a torso only action. While the hips do follow suit, the brain thinks of the upper body mostly, instead of the seat. Now, thinking about rotating in the saddle, and suddenly an emphasis of a rotation through the whole body is established. Hips and seat rotating.

I thought about this as I worked Milo on the line. Instead of "torso twisting" I did "body rotations". With each comb of the line, I rotated my entire body all the way down to my feet with each comb. Suddenly, I felt more aware of my posture, and I automatically went into neutral pelvis. I watched my horse, and he too began reaching more from his hind legs, and evenly holding connection on the line, even at the trot. I pushed this into the lope, and the first few strides were beautiful. Milo was driving with the hind and coming up over his back while holding the connection. Then I fell into my own bad habit of "following" him as he loped. This eliminated my body rotation, and just like that, Milo lost the connection, lost his impulsion, and fell to the trot. Aha, something more to be aware of.

I changed the line from the off side to the right side, and combed the line to prepare Milo to hold connection on the off side (remember, the line runs from the inside over the nose and connects to the outside. So while I am on the off side, the line is "attached" on the right side, and vice versa for opposite direction). I looked at my horse and made another observation, third. My horse was not sweating up on his neck, which is typically the first location he begins to sweat at, but was sweating up near his gaskin and the flank area. Very interesting indeed. Milo was connected and truly driving from the rear, pushing himself forward and up. This was the kind of sweat pattern I have been wanting to find under saddle. How can I get this connection while undersaddle?

On the off side, I made a fourth observation: Milo dropped himself excessively into me, and needed many many reminders to stay on the line and holding himself up. This is the same side he has been dropping while under saddle. Coincidence? I think most issues undersaddle can be worked on and developed on the ground. What does this mean? I see more off side work here in our near future.

Undersaddle, Milo felt great. I kept my ankles relaxed, and allowed my core to stabilize myself. He felt fluid and relaxed over his back, and the trot work was exceptional. Taking to the lope, I found issues staying centered and finding the left seat bone. Milo dropped away a lot on the right side, but with outside rein support and some bumping on the inside with some corresponding leg aid (also, keeping the outside leg further back I believe helped a bit too), he eventually began holding up the right side. I also found in our turn arounds to the right, I was collapsing my body, resulting in a terrible spin. More to remember.

I pulled off the saddle and found perfectly even sweat marks - on both sides. More Peggy work is definitely in order. Why I find myself straying from it to begin with, I will never know. The results I discover in myself and my horse should be enough for me to stick with it on a much more consistent schedule. It just takes hitting a wall I guess to knock some sense back into me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Troxel Cheyenne Helmet - This was Supposed to be a Review

After my accident with Milo on my birthday, I have been diligently wearing my current helmet. Not only was I lucky in the fall that I came away relatively injury free, but my head never made contact with the hard, gravel ground. At the same time, however, I feel that I dont want to chance fate again with this four year old helmet, but have been wearing it even in our arena rides. Only two days before my incident, the barn trainer's horse fell on top of her as well, and she walked away with an injury to her knee. I also personally know a gal who took a terrible tumble with her horse around a barrel a few years ago, not wearing a helmet, and she still has head damage. Then, the now famous video of Courtney Dye went around only a day or so after my fall, and I thought the universe was really trying to tell me something.

So, with some of the funds from my 21st birthday cash, I decided to finally purchase a helmet I had secretly been envying for for many months. The Troxel Cheyenne Rowdy helmet. I knew I liked the Troxel brand already, and I LOVED the leather covering over it as well as the western-y stitching. I was a little leery on the sizing; they offer hat size sizing - 6, 7, 7 1/8, etc. I thought it would make it a nice very close fit, but was a little concerned about the lack of adjustment on the back, as is normal with many helmets, current one including. I ordered it in brown anyways in a size 7 (I'm either a 7 or 7 1/8 depending on hat brand) and waited by the mailbox daily for it (ok, well I actually just asked Boyfriend every night after work if my package was seen on the doorstep). Finally, a week after ordering it was here.

I tore it out of the box and tried it on. Hmm. It felt perched on top of my head, but as far down as I could push it. It had that "pop" effect where I pushed it down, it would slide back up. I snapped the chinstrap into place, hoping it would hold it where it was supposed to be. Instead, the chin straps choked me as the helmet crept back up. It didnt feel too small because I still felt room on either side, and front to back felt ok. But I knew in my gut that it didnt fit correctly. I looked to Boyfriend, who looked back at the television. Hmm.

