Sunday, August 31, 2008

OMG, it was amazing!

The day before, I let R ride him.
She’s been riding hunter-jumpers for years—she can ride anything with hair and she's dabbled in PNH. I wanted her to see what I meant about his behavior in the canter and so I could see it from a different POV.

She said he has a lot of loft, which is great for HJ and Dressage. He has a lot of vertical motion, up and down, moreso than forward horizontal motion. That’s why his trot is like a pogo stick. But his canter is like butter, once he rolls into it, and the more we canter the better his trot will be.

What I observed was that when he transitions from the trot to the canter, he lifts up his forequarters with more emphasis than I've seen in other horses, then he launches into the canter. If he’s blocked in any way, via the reins or my tension or an obstacle like a fence, he snakes his head down and his butt elevates slightly, but it’s not a full-on bronc buck. R said he wants to go, he’s bored at the trot and he’s tired of being held back.

(Odd. That sounds just like ME. As in, life. Well, they do say your horse is your mirror.)

R cantered him awhile, jumped a couple low jumps (was very impressed with his jumping), and demonstrated a few dressage movements.

My little red roping horse can do dressage. Who knew?

I just learned that all I have to do is learn how to ask, and he’ll do. I realized, my God, I’ve been holding him back AND myself back, because we really ARE ready to do this stuff. He knows it. I just have to ask. I don’t have to spend hours perfecting the games, or making sure he’s in the right frame of mind before riding. He already IS. I get him OUT of it by boring him to death repeating the old stuff.

Yesterday was totally different. :-)

First of all, I got him from the pasture and started the games on the way to the gate. Here, CIRCLE! Pick it up! Trot! Now circle left no right no left (Falling Leaf). Now SIDEWAYS! FASTER! Stop. Scritch the itchy spots for a few minutes and swat a few flies. Back up! Wake up! Yep, he’s listening now. Put your nose on this. Step on that. Step over that. DON’T step over that.

Out of the pasture. Straight to the barn, where we... hung out for awhile. It was hot. I found a lawn chair in the barn in the shade, sat down, had a Gatorade, watched him standing there hovering over me watching me wondering “what the heck?” because we never did it this way. New routine.

Offered him a little Gatorade. He licked it up but seemed unimpressed. I saddled him up in the barn. To me, that equated as “right away”. He was fine with it. Grabbed the 22’, the bridle (for a change), and off we went.

Immediately on the 22’, circled him over a couple of oddly placed beams (watch where you’re going but keep going) then stopped him right on the beams and experimented with seeing how little it took to ask him to put one foot over and stop... two, stop.... back up with one rear foot over... he was thinking hard. He had one ear on me the entire time and seemed riveted.

I tried to do a very complex Sideways over the beams but it fell apart and I realized I was asking for something a bit too advanced, stopped, praised the effort, moved on. Circle a little.

Try Figure 8 around the barrels—SUCCESS—the send is fixed, the pattern is there, yes thank you for putting your nose on it and offering to stand on it, but that’s not today, today we’re going around them. Got that working well but not elegant yet, but that was good enough.

Traded up to the bridle. Rode around a bit. Was not getting quite the level of communication I desired, but it’s better than it’s been. My hands are lighter, but I’m still a little yanky and not as confident that he’s really listening. Swapped the bridle for the hackamore because I’m obviously not quite ready for the bridle. But we’re getting closer. I have to work on my body language a bit more. It was a good litmus test, like Liberty is for the Online stuff.

So, we’re doing Follow The Rail. I’m observing that I seem a bit tense, unable to really relax and get in harmony with him. As a result, his trot is choppy. He senses I’m thinking about the canter, but he senses my hesitation. He wants to go, but doesn’t, and that’s what his trot told me.

