Saturday, October 29, 2011

"I Had an Epiphany!"

Those were the words I texted to Boyfriend and Sarah after I finished my ride with Milo Friday morning.

The last few weeks I have ridden exclusively without stirrups. Even in my last lesson over the weekend I rode entirely without stirrups. In fact, the last few rides I was wondering when I would ever use them again. I finally was getting relaxation in my ankles, I was (have been) afraid to pick them up again in fear that the tension will creep back into my ankles.

However, Friday everything was going along really well. So halfway through the ride I decided to pick up my stirrups. If I felt tension creeping up, then I would ditch em again and go stirrup-less. Surprisingly, after picking them up, I was still able to keep relaxation in my ankles, and let my feet rhythmically bump up and down and swing back and forth. Things were going well. At the trot. Could this work in the lope?

We moved into the lope, and honestly, it wasnt pretty. Milo was really fast, hollow, and snarky on circles. But I was able to find rhythm and relaxation in my ankles. What gives? What it my back? My position? We continued to lope and I was hoping the answer would suddenly appear. We got a few decent strides so I let him catch his breath. We walked for a little bit, and loped again. Not quick or snarky, but scrambly. At least now he wasnt running wildly. We walked for a little while longer.

Changed direction and went into the lope to the right. We circled, and Milo felt a little better. Maybe it was just because he was more tired. Suddenly, I heard Sarah's voice tell me to stop looking at his head. Just like in the serpentine exercise, I needed to look up and feel my horse from back to front. If I just watched his head I couldnt feel his body. So I started to look up and watch where I was going.

Things started coming along better. Then I really sat up, sternum to the sky, core strong. I could feel my horse engage his hind end. My hands got a little softer as I didnt need to focus on his head. We turned onto a circle, and loped a few circles. I was able to direct Milo from my seat. Everything came effortlessly. Milo came up over his back, and relaxed. My ankles were still soft, and everything fell into place. We came across the center of the circle again, and I softened my lower back and said "Woah." Milo gave me a really, really nice stop. A beautiful pair of elevens. I dismounted right then and there, gave Milo a huge pat, and thought about what happened as I walked him out. All I did was look up. It changed my body position and put everything into line. Look up. What a concept.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Milo's Naked!

Last year you might remember I gave Milo what I called an "extended trace clip" where we clipped everything but his saddle area. This time I gave him an entire body clip, just leaving his head, legs, and under belly area. I clipped him a couple weeks earlier than I had done last year because it seemed that his clipped areas werent coming back as soon as it should have been. He was also getting pretty sweaty already after riding.

So, on Tuesday Milo got the big chop. Well, big clip. I was able to borrow a pair of nice clippers from a friend to get the job done. While it took about two hours, and there are definitely touch ups to do (I am no groomer), Milo is now nude!

Halfway clipped...
First side - done!
Look at all that hair! Shoulda saved it for a pillow!

Out in the sunshine!

I think he looks pretty cute. :)

And dont worry, Milo isnt totally naked. He naturally has a blanket and neck cover on.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

We have Access! And a Lesson

Yay! We werent left in the dark too long without a computer, fortunately. As it turned out, after all my bills were paid I had some extra cash I was planning on putting towards my trailer payments. But we skipped that for now and Boyfriend matched my cash amount with his own and we were able to stop at Best Buy last night and get ourselves a new HP laptop. Much more updated than the old one we were using before.

So as I had informed you in the last post, I had a lesson (on Milo!) at Sarah's yesterday. After five weeks we were finally able to get Milo out there and get a much needed and long overdue lesson. Unfortunately, the paint we needed to paint his hocks with was not available and would need probably a few more weeks to get here. I was bummed to hear that news as I felt my horse really needed his hocks painted pronto. Sarah, however, had another thought after watching him move.

I was warming him up at the walk and trot, undersaddle and with spurs although with feet out of the stirrups, as Sarah finished up helping someone with stalls. When she was done, we watched for a new moments and commented that our work looked really good. She said he was stepping up nicely from the rear. She believed that we could supple Milo's hocks a bit more before getting the paint on. As she stated, the universe was telling us through the paint not being ready, my farrier not having the slide plates, and both his and my schedules not matching up to put them on, that Milo needed more time before we painted his hocks.