I knew the barn trainer was looking for a new helmet, and had asked me to let her know about sizing on this one as she wanted to get one. So I brought it to the barn to have her try it out. If it fit, she would buy it off of me. If not, I could ship it back for a refund and try helmet shopping locally so I can try them on before buying. I might have to forgo pretty looks but maybe I can find the right fit.

It seemed to fit her ok when she tried it, but she said she would think about it and let me know. Ended up deciding against it, so I plan to ship it back for a refund. Any recommendations for your favorite helmet?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Tell Tale Sweat Marks

I enjoyed a couple of nice rides the last few days. Thursday, Milo worked wonderfully and I didnt feel so lost in my seat. Granted, I had to make an effort to find the left seat bone, I used lots of torso twists and stretches to help find it, but not lock place with it. We had a very nice ride and he was working so well, I decided to throw in a little lead change work. Which he took to very well. The counter canter needs some work again (same sort of issues I was having on Wesley on Monday) but he pretty easily changed leads to the left. Then we worked for the other direction, which was much more difficult. Changing to the right requires that I really get that left seat bone down and back a bit, and although he changed (a few strides after initially asking for it) I knew it was sloppy because I had a hard time finding the seat bone. 

When I untacked him, I was pleased to find a beautiful sweat mark on the left side, but a dry spot on the right. This indicated to me that he still wasnt lifting up on the right side, most likely due to a heavier seat bone on that side. I still need to find balance between the two. And although the bareback riding helped show me what needed working on, it was very difficult for me to work on centering my seat bones without any support from a saddle. I know, it probably just means I have to go back to bareback riding more and build the strength I had over the winter. Sigh. I was so proud of my bareback seat too! Then the ease of a saddle allowed it to slip away...

Yesterday Heather and her horse Missy joined Milo and I for a trail ride. We hadnt been out since our accident, but I was looking forward to it, not sure what Milo might have retained from the last time out, however. There was a balk and some backing at the scary unseen dog behind the fence, which required some coaxing to get past, but no huge terrible spook like we had experienced there before. 

Heather and I "played leapfrog" throughout the ride, allowing Milo to be in front for a while, then switching for Missy to be in the front, and changing again. It was good for both horses who both would like to be in the front. We got a lot of nice trotting work done over long lengths. Our first trot, while being in the back, I really got to focus on my seat and Milo was able to concentrate on working rather than looking ahead down the trail. I allowed my ankles to relax and still maintain a light seat, which instantly made my core engage. I even threw in a little snaking along the trail to get him to follow his nose and come up over his back. The trot work was good and I knew the somewhat uneven terrain was a bonus in the workout as well. 

We approached some bikers, which neither horse cared about, and after getting onto another side trail (not the logging roads) Milo got to be in the front again and we trotted for a while again. A little more distracted by looking ahead, but Milo still worked well with just a few more reminders to stay over his back. This trail naturally created some snake exercise and it was a good time again.

There was a short stretch uphill for a lope, so I put Milo into it but the left seat bone was lacking again and he broke to a quick trot, and picked up the other lead when I asked him again. I had to correct that, and halfway up the hill firmly remind him to pay attention to me and lift his back but at the end we got a few nice strides. A really bad transition to the trot so we had to work on that some more, but eventually I got good downward transitions as well. We walked for the majority of the way back home, and enjoyed chatting all throughout. Milo had no sweat on his neck or behind his ears, which was a good sign that he wasnt nervous or anxious. I had to comment saying this was probably the most consistently quiet and working Milo had been on the trail before. 

We got back and I stripped off the saddle. Even sweat marks on both sides! Now that is an accomplishment to have lift while on the trail. I mustve had a bit of a lighter right seat bone as well. I think the long stretches of trail allows me to get better in tune with my body than worrying about a turn coming up or avoiding another horse. Lets just find a way to translate those long nice trot stretches into the arena. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Milo has a Craving

Hmm...more orange peels back here?
Me: Wow, I really need to wash my poor truck. 

Drat. She cleaned it all out. But don't you think I wont try every single day. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Step in the Right Direction

I almost forgot that I was going to ride Milo bareback. I had tossed the saddle onto his back and prepared to cinch it down when I realized I needed to go bareback. I stripped it off and strapped on the 'ole faithful pink bareback pad. Bridle on and away we went to the arena. I wasnt expecting anything different, really, except maybe some tired quads after the ride, but I got some realizations from the ride.

