Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Wesley? Why not Milo?

"Just let his motion become yours. Instead of your energy moving differently than his, melt into his back - sounds sort of...voodoo, but thats the only way I can describe it."

"I knew exactly what you mean," I responded to Sarah with a laugh. I would just have to find how to do just that.

I tried to focus on Wesley's two beat gait, up and down, allowing my energy to flow up and down, without my body constricting this fluid dance that Wesley was inviting me to enter. If I could just learn the steps to dance with him.


In and out, up and down, I tapped my toes in relaxation in stride; now I was in the dance, the two beat gait, the energy of Wesley. Magically, Wesley's scrambled gait slowed way down and his head dropped down a bit as he lifted his back.

"Stay strong in your core, there's too much movement in that area."

I tried to engage my core, but when I did my back got tight right at the base, and I collapsed at my rib-cage, disallowing the flow of energy up and down. Wesley sped up.

"Find the rhythm again.You must stay strong in your core through every step. Breathe..."

I found it again, and Sarah directed me to lope. Still with my hands low and only cuing if needed, no picking, I had to allow Weez to step into the lope, without a bunch of fuss or control on my part, as is typical for my micromanaging self.

"This is a finished horse, he knows how to step right into the lope with only a thought."

Into the lope we were in an instant, and instinctively within a few strides I lost the now three beat rhythm Wesley and I were previously sharing. He sped up, I tensed. I needed to find that rhythm again. But this was a whole new ball game at the lope.

"Your midsection is moving too much again, remember the birthday breath, but stay relaxed in your back."

It seemed the only way I could achieve a quiet, engaged core, resulted in my inside, right toe, pointing up and out, in tension. I was made aware of this, so tried to relax my body. Which mad my midsection wiggle. So I engaged again, which caused a tensed right foot. What...? I voiced this correlation to which Sarah found interesting. I could tell she was curious; maybe she will have an answer for me the next time I see her. Irregardless, I seemed to find the rhythm for a lap or so, and then I felt the inner part of my thighs screaming, telling me I couldnt possibly hold this posture for another stride. So, with great effort to not collapse down into the trot, I stayed strong for a moment longer, and slightly caved my lower back. Wesley responded in a nice downward transition, and I collapsed into the saddle.

Later, I mounted Milo in a crowded arena, and for 45 minutes, desperately tried to find that beautiful two beat rhythm I had shared with Wesley.

I couldnt, for the life of me.

We loped, and loped longer, hoping I could find that perfect moment, just one stride, where we felt the dance.

I laughed to a Mom watching her daughter ride, protesting that Milo had three days off and now had no work-ethic. It seemed like a good excuse.

We walked for a while - why couldnt I find it at the walk? The simplest gait, I couldnt achieve. Finally, I was aware of the tense knot in my lower back. I had to release that tension - riding shouldnt make my back hurt, clearly I was riding wrong.

I breathed, and allowed my back to soften, and to melt into my horse better. We were again at the lope, and I found a half circle of rhythm. Thank you, Milo. For not allowing me to blame my horse, but rather, look to myself for the tension.

Its still a work in progress, as I learned from today's bareback ride. But at least I am aware.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I was Thankful

I was thankful today to find the barn relatively empty due to the holiday (not that I dont like seeing other people, but today was really about Milo and I). As I came around the arena corner I saw Old Man Jaker's head sticking out over the gate. He was thankful to see Milo, and the feeling was mutual. No squealing or kicking, just happy buddies seeing each other again.

I was thankful to ride Milo bareback at a calm walk as Jake loped his old man stride back and forth across the arena. Normally I would be agitated by a loose horse in the arena, but I knew Jake and Milo would have no qualms with the other.

And I was thankful to see Jake moving so spritely and not so stiff.

I was thankful for how quiet and complacent my horse was through the ride, and we even got a lead change today, when asked for.

I was thankful for the covered arena, which protected us from the howling winds outside and torrential downpour that has been our existence here in Washington for the past week (and will remain for the next three months). Even as the arena lights were turned off due to someone in the barn aisleway apparently not knowing we were in there, it was still light enough to ride, which I was thankful for.