She wanted us to work on long serpentines at the trot and to find straight. As we weaved back and forth, and Milo kept fishtailing his hip out on the turns, Sarah asked why she kept seeing this happen over and over even after she told me to be aware of it. To be honest, I wasnt sure what I was supposed to be accomplishing initially, and only felt the fishtailing when she commented on it. She told me that as we came out of the turn, I needed to capture his hip swing with my outside leg back. I tried again and again and still couldnt seem to stop the hip swing, turning to the right was most difficult. Why was this important? Because if his hip swung out, the inside power leg was torquing and therefore was not strong and could be causing inflammation and soreness.

Then Sarah told me I needed to stop looking at his head. The head comes last behind what the hip and barrel is doing. If those are in place, the head will be too. If I only focus on his head, that is the only awareness that my body has of his. So as we came out of the serpentine circles, I was to focus on something across the arena and ride straight to it. It took a couple of attempts before I was able to maintain focus on something without looking back down at Milo's head. And Sarah was right; finding a point to ride straight to allowed me to be aware of and feel the hind end.

Now that my perception of his rear was back, turns to the left were starting to come together, where I could capture his hip before swinging out and use his power leg to propel forward and straight. However getting the same good straight turns to the right were still difficult. After a few more turns Sarah commented that I was using my inside rein too much in the turn, and being that is my dominant, right, hand, I was snatching at his mouth making him curl to the inside, bulge his shoulder out, and therefore swing his hip out to balance. What I needed to be doing was asking for the turn with my outside rein, which would then catch his shoulder if needed, and allow straight to happen.

As the right turn came up, I dropped my right hand down so there was no way I could pick it up unintentionally in the turn. I turned with my left rein and body, and put my left (outside) leg back to block the hip swing. And he turned right over on his power hock, maintained straight, and propelled forward, strong. We had done it!

Sarah recommended that we continue to work on this exercise, and for me to build more awareness of not only the rear end, but my entire left side as I dont have the same feel on the left as I do the right. She challenged me to use the Motivator stick in my left hand only so I could begin to gain some ambidexterity between my hands. In addition to this serpentine exercise, she recommended going back to the circle figure eight exercises she was having me work on last winter. It would not only help me gain awareness of his hind end, but build strength and supple his hocks as it required both he and I to be aware of the hind end.

So although we didnt get "accomplished" what was planned for the lesson, I am happy with where we are at and working towards, with confidence that come the time to paint and shoe, Milo will be strong and where he needs to be. It will also provide me with some time to work on a few more things within myself. In just the last two weeks of bareback and spur-less riding, I have made headway in finding relaxation in my ankles and becoming more aware of my horse's body. I think if I put my mind towards continued awareness of Milo's and my body, that I can find success in it again.

Another winter of working on myself! At least this time I have a saddle...although I think at minimum twice a week I want to utilize the bareback pad again. It may actually be time to replace the fluffy pink pad too...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sigh....more updating

Alright, I dont want to leave you all in the dark as Im sure will be happening here shortly. Last night our old laptop finally kicked the bucket and the screen is no longer working. It fell out of Boyfriend's lifted F350 and hit hard on the concrete below. It worked for one night after that but is now officially dead. That, unfortunately, means that we have no computer at home, making things difficult now in terms of blogging, my online class, and even bill paying! We really cant afford to buy a new one right now so Im not sure how often I can get on and update and stay caught up with my favorite blogs. So if you dont hear from me for a while, I havent vanished! Just lost connectability.

I suppose I will provide a short update about Milo as well, because I have been wanting to update for a while. I have still be solely riding bareback and continue without the spurs. Things are coming along nicely and I feel I really am getting back in tune with my body. I have a lesson with Sarah this coming Saturday which I greatly look forward to as it has been five weeks since my last lesson with Milo! Also on Saturday Milo is getting his hocks painted which should encourage the excess calcium and fluid build up in his hocks to seep out. I wanted to leave that as a bit of a surprise for after we did it and I could post pictures and progress and whatnot, but I have to get you guys on page with what is in the works. The hock painting should really get Milo as sound and strong as possible. Many of the other horses in Sarah's program have recently had it done and the results are clear and amazing in those horses, I can only imagine how much it will improve Milo's ability.