Torso twists and hand to opposite toe stretching began my ride, such as I had done previously in the day on Wesley. I was getting that "off center" feeling again to the left, and kept up with the steady torso twists, not letting myself lock into a position. I experimented with getting Milo to lift his back as well, and suddenly it was apparent that what I was allowing under saddle wasnt really a lift of his back. I was letting him get away with say, a half lift, but not the real deal. I felt a significant difference without the saddle on between the "fake out" back lift versus a real lifted back. Realization #1.

Into the trot, and I continued with the torso twisting, and tried to find a rhythm again such that I had felt earlier on Wesley. Aha, equitated ankles again. I tried to allow a steady swing in my ankles again, but it was much harder bareback - engagement of the core did not come as easily as it had when on Wesley, and instead I found myself gripping with my knees. Relax, relax.....there had to be some level of engagement in my leg in order to stay atop of Milo. But I allowed my back to swing more freely and found more strength in my core. We snake trailed and I incorporated leg changes with each direction as well, remembering that my legs shouldnt just stay a neutral, and preping him a bit for the lope work to come with more outside leg. Nice snake trailing, but I still had to remind him to stay over his back.

I found an interesting thing though, that if I picked up on the bridle at all (ie back lift) he really sucked away from it.  Probably the same amount he has been doing undersaddle, but it was much greater felt on my part when bareback. A good strong reminder to use my body to get lift from Milo instead of hand. Realization/reminder #2.

We loped off into the left lead, (second lope depart was very nice) and things felt ok, but it was really really hard for me to not equitate my ankles. But relaxing them resulted in a bouncing seat. It just required so much strength in my core, something I had lost in the last few months riding in my saddle versus bareback. I also resulted in gripping with knees again. But there were definite moments of correction and lift, a step in the right direction (it was usually on the straight of way, interesting note).

But, as I loped the other direction, it was nearly impossible to lope properly - for me. My left leg back not only tipped me way off center (to the point of almost falling off haha) I believe due to the fact that my left seat bone was still not centered with the right, but I was tipped onto my pelvic bone, and just generally was having a very difficult time. My horse was also extremely dropped on the right side, and from my outside leg was loping very crooked. Interesting. Something I want to explore more undersaddle, but at the same time I want to build the strength to actually lope properly this direction. Realization #3.

But towards the end of the ride, I was feeling very tired and had a very difficult time finding the left seat bone. More torso twisting, and trying to stay relaxed, basically everywhere while still engaged.

When I did get off, I didnt feel defeated or frustrated as my last few rides. There were some very nice moments where we had it all together. In fact, I felt confidence again like I had earlier on Wesley. Sarah was right: its coming. It just is taking patience, practice, repetition, and time. I will experiment more between the saddle and bareback and hopefully start unlocking those parts of my body. Always remembering to stay soft! But still engaged! This riding this sure is not as easy as people seem to think it is. Not. At. All.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Finally Making Some Sense

I finished cleaning Sarah's stalls, and the fact that it was noon and I had only consumed coffee for the day was starting to get to me. I had the spins and needed water. I decided to watch her ride Jackson, and decide afterwards if I felt up to taking a lesson on Wesley. I watched her do her thing, and the half hour sit in the shade with a cool breeze helped get the oxygen back to my brain, and I was excited and ready to ride Wesley. I remembered that this is the feeling I'm supposed to have when preparing to ride. Not what I had been experiencing lately, but I felt like my mojo was coming back. Yay!

I wasnt sure what was going to be in store for the lesson. I was sure Sarah would find some magical key to my problems, as usual, but I also felt there was going to be some harsh words about my riding. Things had been feeling so wrong lately I was a little unsure about what was to come.

I started out on Wesley just walking and torso twisting. Soon, Sarah recommended stretching my back by reaching from hand to opposite toe. After a few, she told me to allow a total stretch in my back, so my head could face down as well. Weazle wasnt going to go anywhere, so not seeing where we were going for a few moments was ok. I got a few well needed stretches, and as I came back up, I felt just a bit more centered in my seat. I commented that I felt like I was teetering off to the left side, as I had been feeling when riding Milo as well. She watched me straight on and said that no, I looked centered. I figured that was the deal and that all the crookedness in my body just made center feel different and weird. Sarah recommended that if I start really feeling "off" to go back to torso twisting and not allow myself to get "locked" or "stuck" in one position. A recommendation she has been saying to me for as long as I have been working with her. And yet, I always need to hear it.

Again with the torso twisting, and Sarah had me go into the trot. Again I was not focusing on my hands, as I had been trying to retrain myself on for the last week or so, and Wesley certainly wasnt collected, rounded, or engaged. Sarah told me to relax my ankles and stop "equitating". Huh?