I was thankful that the sloshy mess at the entrance to the arena which just the day before had been complete soup, was more than halfway dried up. As was the lake that has formed in Milo's pasture.

I was thankful for the soft nuzzles my horse gave to me, in greeting in the pasture, in complacency in the cross ties after our ride, and again after I let him back into his shelter in the pasture.

(Not Thanksgiving photos, just ones taken a few weeks ago that I enjoy)
But most of all, I am thankful that I have Milo in my life. That I can enjoy the love and support that he offers to me everyday. We have our trials and difficulties in our "work", but we both grow from it, and I am thankful for that. I am a better, more balanced person today because of the lessons I have learned through horses, and I continue to change and learn more about myself and the world because of those lessons from these wonderful animals.

I hope you all got to enjoy a small moment of the Holiday with your beloved, and truly be thankful for their gift in our lives.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Milo consistently wanted to swap from the counter canter on the right track to a lead change over to the left track, be it a small serpentine exercise or large circles (although on the large circle I was better able to keep a counter arc in his body and retain the counter canter lead). I noticed this the previous ride as well where the first attempt to serpentine on that counter canter lead, Milo executed a flying lead change. Beautiful Milo, I thought, but I needed a counter canter from you. Bonus though: every time he swapped his lead from the counter canter, he changed from back to front. At least his lead changes are solid and correct, just not when wanted.

Or is it?

Am I asking him to change leads without knowing it? I'm trying to stay firm with my outside leg back to hold the hip to the counter lead, but, am I staying secure in my body? Today I was bareback, maybe that had something to do with it.


There is something different in the way Milo travels on the right lead then there is on the left (left is easier, possibly?). I've noticed time and time again that Milo would much rather dump his right shoulder into the lead and tip on the forehand, and I need to remind him to hold the correct arc repeatedly. Much more on the right lead then the left, where he pretty consistently (and easily) holds the slight arc and doesnt try and swap leads on the lope serpentines.

Maybe its a combination of a few things. Maybe I am inadvertently shifting my seat (or not having the correct subtle arc in my hips too) as well as Milo having more difficulty holding the right arc.

Ah, lookie there; a connection, a mirror between the two. If I am not positioned in the direction of the lead properly, how can Milo be?

I have caught myself (on more than one occasion) where we change lead to the right track, and I find my legs are still in position for the left track (outside leg at C, inside at B). This would thereby directly affect the position of my hips, not to mention through off Milo on my leg cues.

So instead of scrutinizing Milo for the unwanted change in lead, maybe, scratch that, certainly I should be re-assessing the position of my body. For Milo isn't going to change leads unless 1. I ask him to (even inadvertently), and 2. it's easier for him to be on the left lead (most likely caused from prolonged periods of my body remaining in the left lead position, thereby making it the normality and easier route for Milo).

Sigh, and they say riding isnt difficult. These are the things I am thinking about as I pack your groceries into boxes at work! At least through all the questioning, I have seemed to find an answer...or at least something to consider.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Milo's New Consignment Rug!

You all must know by now that I LOVE new horsey items, but moreso, I LOVE getting them for a real steal. Remember the Big D quilted saddle case I got from the consignment shop two weeks ago? Well, the same day I was there for that item, this sweet little rug caught my eye. I didnt get it at the time, but more I thought about that little rug the more I wished I had bought it. Only a day or so went by before I called the shop and paid for it over the phone. It wouldnt be for a while before I could make it out there again to pick it up, but at least I knew it was safely mine and tucked away in their closet.

So last week I was able to swing by the shop and pick up Milo's new rug.

Ain't it a cute lil thing??
So it's seen better days, but it fits Milo well and for only $25, was a real steal for an item I had previously been considering making myself.

It's made out of a weaved sort of cotton, not fleece and is double layered (red underneath) and somewhat heavy. The best part about it isnt how cute Milo looks in it, but it's multi-function ability. From cooler, to blanket liner on the cold days, to evening sheet at summer shows. It's a real find. The only thing I might add to it is an extender snap on the front, just to give Milo's shoulders a little more room. It has no D-rings for leg straps either, but I might be able to get away with using it without anyways. If not, those are a 35 cent add-on I can afford.