We were planning on putting slide plates on him this week as well, but I wasnt able to coordinate with the farrier to make it out there (darn work and school scheduled messin' up everything!), and not only did I want to be present for the shoeing, but my farrier wanted me there as well. As of this morning, Milo got his routine trimming done (without me there, which is a bummer because I always like to be there), and hopefully come his next trim we can schedule for the slide plates. Im still not sure if I am going to be able to take him to the November schooling show, but if I cant than that gives us another month or so for him to get comfortable with the slide plates on until the next show in January. This show season, for me in reining, does not offer any series or year end awards, so I am not too devestated about not being able to attend each one. I think it will also help in keeping everything in perspective for me and really treating the shows like schooling shows.

How are things with the property, you might ask? For long time readers, you should remember that Boyfriend and I have three quiet acres at our house we have been planning to clear and build for Milo to come home. Things have been at a standstill for nearly a year now as we have been waiting for Boyfriend's cousin (whose Dad owns a land clearing and excavation company) to make time to come and finish clearing the property. Last night I saw that the skidder was dropped off and next week or so one of the workers is supposed to be coming out to finish clearing the big timber. Once that is done, we can get the arena more finished, fenced, put up a lean to, and then bring Milo home. We arent setting a clear date as to when Milo can come home, but we definitely want him there by spring. Hopefully sooner but if it doesnt work out I can keep him where hes boarded and enjoy the covered arena through the winter.

I will try and update as I can, but that means using the computers at school, so pictures and video will probably be scarce. Hope I can stay connected with you all in the coming weeks (hopefully not too much longer than that!).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Award and Update

So sorry for the disappearance lately - work work work (always and at sporadic and difficult times), as well as school and trying to fit in Milo as well as all the other needs of everyday life. However, Boyfriend and I managed to sneak away for the last four days to our favorite place in the world: Twisp, WA. A po-dunk little town, we escape to this quiet getaway usually twice a year for family reunion and hunting season. We unfortunately could not make it in September for the reunion, but made it up for the all important Mule Deer season. But more on that in another post.

Since I havent had the internet for a while, I have been slowly getting caught up on my blog list readings - dont worry Ill get to yours! So in my updating, I saw from Simply Horse-Crazy that I had been nominated for another award! The "One Lovely Blog" award. Thank you! So I suppose I must follow the rules now.

First, 7 random things you might not know about me:
1. Seafood is definitely my favorite food ever. Good thing I live in the Pacific Northwest!
2. Draft horses used to be my favorite breed ever and I had an imaginary Shire horse who would run alongside my parent's car as we drove down the highway. We had a woodshed in the backyard which was where he lived, and I honest to God brought carrots and grass out to him.
3. I seem to have an ultra sensitive nose. I am also extremely bothered by bad smells. Although I guess that term is subjective because things like my horse and dog do not smell bad to me, haha.
4. I am not a natural red-head. But I feel I am a true red-head at heart and everything thinks the color is real.
5. Even though my 93 F150 has over 226k miles and it doesnt run very solid (and I know the engine and tranny needs replaced here very soon) I still LOVE my truck and want to keep it forever.
6. I wanted to be a farrier for a really long time. But people talked be out of it telling me I needed a job that had a secure and steady income. I came to believe them. But the dream is still alive. Someday I will attend farriery school.
7. My favorite number is 272. It was the number I was assigned at my first horse show with my old horse, Koalt.

Well, there you have it. Im not very good at coming up with interesting random facts, but I followed the rules so...ya.

Ok, 15 of my favorite blogs. I'm sure that some have already received the blog, but I dont follow all that many....some will be non-horse blogs too.

Pass it on!

Monday, October 10, 2011

One Step Back and One Step Forward

Today was a most interesting day. Not only did I almost get into a car crash this morning heading to Sarah's (why would someone think to STOP on a highway to let someone from an off road pull on?? My poor F150 was skidding and the tires were smoking trying to stop from hitting that idiot. But I digress..), then I could have almost died from my own horse!