It took a bit of concentration to "release my ankles". Then she said I needed to allow my ankles to "flop" in tune with stride. I simply just needed to not worry about having a pretty leg. But....thats what I've been told to do for thirteen years! But I obliged, and after a few moments I was riding from my seat. Suddenly, Wesley dropped his head and raised his back and I commented to Sarah that without balancing off my stirrups, I now had to rely on my core and I could instantly feel my abs engage. The engagement from my body and relaxation in my legs and back allowed Wesley to engage himself and move properly. It was a definite "aha" moment.

I let my body move with him, and we snake trailed for a little bit. There was a moment when I truly felt Wesley's hip engagement, just for a moment, and Sarah commented that that was great and what I was wanting to feel and work towards. I also noted that that was probably the first time ever that I had honestly felt engagement from the hip. Like, actually felt it in my seat. Sarah could only laugh and say that that was good, but I locked that feeling into my mind. I had never felt that engagement before.

We moved into the lope and Sarah reminded me that she wanted to see me really get into my seat and relax my ankles. Immediately I wanted to fall into my "equitation" ankles, but remembered to relax. My core engaged, and Wesley loped beautifully, head down, back up, hip engaged, and with little to no rein except for guidance where needed. It was really cool, and in fact, was so easy. Who knew that being soft and relaxed, but still engaged, was the golden ticket?

Sarah wanted me to counter canter Wesley a bit and really kick his hip out in the counter canter. Counter canter work on the left lead (traveling to the right, counter canter remember, so on my right (heavy) seat bone) felt great. Some reminders from Sarah to keep his nose to the inside and really get the hip out was warranted, and there were some nice moments of lateral reach from the hip and the shoulder, and even some nice straight back to the canter circle. We got a lead change in easily, and worked the other counter canter lead. We had some issues.

Wesley was very upset wanting to change leads and not at all reaching the hind end out. Sarah reminded me that this horse can counter canter all day long, the issue was coming in my body. I had too much inside rein pressure and she reminded me that I cannot force what Im looking for, I have to set him up properly and allow it to happen. As long as I am where I should be. She sort of left it at that for me to figure out. Still with too much hand and no lateral hip, I knew it was coming from my lack of left seat bone. I went down to the trot and tried to find it there. Aha, I had locked into a position again and tightened my ankles. I softened my back, softened my ankles, and allowed myself to find my seat bone, not force it. Suddenly, Wesley moved out laterally. He dropped his head, lifted his back, and moved out as I asked. Again, its just staying soft and engaged.

Back to the lope (we actually got a few strides of real western pleasure loping, which Sarah greatly complemented on) and onto the counter canter right lead. I found my left seat bone much better and we had some nice counter canter work.

Then, somewhere thrown in there, Sarah commented about my outside leg being at "neutral" when loping. It needed to be back in C when we were loping. Wait, what? She told me to put my leg back about two inches behind the rear cinch (but remember, that the rear cinches on the Dave saddles and the way she fits the saddles has the cinch much closer to the front - only like an inch away in fact) and I should have my outside leg back and my inside at neutral. I changed my leg position, and AHA again - suddenly it wasnt so hard to find my left seat bone. With my leg further back, it just naturally falls into place.

Sarah further explained this benefit for a lead change. The outside leg basically is always there to keep the horse in the lope. Then say we come into the center in a reining pattern, and for a moment, it comes to neutral like the inside leg asking for straight between the two circles. Then the new outside goes back and the new inside opens up for the new lead. This totally makes sense with the lead change "steps" she had been telling me before as well: arced, straight, new bend, hip change into new lead. But the legs are much more active that I previously gave credit for. This seems like some elementary knowledge I somehow have been missing out on.

With my legs where they should be, my ankles soft, my back soft, and an engaged core, I loped the rail for a few laps and everything was perfect. Wesley moved beautifully, and we were in sync. I stopped him square and round. Everything felt great. As I cooled him out, I tried for a few turnaround and suddenly they were far easier too. It seemed I finally had all the right basic buttons for this horse and it was by far the best ride I had ever had on him. We finally spoke the same language, and its as if da Weez sighed a relief that this lady could finally ride him correctly.

I love the feeling I get after a lesson with Sarah: confidence! And a sudden awareness and understanding. I couldnt wait to try this out with Milo.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Just Not Finding It

This has been a difficult week.

Well, honestly, a difficult past two weeks.

