10.07.17: Double Day

Two lessons with Kirsten makes for a long day, but so good. The first and last lesson theme prevails right now, which is ok by me to have that much time to relax between lessons.
Storm's lesson was at 8:00, and it took a little elbow grease and a quick vacuum to get him clean enough to put the saddle on. He was very connected from the beginning, and I brought him down to the round pen with all the extra stuff that we might need.
I turned him lose in the round pen, and he stood waiting. I asked him to move off gently, and he chose to go to the right. As he moved off on the circle, he began to pick up speed and ended up in a fast trot that showed some of his anxiety. He was doing a very fancy, though out of balance trot, straight through the puddle on the deep side of the round pen splashing water and mud everywhere. Kirsten recommended that we wait and see how long it would take him to sort himself out and see if he could work through the anxiety himself rather than needing to be asked to make the change. Slowly as he headed around the round pen he began to come back down again until he was finally walking and began snorting and blowing. Once he was back into working mode and beginning to be able to shift his weight back onto his hindquarters again, Kirsten had me watching for the moments that Storm was really balanced well when his neck muscles were fully relaxed, and use those moments to ask him to pick up the trot. He began to be able move up into the troth without falling out of balance first, and even though he wasn't able to hold the trot for long, Kirsten explained that the actual transitions would build more muscle than if he were to maintain the trot.
After several laps, Kirsten told me to ask him to change direction and pick up the work again. I backed up, and he stopped to turn and face me, and I rubbed him on the forehead and then stepped back to the center of the round pen and asked him to move off to the left. He moved off quietly, which was a really nice response. We began to repeat the game, waiting for the moments that he was setting himself up in the best balanced position to ask for the trot transition. He went through several really nice transitions, and I asked again once he was balanced for the trot transition. He was having a hard time finding the transition, and splashed through the mud again before taking off with a buck and grunt into a canter. Kirsten and I laughed at him as I told him that I knew it was hard, but that he had to try anyway! He slowly calmed himself down again, and I waited for him to find his balanced walk and let him stay there for a little while before asking again for the trot.
Kirsten and I talked about the fact that the inside hind leg has to be the balance leg while the outside hind leg is doing the pushing. So going to the right had been hard because his right hind leg was weak and not able to hold him balanced, but when I asked him to go to the left, it became a challenge because he didn't have the power to push off of that right hind which was now on the outside of the circle. He settled down as we worked again, and was really able to work on the transitions again and make some more progress. Kirsten suggested that since he was doing so well and appeared to be in a really good place mentally that we go ahead and get on and do a short ride.
She brought me the things I needed and we got him switched out and I checked everything and then climbed up on the rail to get him set up to allow me to get on. I asked him to step forward next to the rail and he stepped right into the correct position. I rubbed his neck for a moment and then stepped aboard. From the height of the round pen rail, I simply step across to slide on.
Since Storm was not as focused with me up on his back instead of on the ground, Kirsten came into the round pen to help bridge that gap. She walked in front of Storm to help give him something to focus on to begin with. My job was to allow him to follow her, and when he caught up with her, I asked him to stop and stand and wait before I asked him to move off again. We began to make a regular pattern of it and stepped forward for 10 steps, and then halted again. The transitions would build the balance and help him find the way to shift his weight back onto his hindquarters. Once he began to understand the concept, we added one backwards step after the halt, which only works to refine his balance, and really encourage him to shift his weight back. With each repetition the reins got a little lighter and a little easier. We began working a figure 8 pattern through the round pen. The tight area made it difficult to make an even pattern, and since steering wasn't something we were really focusing on yet it wasn't easy, but he managed to work through some messy figure 8's. The tighter turns were forcing him to be more balanced, and the halts on the turn were much lighter than when he would get straight. Once he completed several really good steps, Kirsten said it was quitting time. I agreed, and we headed back to the fence where I got on, and he stepped right up in the correct position to let me off again, and waited patiently once I climbed down the fence.
We wrapped up and headed back up to the barn to un-tack and give him a good rinse. I was pleased to find really even sweat marks under the saddle when I got everything off. We didn't ride for long, but at least it lets me know that everything was doing well without me up there.