Mondays I usually have off because I have cleaning at Sarah's and cleaning where Milo is. But I was scheduled to work today which meant I had to get both those jobs done (thank God today there was no school or else I would have been skipping [kids, dont learn any lessons here] ) and then hopefully ride my horse. I tossed Milo a small handful of hay off the ground and into his stall. He came running from the far side of the pasture and right into the stall. Chica was close behind him.

After dragging the wheelbarrow into the pasture and securing the gate, I noticed Milo's blanket was shifted sideways and needed adjusted. Not thinking about the food because Milo had been so good recently about food and me being around him, I walked right into the stall to adjust the blanket. Upon first entering the stall, Milo didnt take much notice, it was after I reached to the top of the blanket and started shifting it did I notice his head come up and his ears pin back. With that nasty look on his face I hollered at him, he got more pissy and started throwing his weight around, so I raised my arms at him and ordered him "OUT!" He swung his rear around to me and while exiting the stall pounded me in the chest with a rear hoof. My horse just kicked me, I thought and tore to the gate to grab the longe whip I knew was there. I doubled back to him with whip in hand and yelled and screamed at him, whipping the line at him and sending him out and away from me making him move his feet. I knew I had to make it absolutely clear to him that that action was absolutely and completely unacceptable.

I felt I got the message across, then wanted to play the scene over again and make sure he knew not to act like that. Although at the time, I thought the aggressive act was out of food territory, not the blanket. Thinking to it now, Im starting to think the blanket shifting was the issue. Last winter Jake's owner told me she tried to adjust Milo's blanket and he reared towards her scaring her off. I also know once when Boyfriend tried to adjust his blanket in the pasture, Milo acted bad towards him as well. Im not sure which variable to act from, but either way, I am stunned and at a loss for what I can work on to get it through to him that kicking a person is unacceptable at any time and in any way. We seemed to be doing so well with the food issue, and myself never having an issue with him in three years. What is bringing this buried behavior back to the surface?

Time had passed after cleaning the pastures and I had some time left before needing to leave for work to ride. I haltered Milo who passively walked to me and led him to the gate. We exited, and again I noticed the shifted blanket. Not making the connection from earlier, I adjusted it before closing the gate. He lifted his head and pinned his ears with a snarled look on his face. I growled and yelled at him smacking him on the shoulder and he quieted down. I really think the blanket is what caused the outburst earlier, I just dont know what I can do to fix it as it seems like a sporatic behavior. There have been countless time I have adjusted his blanket, with and without a halter, in or out of the pasture. What sparks the behavior?

Still confused but trying to stay in the present as horses are, I quietly led him to the barn. In the cross ties, he was super sensitive to movements, flinching when one of the feeders reached up to pet him. It almost makes me think something else is going on besides just the obvious bad behavior.

Taking the advice from my boss, I threw the bareback pad on Milo and had removed the spurs from my boots. Even with the pasture drama, I wanted to stick with my previous plan to ride without force. Connected Groundwork equipment in place, I thought a little groundwork would be a good start to the work. Reaffirming who moves whose feet, as well as finding some connection together again on the line felt like the right approach. Milo was a gem on the line, listening well and moving out, meeting my connection. He was very resistant to loping though, which I initially didnt think much of because he is usually reluctant to lope on the line, although ends up loping anyways. But today was different - today he seemed a little "off". Not lame, but the two men in a horse suit seemed to be back, and he kept wanting to break to the trot. He wasnt entirely "all over the place", he was attempting to be rounded and meeting my connection on the line, but it almost seemed as if he couldnt. It was interesting.

I mounted and we quietly walked around the arena a few laps. I really let my legs swing freely, amazed at how much they swung from Milo's movements. And I didnt have to feel bad about bumping him with spurs from the swinging. A bonus from no spurs! I actually think it really allowed me to let go of my legs. I continued to ask for lifting from my seat alone, but bumping with my heel when needed. I noted how I could use my heel and leg effectively without tensing any part of them.