Last week I knew I really needed a lesson, and my Boss helped make that happen by graciously hauling Milo to Sarah's for a daytime weekday lesson. During that week (and the one before, right after the show) I had known that my horse wasnt moving properly, and things just werent correct. At the lesson, it was apparent to Sarah that Milo was not straight. He was not coming over his back, and in fact, he sucked back (turtled is more the verbage we have been using for him - in that he sucks into his shoulder, a habit back from poor saddle fitting days) when applied bridle pressure as a cue for collection. Remember the demonstration Sarah did on me to understand the difference between bridle pressure, and encouragement from the bridle? I remember the feeling still, and with that, we have moved into work this past week.

I have diligently been trying to not use my reins except for guidance (ie, turning) as needed. Sarah told me I had to find balance in my seat bones and ride from my seat. I knew coming from the lesson that this was going to be another "Nina needs to fix x, y, and z" type of deal, and I already wasnt looking forward to it. But I felt better after the lesson.

Remember my post saying I didnt ride for four days? Well, when I did get back on, things just werent going well. In fact, in that ride, I didnt even go above a trot because I felt so lost in my body and knew it would be rediculous to attempt to lope. I even said to a fellow boarder who rides dressage that "if I couldnt find my left seat bone at the trot, no way was I going to try loping". She laughed, and seemed to understand. I put Milo away, feeling a bit defeated, but willing to try again the next day. I even remembered a stretch Sarah had shown me before, to try and gain more knowledge of that left seat bone. Throughout that evening, I even focused harder on basic things like sitting and relaxing, and trying to find balance between my seat bones while not on my horse.

Thursday I rode again, and while I seemed to be able to find my seat bones a bit more, and even took the work into the lope, really focusing on my seat bones especially opening up the inside one for a turn, I still found dry spots behind Milo's shoulders after our ride. But... I thought we were getting lift. I really thought the ride had been pretty well. But the sweat marks clearly indicated that Milo wasnt moving properly. IN frustration, a frog made home in my throat and a few teardrops fell. What I thought was a step forward still wasnt correct. I used the words "frustration" and "defeated" in my text message to Sarah, who responded that "it is coming".

Friday morning I drove to the barn, and already felt the sting of defeat miles away from reaching the barn. I knew I needed to change my mindset. But I wasnt looking forward to riding. I got on anyways, and started working. Snake exercises, butterfly exercise, torso twists, any effort to find my hips and get my horse working over his back. Things seemed to be going well at the trot, so I moved up to the lope. Everything fell apart.

My horse could not lope off correctly as I knew he had been doing consistently at the horse show. My horse hollowed away from the outside rein that I tried to give, to keep his shoulders in line with his hips, and he was increasing speed from my spur, not lifting his back as I was asking. Everything was going wrong.

I finally got a couple decent lope strides, and knew I had to take it. I was so frustrated, I didnt even want to work on anything else. I was trying hard. I was wanting to find balance in my seat bones, I was lifting my seat to encourage him to come up underneath me, and I was holding onto the last few inches of rein, he had his head to himself. What was going on?

I got off, and this time, real tears flowed down. Again, I used the words "defeated" "frustrated" and "disappointed" as I texted Sarah. Again, she told me "it is coming". It sure didnt feel like it, and I voiced that feeling to her. She reminded me that Milo isnt straight because he is confused, and confused because he isnt straight. That sounds great, but those cryptic words dont tell me how to fix it. She advised going back to something we are good at. I cant find anything we are good at, at this point. A few minutes passed by, and she suggested that I go back to bareback. "What better way to get in your body and your horse's back than bareback?" she questioned.

I guess I know what I am trying on Monday.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Milo Sticks it to Mommy

I just love approaching the driveway and seeing the little angles peacefully snoozing. Just warms my heart. 

Babies sleeping.
I love how close they are to each other. I wish Chica could stay with him through the winter. Hes so happy!

Alright, Milo, c'mon. I've gotta get to work soon ya know. 
Really? ...really?
Just a few more minutes, Mom...
I'm sorry buddy but you gotta get up!
*Insert tugging and coaxing, clucking and pulling*

With a grunt and a big exasperated sigh...
I'm up! I'm up! Lemme stretch....

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just Enough

Monday I took my pooch Angie to Sarah's with me, then to the barn as I cleaned pastures. Throughout my cleaning I kept feeling like I just wasnt up to riding after wards. Usually, I'm thinking ahead to the ride to come and eager to finish up with my chores. But yesterday was a little different. I almost felt guilty knowing I hadnt ridden Milo since my lesson on Friday, giving him two solid days off. Thats pretty typical for the weekend, but I also knew I wouldnt be out again until Wednesday; that would give Milo four days off in a row. Should I ride, just to keep on schedule?