I brushed some of the shavings and hair from it. Ain't it a cute little thing on a cute little pony? :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Autopilot? Milo, or Me?

My horse was on autopilot today. Or, at least, that's what I told myself.

Things have been going along nicely with Milo. I can pretty consistently maintain relaxed stirrups, looking up is still here and there, but the results when I do sit up tall and strong are too incredible to forget. Today, my horse didnt for one stride feel like two guys in a horse suit. From the warm up walk, to the first few steps in the lope, he was moving and driving so well.

Sure, there were moments when everything wasnt perfect - but when is that ever going to happen anyways? I was very pleased with the quality of movement my horse was presenting to me, as well as the fluidity I was finding in my own body.

Now, the autopilot I should touch on. As mentioned in my last post, during a downward transition there may be a period of time where the stride gets taller rather than longer, and it feels like it takes all of mine and Milo's concentration to maintain the forward energy into the downward transition. That was no exception today, but I must add where I felt my horse simply wasnt responding. We were loping along, and I wanted the trot. No response. Horse, you need to stop when I ask for it. Now I wanted a stop, my horse needed to respond to my body and voice asking for the halt. Some reminder at the walk, trot, and lope that Woah really means "WOAH!" Things went well for a little while after that, then he felt like he was motorboating again - not just at the lope but now at the trot, especially after coming down from the lope and he feels excited over just loping.

However, more work on soft, fluid, and forward downward transition, and our Woah got even better. Rounded back, parked booty, suddenly the slide stop I felt we had been losing lately was starting to come back.

The whole point of this post? Why was Milo "not responding" to my body cues for a downward, or even just a slower pace (at the trot)? Was it coming from my body, or was my horse really on "autopilot"? I didnt notice any differences from our exceptional transitions to our lack thereof, in my body. Is it easier for Milo to continue at the same pace then to focus on transitioning and concentrate? Not sure.

No matter the "imperfections" or questions from the ride, it really was very good. Exceptional, actually. We even started adding come small counter canter back into our work - canter serpentines to be exact. Now that I think I am getting back in tune with my body, we can try and work towards our reining patterns again. Or am I getting ahead of myself? No agenda!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Forward to the Halt

"What is a transition?"

That question asked by Sarah suddenly made me think. I know what a transition is, but how am I supposed to describe it correctly? I knew what was in store for the lesson ahead now, but was eager for it because transitions, particularly downward ones, are a difficulty that Milo and I share (probably just me).

Sarah explained as I rode Wesley that a transition is any change of energy be it upward, downward, even a change of rein. A halt and a back were transitions as well. She also described the importance of  consistent contact throughout all transitions. Sarah added that it is very common for riders to want to drop the contact in forward transitions. I must admit to this one. Furthermore, forward is key in every transition, back to front.

She had me transition from walk to halt to back to forward. If Wesley hollowed his back and stopped hard, he was disconnected. If he dropped his back in the back up, we lost connection again. They key was to find the downward transition from my body and keep the forward energy throughout. A few tries in and I found it from the walk to halt to back - fluid throughout as if there was no transition between. We moved it to the trot, remembering to stay forward, but not quick. From trot to walk forward was again emphasized. As I prepared for the downward transition, I stayed as soft and allowing as possible in my body, while keeping the same consistent connection through the reins and my legs. It took about the length of the long side of the arena before Wesley finally came to a trot, but what the difference was between just a late transition and this one was how "high" or "tall" those trot steps were before coming to the walk. In an effort to stay connected and engaged from the rear, Wesley slowed his trot way down, but didnt loose the energy, so the movement was much taller since distance wasnt being used. Sarah commented how nice of a transition that was. By finding the right cue through my body but not allowing Wesley to fall into the transition, we maintained our forward energy down into the walk. It was incredible.