I pushed him into the trot, thinking about Sarah telling me to let Milo come over his back on his own. I really tried to encourage the telescoping from his head and neck and could feel his back come up just slightly for a few strides. I decided to give Milo more of a balance point - again hearing Sarah's voice to gather more rein, and kept a steady but firm contact on the outside rein. There was still a drape to the rein, but a connection was still present. After doing so, Milo really rolled over his back and it was amazing to feel him reach into the contact on his own. Again, it would only last a few strides before either he would turtle back into his shoulder again, or drop his back (or both), but I could really feel the difference between them all now. I now knew what it felt like again for my horse to engage on his own and truly reach into the bridle. His neck even appeared to grow a few inches.

We kept this up at the trot and I was thoroughly enjoying my ride. The steady beat of his hoofs, the motion of his stride, the relaxed swaying of my legs in rhythm, this was why I loved to ride. I contemplated if I wanted to push into the lope or not. Would it ruin the great ride, feel, connection that Milo and I had right now? I wanted to try the lope, even for fear of an unsteady bareback seat, or the possibility of a less than perfect ride. How could we improve if we dont work on it? I steadied my outside rein and went to push him into the lope.

He immediately began to suck back. I did not want him turtling into the lope, I wanted to beautiful reach at the trot to flow into the lope. So I brought him back to the nice trot work we were having and really tried to maintain the fluidity and engagement of the trot into the lope from my body. I stayed steady with my outside rein, but stayed soft in my back and light in my seat (and relaxed in my ankles) and smooched him gently into the lope. Now he stepped right into it, no turtle at all. But within a few strides he had pinned ears, lost the cadence in his stride (feeling like two guys in a horse suit) and wanted to break to the trot. I got him into the lope again, but again he fell apart.

Then I remembered the visual Sarah gave me; the horse's back moves back and forth forward and backward (I imagine a river flowing) and if I am not allowing (tight or locked) in my body, it does not allow my horse to maintain his fluidity and in some cases (like Wesley) can get scared by the tension. Was I tense in my body? I tried to evaluate myself as we bounced and hopped along down the rail. I ever so slightly filled my lower back and let my hips go. Legs still swinging, core engaged, but a fluid back. Milo dropped his head down, rolled over his back and found cadence and rhythm. It was some nice lope work. And I was proud that I didnt throw my outside rein away either, continuing to give him a balance point. Down to the trot and we repeated it the other direction. Initially, disconnected, but I thought about the river again and again we found our rhythm. We had a beautiful downward transition as well and I cooled him out at the walk a bit.

I clapped my hand on Milo's shoulder a few times, praising and rewarding him. Then I worked a little on walking turnarounds, building strength in his hocks. I only asked for a quarter of a turn with a planted hoof and got a very nice on each direction. I slid off and hugged my horse. I guess it was his apology from earlier (I can only hope). And I thought, less is more. Wouldnt you know, no saddle, no spurs, and the best ride I can remember.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Not Forcing Things

I really took the information given to me during my Monday lesson with Wesley to heart. I can't express how badly I wish the tension in my ankles would just vanish. But years of equitation riding, instructors barking for you to shove your heels down, and using it as a balance point has made reversing those habits very difficult. But I have been trying.

After my lesson on Monday, Heather and Missy and I went on a short trail ride. Milo hadnt been worked in four days, but I just wanted to allow my horse to move freely and find some real relaxation in my ankles. Just before ditching the stirrups, I noticed that they felt oddly short. I had ridden Wesley with stirrups set at Sarah's setting -one hole longer than mine. My stirrups now felt far too short and although I was riding without them, I logged away the knowledge that the next time I needed to lengthen them. Which is ironic because at the last lesson Sarah thought the stirrups needed lengthened, which I had disagreed to feeling the extra hole made me lose my stirrups.

We enjoyed a nice quiet trail ride. Milo was certainly not over his back and I had to keep a conscious effort o stay relaxed and allow my leg to swing and bump with rhythm. I tried lifting my knees as I had been earlier, but continued to find it difficult to maintain soft ankles in the meantime. I also noted after the ride that the saddle has slid back an inch or so and there didnt feel as though there was much clearance for his shoulders. I didnt think much of it knowing he had not been working over his back, but kept the observation close at hand. I also noticed that he needed increased one hole on the rear cinch and two on the front, but thats a whole 'nother bag of worms I will not discuss on the blog.