 I planned to give him a good rinsing once the lesson was over and try to scrub some of the dirt stains off of him, and work on making sure his sheath area was clean and crud free as I could manage without proper tools. He didn't mind the rinsing (though he still doesn't care much for water around his head), and didn't mind me scrubbing the crud around his sheath, except that I don't think he cared much for the cool water on such delicate parts. I'll have to experiment and see if warming the water up and using just a sponge might help a bit more. He and Jim hung out for a while and he grazed on the hill as I put things away and got organized for the afternoon lesson. I took him down to the arena and waited for the break in lessons to see if he would roll, but he didn't seem to want to, so I turned him back out in the pasture again.
I spent the day chatting and observing with Sarah. There is a lot to learn from watching, and being able to see things, and get verification of what I am seeing is as important to me as feeling things while riding. Having the eye to see the imbalances and how the rider affects the horse and the horse the rider is so important. Feeling it is one thing, but being able to see those so subtle changes is even more challenging. And the next step beyond that is to be able to see what needs to be changed, and know what to do in order to support the horse through the correct change. The other interesting occurrence is that more often than not there tends to be a theme within the day. Several of the lessons with different people at entirely different times will often have the same exercises or similar lessons that will be practiced, and more than likely at different skill levels. So observing lessons through the day is really beneficial on multiple levels.
I got myself together as Holly and Beth were wrapping up their lesson and headed out to the pasture to get Tali. She was down in the bottom of the field grazing, and when I approached she moved up into the run-in shed. I followed her up the hill and waited for her to step to me before haltering her. Then we headed up the hill to get ready. It didn't take too long to get her cleaned up and saddled for the ride, and we were heading down the hill to get started. I set her up to long line to begin with to check in and see where she was, and filled Kirsten in on a few details of things we had done since our previous lesson. We got started and headed to the left to begin with and she settled right into the work. Kirsten had me working on the same principles that I am exploring with Storm, when she is balanced, I ask her to step up into the work and stay relaxed and balanced through the transition to a faster speed, and then come back down again with the same calm relaxed and balanced movement.
She went through a few phases where her gaits were scrambling all over everywhere, but nothing like the previous lesson. She was also doing a lot of head shaking, stretching, and blowing. As she worked, her shoulder began twitching with every step, but there weren't any flies hanging around. Kirsten noted that it was her muscles really trying to release, and that it was actually a bit of a muscle spasm in the process. The top of her neck was really beginning to loosen and move a lot more than it ever has, and the muscles at the base of her neck were beginning to release and wiggle with each step. She was able to work on a much smaller circle, with me almost standing still, and keep her balance with a lot fewer corrections. I was mostly able to maintain the lines by reaching with my arms rather than actually having to slide the outside rein through my hand to correct her. She was still heavy on the reins, but Kirsten clarified that heavy and consistent comes before light and consistent, so she is getting that much closer.
We worked 15 minutes to the left, and then reversed and worked 15 minutes to the right. The right side is still much more difficult for her, and I had to widen the circle a lot more to help her find her balance. The corrections were much larger, and took a lot longer for her to recover from and find her balance again. There were fewer opportunities to ask her to step up to a faster gait, but I was still able to ask her for a few transitions. But there was a definite effort on her part to improve. She was working very hard to try and make changes, she just couldn't hold onto anything for very long at all.
Once we worked for 15 more minutes, Kirsten helped me get her organized to get on, and we did a short 15 minute ride. She was steadier than she had been, and as I had found before, I was able to feel her flipping the ball from side to side while we were working to the left (incidentally the direction we started in), but when we switched it up and went to the right, I had a very hard time feeling the changes, and she would really throw her shoulder out and get stuck very crooked, which was next to impossible for me to recover from. It was easier than it had been, but we still utilized the halt, reorganize, and the move forward again. She was recovering better, and I was able to keep her from blowing out as badly (anything other then ending up facing the entire wrong direction on the other end of the arena is an improvement...) but there were still moments where it was a struggle. We worked through it, and all in all I was very pleased with her effort and the ride. When I took her back up to the barn, I was pleased to take the saddle off and find very even sweat marks across her back.

Everybody pitched in and helped get the horses fed really quickly so we could get out and go grab some dinner. Sarah wasted no time opening up both gates and grabbing horses with loose halters two at a time. It was very interesting to watch the horses deal with the change of pace, and react to being moved around with another horse in tandem. Most of them handled it very well, though one or two needed a reminder on how to behave, and there were only a few minor scuffles at the gate. With so many hands on board, feeding was done in no time, and we headed out for Mexican. We had a great time laughing and catching up on the day's events, and relaxing with good food. It was a super way to end the evening after a long day.
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10.07.22: Working Our Way into a Rut
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