Next was adding a third gait to these transition exercises - the lope. Forward but not rushed was the goal in the upward transition into it, and it was very nice. As we loped along, Sarah wanted me to stay aware of Wesley's neck, moreso the spinal column of it. While I was maintaining consistent connection through the wall of my outside rein, Wesley's eye was just tipped off of center allowing his inside shoulder to fall into the inside, and subsequently, lose the hind end. Sarah asked for a "twirl" of the neck, not a dramatic tip to the inside, but just a reminder, a request really, to come to straight and "twirl" that spine of the neck to straight if not slightly tipped. If I demanded the twirl of the neck, those muscles I was specifically pinpointing would lock down and Wesley would never come back to straight and engage his hind. It was a "pretty please would you use those muscles" request, and it worked. It was extremely subtle in the visual change in his neck, but I felt the difference as Wesley came back onto his hind end and moved straight.

Working with our transitions again, we went forward into the trot, and when Wesley was quick and disconnected after a few strides, Sarah suggested trot and turning, trot and turning left and right to loosen his shoulders and unlock the base of his neck that he was now bracing. She emphasized that it was the quality of the movement that mattered, not speed in his steps. Trot and turn, trot and turn, left and right, right and left, and I got softer in my body directing Wesley from one direction to the other with my seatbones and only the smallest of requests from my reins. When da Weez finally lowered his head almost right to the ground and lifted his back more than I had ever felt from him before, our trot circles were relaxed and fluid and I went back onto the straight-of-way. Tempted to move back into the lope, instead I did the opposite and went forward into the walk, then the halt and back. That Western Riding pony parked his big tushy like he hadnt done before with me and stayed soft and in connection throughout the transitions. That was the time to get off.

What had I taken away when I climbed aboard my own horse three hours later? Forward into transitions, a twirl of the neck when needed, and staying consistent in my contact through all different transitions. I also remembered to utilize the trot and turning when needed after my horse was rushed and locked at the base of the neck after some lope work. Remembering to come off "pattern" when needed and get my horse back to soft, fluid, and engaged before resuming is a concept I needed to hear again as I know I can get stuck in an exercise. I was not perfect by any means, but we had some great work, and more homework to work on as well. Forward into transitions, finding them through my body and maintaining connection. Come off pattern.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Visit From a Friend

Last weekend a friend from work asked if we could meet together for her to meet and ride Milo. With Boyfriend being out of town through the 16th, I have been looking for ways to get out of the house in the evenings. We agreed that after work she could follow me out to the barn. I was excited, but wasnt quite sure what to expect of her riding ability or knowledge around horses. She had told me that she had ridden her friend's horses before and eventually she wants to get her own horse, but that doesnt exactly tell me what all she knows.

We arrived at the barn in the dark as it was around 7 o'clock, and I ventured into the pasture in search of my horse. I saw his glowing white head amongst the darkness, and haltered him up. Although in the past I have ridden him mostly in the dark evenings after work, it has been nearly two years since I needed to ride on that schedule, and Im sure Milo was curious as to why Mom and this strange other person were there so late. Nonetheless, he quitely follows behind us to the barn, where we were finally able to turn some lights on.

Initially, Milo was prety respectful of her, but her confidence with him began to show and he started to test his limits with her and how much mouthiness she would put up with, which was quite a lot as she was not spooked by his antics. Milo seemed to enjoy himself. I tacked him up and mounted up first. A breif warm up, then I let her aboard. I knew without spurs he might not listen to her, so I handed her a dressge whip to use if needed. She hadnt ever used one before and later ended up handing it back to me instead just going for firm legs.

Milo, as is typical for him with new people aboard, didnt want to hold even a trot for my poor friend, but eventually I coaxed her into getting him to really go for her, and eventually Milo complied. After about twenty minutes or so she was done, so I got on him once again to make sure nothing was out of place with him. She had brought her dog who is only eleven months of excited lab, and she crouched and leaped and ran around in the arena all the while. Milo had been giving her dirty looks when she would get close, and I thought it might be fun to work the dog a bit as we might a cow. Oh boy, was that what Milo wanted to do!

We ran around and around cutting the dog off and keeping her on her toes. I knew my horse was into it when on his own he took off across the arena after her in an attempt to get ahead of her and block her movement. His low, snaked head indicated just how intent he was on dominating this dog/cow. We spent ten minutes or so at this then eventually I pulled him up and the dog went to lay down, ears still erect on the big horse. Milo licked and chewed complacently, and closed his eyes letting out a big sigh.