The next day the same thing happened after our ride: the saddle had slipped back. I had been trotting and turning, no stirrups, and although trying to remember to stay soft in my ankles, things werent panning out as I was so desperately hoping they would. Just about the same mediocre ride played out the following day and I then texted Sarah suggesting that the saddle fit might need looked at again. Maybe it could just use a shim or a different pad? The saddle certainly doesn't fit wrong! She responded saying that it was clear Milo was not coming over his back. I had to get him forward and engaged. She told me to leave the trotting and turning alone for a bit and get him over his back. I felt as if we had hit another serious wall - I couldnt even get Milo to lift his back by applying pressure to his belly after the ride. I was feeling dismayed, frustrated, and incompetent ... again.

I took Thursday off from the barn to get some errands done. Friday morning was a whole mess of a morning. Without going into too much details, I was late for my exam, truck wasnt running, and I had left my riding boots in my truck, not transferring them to the other vehicle. Upon realizing this after class I was sad at the notion of not being able to ride now.

But...why not ride without spurs? I could ride in the Georgia Romeos I was wearing now. I had actually been considering lately about riding without spurs, knowing I dont want to have my horse reliant on them. Without any real reason why not to though, I simply hadnt approached that subject. Although it had been nearly three years since I had ridden Milo without spurs, I mounted up anyways. Staying religiously stirrup-less, we mosied around a bit free of spurs. But I wanted to see what my horse could do. He was, in fact, responding well to my aids already. Why not trot?

Into the trot we went and my horse was still listening to the gentle poke of my heel against his sides to lift his back (ever so slightly). As the ride progressed, however, it was taking more and more leg to keep him coming over his back. He must realize there is no spur behind my leg now, I realized. I'm screwed.

Then I thought about the last few words from the text message from Sarah. Get Milo over his back without force. I thought about this as we trotted around. "Without force." I had no spurs, I certainly couldnt make Milo lift and engage. What Sarah was emphasizing was that Milo had to find the lift on his own. How could I do that? I thought some more, then I thought maybe lifting my seat would work. Just as Sarah had shown me to do this last summer, ask Milo to lift with my seat first, then spur if ignored. I seemed to be missing this first step lately. Lift with my seat. So I did. And Milo lifted up underneath me. Without leg, without spur. This was a real concept for me here. We trotted around longer, I tried to stay diligent in allowing my legs to swing back and forth. Strong in my core, lifting my seat. This was working.

Into...the lope? Eventually, yes, it did. Some support on the outside leg, remembering to stay soft everywhere in my body and still lift with my seat. Eventually, we did get some beautiful lines of loping. Downward transitions were not good. But I had just made a breakthrough. Riding without force. Finding my seat again. Next is what my boss suggested: back to bareback. No spurs. Let's see what we can accomplish.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Show Footage - Totally Awesome!

You all saw the raw footage of my reining patterns with Milo at the last show. One of the other students with Sarah was also at the show and ended up taking some footage of her own. This is the result of the compilation of her video clips. Although I am a country listener myself, I really enjoyed seeing this video. She captured some good maneuvers and made us look really competent, haha! Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Very Tense Body

Wesley was hopping and agitated as we loped along the arena wall.

"Do you feel him popping you out of the tack like that?" Sarah asked me.


"Relax your lower back, and your ankles! Think about the beach ball: hold it tight in your core, filling the space in your lower back...slow down the tempo."

Another lap and there was no progress. What was going on?

"Something in your body is driving this horse nuts, Nina," Sarah firmly said, then finished, "Walk. Now."

I did as instructed. "Torso twists. You are all locked up and it is driving this horse bonkers."

Walk and turn, walk and turn. Sarah kept telling me to relax. Start in my ankles, up to my knees, and through my whole body. No matter how hard I tried it didnt seem to be what Sarah was looking for. "Drop your stirrups," she said, "stretch your toes down....move them in small circles, stop equitating them."