I decided against it, knowing if my head wasnt where it should be, then I was only setting us up for a disappointing ride. Instead, I haltered my eager horse, who was now at the gate ready for action (how does he always know when Im done with everything?), and tied him in the pasture with a single brush in hand. I removed his fly mask and brushed the dust away. I looked into his face and got those butterflies enjoying how handsome and sweet he is. He and Chica stood together where he was tied and they briskly swished flies away from their sides, both a little sleepy in the heat of mid-day. I only brushed him for a few moments, then removed the halter and replaced the fly mask. Milo looked a little surprised.

My dog looked up at me, waiting for what was next. Milo looked at me, wondering why we were done so quickly. I hugged my horse, I scratched his itchies, and I cuddled with him a bit. I sighed. He sighed. And we were both happy. Just the right amount of horse time to get me through the day, and the next to follow. Even if that meant four whole days off of our schedule.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Spur-of-the-Moment Lesson

Disappointed by next week's work schedule, and with Boyfriend being out of town for the next five days (BIG sad face), I wasnt sure when I would be able to get another lesson on Milo - Sarah hadnt seen him since the horse show. I texted her Thursday saying I was in desperate need of a lesson. My rides werent going well, my horse felt uneven and definitely not coming over his back. I was attempting to work on our lateral and arcing exercises as Sarah recommended after my amazing lead change three days before. But something wasnt connecting with us, and I knew it had to be coming from me. I needed Sarah to tell me what was going on. When could I make it out to her place again?

I was voicing these concerns to my boss and also friend (her daughter boards and trains with Sarah, and I have known them for years through 4-H, they also used to board where Milo is now for a portion of the time he has been there), and she volunteered to take Milo out to Sarahs today since she was already taking her daughter out to ride. I was ecstatic! All I needed was for Boyfriend to drop the trailer off at the barn before heading into work in the morning (leaving for fishing weekend afterwards). Boss came to pick us up sharp at 9:20.

We had a nice haul and it was great to have time to chat with both her and her daughter. We arrived, and Sarah was in high spirits, excited that Boss had volunteered to haul for me on short notice, especially because Sarah will be leaving in the next couple of days for a week long vacation. We both wanted to get another lesson in before this week long break.

I quickly addresses the uneven feeling I had been getting from Milo, and suggested that I thought his hips were out. Sarah checked him out, and indeed, he was out. A quick adjustment, and we were ready to get started. Then Sarah volunteered to strap her spurs on and hop aboard Milo. Of course I had no objections, I really had been wanting her to get on and see what she could tell me. Sarah had only climbed aboard Milo once and that was early into our training together. I wanted her to get on him again now months later, and also address any crookedness that could be going on that I can not feel through the crookedness in my body.

I was embarrassed by how my horse behaved.

Its known that Milo is a Momma's Boy and he doesnt have many other people ride him. But he was snarky, tail swishy, pinned ears and hollow. I felt like a mother whose child is severely misbehaving - in front of others watching as well! Boss commented how agitated he looked, and I could do nothing but agree, and continue to feel embarrassed. I watched how Sarah worked him and saw she was performing very shallow serpentines all along the rail. I thought he was simply acting wiggly, but started to see a type of pattern, realizing it was what Sarah was asking for. Soon, Milo lifted up over his back and his hind legs starting tracking up inches farther then previously. He was telescoping his head and neck forward and reaching in his stride. Then Sarah dismounted and asked me to come over.

She gave me a personal demonstration of feel. Pushing against my chin with her thumbs, she asked what my reaction was. It was to resist against her. Then she positioned her thumbs underneath my chin with a "lift" feel to them. Again, she asked my reaction, which was to follow the feel towards her. This is what is going on between Milo and I. The more I pick and pull on the bridle, the more he wants to resist and tighten against it. Rather, if I lift through my body and support with the rein when needed, he wants to come up into the feel and work with me. Feeling the difference was huge in understanding just what my cues were creating.

Sarah said that I needed to get off his face and find straight in our bodies again. She recommended a lot of trot work because it is a diagonal stride which evenly works both of his sides and is the best gait to work on straight with, and encouraging coming up over the back.