I decided to drop the reins completely (I know, counterintuitive, right?) so I wasn’t relying on them and yanking on them and just ride around communicating with my body. I relaxed and his trot improved. Bizarre, eh? You would not think, “I feel out of control, I’ll just let go”, would you? I had to stop thinking in terms of steering and start thinking in terms of riding and becoming one with him. Dropping the reins did that. I also relaxed when I told myself, “I don’t have to canter today unless I want to. It’s OK not to”.

R and S were in the arena at the same time doing their own thing. R was coaching S over the jumps. S jumped the barrels (laid down) for the first time ever! That was cool to watch.

The gate to the pasture was open. S’s other horse came strolling in. Jealous. He wanted to play. Shaveya and the young one (Aries) came in for a bit, then left. Then two of the mini’s came trotting in.

It might well have been me that said, “Hey, let’s herd mini’s!”, to which the others agreed. So we herded mini’s as if they were cows (poor things). But slowly. I was herding at a trot. Cheerios wasn’t tuned in at first until he realized I was focusing on the mini and he remembered he used to herd cows, and he perked up and became more responsive to my focus. It was cool.

We herded them into the next arena. I herded them by myself back through the gate successfully. R and S herded them back. I tried cutting one out separate. I was doing pretty well keeping one away from the other then the other squeezed in and I was herding them both.

By now, I’m really focused on the activity of herding, really focused on the mini’s, and not even conscious anymore that I’m separate from my horse. We’re a unit. I’m fired up. We’re trotting along. The mini’s, feeling the pressure, try to escape and pick up speed. They’re cantering.

I’m thinking, crap, we’re losing them! And all of a sudden...

I’m floating.

We’re catching up to them and his trot has smoothed out and I’m rolling along and I’m so focused on the fact that the mini’s are getting away that it takes a minute before my awareness checks in and it isn’t until R yells, “You’re DOING it!!!!” that I realize he’s transitioned so smoothly into the canter I didn’t even notice the change except for the relaxed smoothness of the ride.

At the very moment the big bold exclamation point


formed in my head (which is all I was capable of thinking at the time), Cheerios dropped politely to a trot and then a walk as we reached the edge of the paddock.

No bucks. No head tossing. No big lurch. Just trot, gearshift canter.... downshift trot... downshift walk.

Utterly gobsmacked.

The day was pretty much over by then, so after a little bit more gallavanting around the arena, the other two dismounted and went in. I decided I had to prove it wasn’t a fluke. I had to canter consciously. I rode him around for a few more minutes, transitioning from walk to trot to canter to trot to walk to stop and back up, and the canter was graceful. Amazing. Easy to ride. I was relaxed. He was relaxed. It was magic.

It felt like it used to with Wildflower. I can trust you. You take care of me.

We went back to the barn. He got cookies and a bath. It was HOT. I saw the sweat after I untacked him. So I hosed him down. He loved it. Then, as I knew he would once I set him free, he rolled joyfully in the sand, coating himself like a drumstick, groaning in pleasure.

What an awesome day.

I’m so sore today I took the day off. Tomorrow, though, I'll be back out there.

What worked was taking my focus off of the canter and putting it on the mini’s. I was so focused on them that I forgot to be afraid. When that happened, I trusted myself and my horse, and gee. It worked.

Here’s the funniest thing. As I was focusing on the cantering after the girls left, he kept heading for the jumps. I thought, “OH no, I’m not ready for that”.

Or, maybe I am.

And maybe he’s trying to tell me that I’m ready for way more than I think I am. But I’m not doing a jump until I am ready, and I will only do it with a helmet on, and with at least one person right there to call 911! (Those are the rules for learning to jump anyway.)

After watching the Level THREE DVD last night, I’m realizing that I’m probably more advanced than I’ve been believing myself to be. I don’t say that in a cocky way, mind you! :-) Caution still rules. But I think I can start moving forward more rapidly and stop holding myself (and my horse) back, and fill in the holes when I find them. I think we can stop trying to get L1 perfect (in him, because I've already passed it) and learn the upper level stuff. It’ll smooth out as we go.

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