I had a really hard time with this. If I was thinking about my ankles, then Wesley wasnt directing where I needed him to be, so I would try and use my leg to keep him forward, or off the outside rein. But Sarah didnt want to see that; "if you need to get impulsion, cluck and move him forward with your body, no leg."

Now how in the heck was I supposed to get him forward without leg? I have always ridden a horse with leg. Was I to expect that Wesley would maintain impulsion from voice alone? When I tried Sarah's way, wouldntyaknow, Wesley maintained forward.

"This looks nice, Nina. Now keep it and, when your ready, go into the trot." The trot was hard as well. I could keep my ankles relaxed for only a mere second or so, and then I would go back to tight. There were so many things to be thinking about, and now we were at the trot, still trotting and turning, trotting and turning. There were moments where my ankles were free and relaxed, but they would rhythmically bump Wesley's sides, and I would instantly tighten them so they did not do that.

Sarah commented that the work looked much better, but I responded that I was uncomfortable with bumping Wesley inadvertently with my spurs. "I feel bad," I said. "Dont feel bad," was the response, "a horse knows when your leg is bumping, relaxed, and in rhythm, and when your spur is applied with purpose behind it." She then went on to add that her leg freely swings in rhythm with her horses, even the babies. They all learn that relaxed leg is nothing to concern about, but a spur with intention is one to abide by.

I tried to let this soak in, and allowed my legs to bump in pace with Wesley. Then it was time to focus on other areas of my body. Trotting and turning, trotting and turning, I was driving him every step of the way. If I wanted him to turn one way, I would rotate my body into the turn first and actually stiffen that side. I needed to be following the movement of the turn, not forcing it. My hand would gently guide his nose one direction and my body held the direction of the other for just a split second before his body would move the new direction. As Sarah put it, there is a slight moment where his head is turned, but not his body. Follow the body not the head.

Sarah reminded me that this work was not a forceful work. It was work that allowed the horse to free up in the front end and loose any tightness. I needed to allow the body to move, particularly the spine. My tenseness was inhibiting free motion on the spine, particularly scaring Wesley especially when we had been loping. I immediately thought to Milo, and the last couple rides I had on him where I forced him around in the work. Guilt ran through me. This was most certainly why we were having problems last week and I felt I needed a lesson with him ASAP. Again, the problem was coming from me, not my horse. It was a humbling moment.

"When you are ready, and Wesley is balanced in the outside rein with a slight tip of the nose to the inside, as for the lope." The first attempt yielded no departure, as I did not actually have him on the outside rein. I also tensed in my legs and ankles as I tried to wrap my leg around him for the cue. That clearly did not work. So this time when he was actually on the outside rein, I just barely let my leg fall back and smooched for the lope. Wesley stepped right into it, but was a little rushed and frantic. At the lope, there was no way I could maintain everything and still try and rotate my ankle. It just wasnt happening. But then Sarah had me try the strangest thing.

She told me to point my toes straight out away from the tack a foot or so, then lift my knees.

"What? I dont understand what I'm supposed to be doing," I said, as we loped past and I flopped around like a fish.

"Just raise your knees up towards your shoulders away from the tack."

Sheesh, easier said than done. What I seemed to manage to do only resulted in a huge amount of tension on the top of my feet as I tried to hold my knees up while loping on a horse. I voiced the tension I was feeling. "Keep your ankles relaxed," was the response. Wtf? This was an instant reaction to having to hold my knees up. Well, apparently I was still not doing it correctly. My knees needed to not only come up from the saddle, but away from the saddle.

I flopped my knees to the right position but there was no way in hell that I could hold it. "There you go," Sarah said. That was what you wanted??? That crazy spasmic fish flopping? She said that the goal was to relax my hamstring muscle.

But wouldn't you know, when my hamstring was relaxed, when my legs were flopping and bumping Wesley in rhythm, when I was strong in my core and holding Wesley with the outside rein, Wesley loped a beautiful circle, in his bad direction.

"Now, I want you to think about what happened here," Sarah said. And the lesson was over.