When I got on, I torso twisted back and forth, trying to get within my body. Sarah had me pitch out a lot of rein and to not pick at his face. In fact, if his head came up at all I was to not touch the rein, but to get him to come back up through my body. It was a bit hard, I admit, to not immediately pick up on the rein when he raised up, but Sarah also encouraged me to tap lightly with both my spurs, right then left right then left in stride with the trot. Soon I caught the rhythm, and in fact my whole body swayed back and forth in small torso twists in time with my leg and the stride. Eventually, I didnt need to tap with my leg or spur anymore, and I could just lift my seat-bones and continue to move back and forth with Milo. There were short moments of this great feeling and really feeling my horse coming up over his back, but they were there and just need to be built on.

Sarah then had me do the "snake" exercise, which is what she called the shallow serpentines she was doing with him before. These were just small turns right to left - hardly a few steps off of straight - and the goal was to have Milo find that softness in his jaw and really come over and through the neck with softness and reach. But, I wasnt to turn him each direction with my rein. We had to do it with my body. It was difficult to find at first, but eventually my horse started to really get into the "snake" rhythm and reach up with his stride. It felt great.

But naturally, there were still instances where I wanted to use my rein, and it also became more apparent that I was not straight through my body. Sarah had me do a "butterfly" exercise next. This was a figure eight but at a 90 degree. Basically, only half of a four leaf clover pattern. At the trot still, I needed to find those turns in the butterfly through my body, to totally open my inside rein, and not raise or do anything with my outside rein except support but only as needed. Further, I had to not rely on my outside leg to turn the direction. It was apparent immediately that our turning to the left was far better than going to the right. Sarah asked me what was different in my body from one direction to the next.

I had to think for a moment and feel my seatbones. There it was - my right seat bone, dug into the saddle with  little to no contact with the left. Obviously turning to the left was easy because my right seat bone was directing movement that direction. But turning to the right was hard because that still heavy right side was blocking movement that direction. It took a few tries, and concentrating really hard, but I was able to find my left seat bone more for those right turns and Sarah commented that the last three or so runs through the exercise were much better, I had found the turns through my seat.

Obviously, getting in tune with my seat and my body position is paramount to correct straight riding, but the lead changes will never come through imbalance in my seat, and crookedness in mine and Milo's body. Sarah said to back off of them and the lateral work for now, and just find straight and soft in our bodies. A sharp recommendation to not pick at his face was implemented as well, with the reminder of the pressure I had felt from her thumbs on my chin.

It was exactly the lesson I needed, and exactly the words and feelings I needed to hear. More homework, and more work in my body.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tis the season for ... halters!

Milo is totally spoiled in regards to halters lately...actually, I am too - I love new tack! So you remember that I have been using Milo's new Weaver orange colored halter (which I coordinated with a chocolate brown lead rope as they no longer make the "pumpkin" color like the halter) that Boyfriend bought for him, and we are thoroughly enjoying it. But since it was my birthday last week, a good friend of mine surprised me with a gift. I opened it up, and guess what was inside? I am happy that we went for the orange last week instead of the red because...

Milo, get up and see what our friend bought for you! (He laid down just as I entered the pasture. Made me feel bad to get him up, but I had a schedule to adhere to and work to follow. Oh, and by the way, stinker took off his fly mask!)
It's ok, Chica, I know you're jealous. 
My friend gifted me (and Milo) a new Weaver bronco halter - in red! I was thrilled to see it when I opened it up. Not only have I been wanting a red halter for Milo, but the bronco style is beautiful and the rubies add a nice touch (considering ruby is my birthstone). I think Milo looks well in it, don't you?

Oh, Milo, turn around and show us what you got!
Milo: I'd rather be sleeping still. 
Boyfriend saw it and said, "well I guess this means you won't use the one I just bought you, huh?" No! I can rotate my halters. :) I still have my chocolate bronco halter I won at the rodeo last year, as well as my leather one I keep my Peggy line attached to, and the old hunter green one I was previously using on Milo. There is an occasion for every halter! And this new one is beautiful, but a little much for everyday use. Nonetheless, I think I can get enough usage out of ALL of my halters. :)

I lead Milo up with the chocolate lead (btw, where did the sun go??)

And after riding found a new black one I had never used before. Chocolate can stay on the orange halter, black can go with the red. :) Oh, and the sun is back - silly Washington weather. Oh, and I see a classic Milo-tongue poking out. 

Milo seemed to approve of the new piece of tack, his only qualms with it (and any other thing on his head) is it limits his yawning abilities. Oh Milo. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Was it really that easy?