Does my horse need to get back on cows or what?

Photo taken by my friend. Didnt think to get any of her on him, not with my crummy camera phone!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Consignment Find!

I bought a pattern months ago to make my own quilted saddle case for my About the Horse saddle. After spending so much money on it and going through all that I did to get the thing, I have been wanting to make sure I am taking as best care of it as possible. After visiting the craft store, however, the supplies alone made it not exactly as cheap as I hoped. Not to mention I am still a "beginner" sewer and feared spending the money on the supplies and butchering the building of it.

I kept my eyes out in the catalogs for a steal deal on one, but havent seen one I just had to have. Until....

I stopped by the local consignment shop and on my last walk through of the store, spotted a burgundy something hidden under some old bareback pads. What is this?

I pulled the find out from under the clutter and read the price tag: $50. That was do-able. I thought about it for a few minutes, but decided I probably wouldnt find another Bid D quilted saddle case for as good of a deal and in such good condition. I decided to splurge on myself, and since I just received a $28 check from the last consignments I sold at the store, I figured that check could go towards this purchase.

Florescent lights drown out the color, but it honestly is very pretty.

Ya, I put the saddle in with the cover on it still...Im a little paranoid I guess.
Hello bareback pad! :)
Ahh, sweet deals on items I already wanted. Yus!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Little 'Before and After'

I took some recent photos of Milo's back and general shape. I was curious to compare them to photos I last took of him last winter.

This was the last photo taken, March 10, 2011, original post here.

The angle is funny (I couldnt get farther away in the barn aisle), but look how reduced that bulge is on his shoulder! I feel like his back is stronger too with more muscle filled in near the withers. 

November 3, 2011
March 10 photo
The line in his hair is from his chest guard. And the black on the top of the photo is my gloved hand, trying to block the backlight, haha. 

It looks like there is a bulge on his shoulder, but I think it was because he lifted his neck and was alert at the other horse coming into the barn, so I think he is holding some tension in his shoulders in this photo - you can see the line of tension right below his mane line too. Either way, I feel Milo is coming along, especially on the other side which has always been more notable as his stiff and tight side with that large bulge of muscle. 

Oh Milo, look how pretty your developed neck is now too :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Updated Video

So I got some recent self-shot footage of working Milo. I wanted to compare to the last time I had self-footage done of Milo and I, and I have to say (without touting my own horn) we look so much better than we did over the summer! I feel like Milo is moving much more fluidly and over his back than before. Progress is being made! I also wanted to watch my ankles and position and see if I am where I should be. The video looks like my toes are out (which they sorta are actually), but there was no tension in my ankles and if you look closely they bounce and bang around loosely.

I also have to note after watching this, I never realized how low Milo carries his head. He really looks like a peanut roller. At least I know he isnt forced there, but thats where he is comfortable and capable of rounding up his back. Silly Milo, its just where he wants to carry it.

This first video shows some trot work, with the recent serpentine exercise from Sarah, as well as a bit of the figure eight circles we are coming back to as suggested from Sarah. Milo did well on both exercises! He is staying more straight through the serpentines and with me looking up, I can feel when he fishtails his rear out and I can block it with my outside leg. The figure eight circles went well too, even though I didnt catch on video when we worked on more complex parts of the exercise than just changing back and forth on the circles.

I picked up my stirrups (after being dropped a hole from my last ride) as I need to find a way to keep my ankles relaxed while in the stirrups. I felt I did a better job than last time, we are getting there. The first part of the lope Milo was feeling super fresh and freight-training around the arena. I am sad to see how much I had to use my hands, but eventually he came back to me, as is evidenced in the second video. I had to school him a bit at the lope departure as he has been getting anticipatory when I try and put him onto the outside rein and push his hip out. But eventually we got it.

I got a nicer lope the other direction, but the video didnt come out very well. This second video is a little bit of the turnaround work for strengthening his hocks. A couple of times I turned around to look at the footfall patterns in the dirt. Since I ride by myself the majority of the time, its the only way I can seem to determine if Milo is doing it right. After this video was shot, I got a nicer turnaround, and took a picture of it. :)

Oh Milo, we are getting better. :)