Milo finds it amusing to investigate the bed of my truck. Usually there are interesting things back there; soda bottles, hay fragments from the horse show weekend, and today, orange peels from my afternoon recharge after cleaning at Sarah's. Typically, there is something I need to grab from my cab before heading up to the barn with Milo in tow, and he always has to stuff his head into the truck bed to see what sort of interesting things Mom as left in there this time. He found the orange peels. And ate them!! I only noticed what the little sneaker was doing after I had retrieved what I needed and found my horse had orange breath. 

I pondered this situation as I led him to the barn, groomed, and tacked up. Orange peels won't hurt a horse, right? I guess he's feeling the vibe with the new orange halter? Beats me, but he seemed ok so down to the outdoor arena we headed. It's freshly graded footing was far too tempting for me to ignore, even with the high mid-day heat. 

There was a small patch of shade along one side of the fence, with a perfect location for my drink for easy access. Milo dropped his head to try and snatch some sprigs of grass growing at the arena edge - as if he doesnt have enough grass in his pasture! He is probably one of the luckiest horses at the barn with his forage access! So ungrateful...

I got on, from the ground as the mounting block was outside the arena and in my laziness I didnt want to drag it in. But I was pleased that the saddle didnt tilt off center too bad, but I always feel a bit guilty getting on from the ground knowing I'm torquing Milo's back a bit. Did I mention it was warm out? I had my black helmet on which doesnt allow for great airflow, and already I was feeling warm. (Oh right, I didnt tell you? After my little accident the other day, I am going to spend my birthday cash on a new helmet. What with the trainer at the barn being fallen on just two days before my accident, I think the universe is trying to warn me to wear my helmet, and so I shall. Even though I dont like it)

I warmed up Milo on a loose rein one-handed, letting him scope out the arena a lap or so since I hadnt done groundwork with him prior. He was a bit of a looky-loo, but not bad also considering I hadnt ridden him in two days. He needed a few reminders to stay light off my aids (bulging shoulder, ignoring neck rein) but soon he was on page with me. I trotted some straight lines and circles, and tried focusing in on the uneven sweat marks I have been consistently seeing from him. While I get a beautiful mark on the left side, I have been getting a dry spot on the right, indicating that his right side is hollowing out. I have known this for a few weeks now, but never seemed to know how to approach it. But today, it seemed to come to me. 

As I worked Milo, I was very aware of the fishtailing from the rear, and the dropping of the right shoulder. It might have been because I was able to watch part of a lesson at Sarah's that morning, with the horse loping crookedly. Maybe seeing this on the ground and hearing Sarah's suggestions to the rider helped me find it in myself and my horse? Who knows, but I do know that I was very aware of my horse's dropped right side and instead of the usual pick up on the right rein, I heard the voice of Sarah in my head telling me to support with the outside rein to not allow him to simply bulge his body out that way. Rather, it would make him stay straight and all he could do to respond to the inside rein was to lift on that side. And by golly, it worked. I had some of the best circle and straight work I have ever had and I could truly feel my horse was straight and lifted on both sides. 

After a brief walk break (the heat seemed to make my horse a bit sluggish), I prepared to go into the lope work. I didnt have a goal set in my mind like in the last few rides, and after our first few strides into the right lead, it seemed what I would mostly be working on would be getting straight and coming over his back. The outdoor arena doesnt allow for very consistent work with its dips and deep spots, and Milo was very inconsistent with our lope. Another reminder from Sarah told me to give him his head and I found when I went back to one handed (I had grabbed two to school) my horse relaxed and lifted much better.

I seemed to find straight and lifted again, and while not as well as at the trot, it was certainly an improvement from our usual drop on the right side. We loped and loped and I only counter cantered him a circle or two before moving onto the straight line. Something told me my horse was already pretty fatigued and as I came to our first straight on the quarter line, I found the new bend in Milo's body to the left, switched my hip and only slightly needed support from the new outside rein. Milo changed his lead, back to front. I was amazed. I really didnt think I would going to get it and thought I would need to go back and school the counter canter again. But Milo very pleasantly surprised me by changing his lead, and with such little effort as has been needed in the last few rides! 

Absolutely giddy, I texted Sarah, questioning if I should get off right then and there. I really wanted to do it again, but with such a clean change, she agreed that I should be done. I slipped off my horse and gave him a ton of praises, putting the halter on to cool him out from the ground. Sarah further suggested to not try changes again for three sessions and instead focus on arcing, counter arcing and lateral work. Things I havent been touching on as much with my head so focused on our lead changes. I agree, let that good change settle, and reinforce other body control exercises before coming to it again. Either was, I was ecstatic and could not stop smiling.