10.10.16: The Ball, the Box and the T

Theme of the day: The Ball, the Box and the T. This has always been something that Kirsten has had in her theory, but this time she put it to use.

The morning started off with Storm's 8:00 lesson, and with the cool weather he was a little squirrelly trying to get him saddled. I took him to the round pen expecting a bit of a blow out, and was right, though he is getting so much better about doing it respectfully rather than a total flip of the bird for half an hour before we can start thinking about doing anything productive. I headed to the round pen, and as we approached there were deer in the back corner of the arena. I knew Storm was watching him, and had a bit of trouble getting him into the round pen, he was very distracted and in such a way that I was concerned that he might not be able to hold himself together before we could get into the safety of the round pen and close the gate. We managed just fine, and as I turned him loose and hung the rope on the rail, he looked away from me as if he was going to leave. I quickly turned the opposite direction and moved into the center of the round pen, and he followed after me.
I attempted to set him up to move in the more difficult position to start with, but he was twisting to the right, so I gently asked him to move off anyway. He took a grand leap into the canter, but did so without quite as much fanfare as he has in the past. He burned around the round pen in a hurry for a while before finally slowing to a trot then walk just as Kirsten made it down the hill with her coffee. I let her know about his little fit, and she complemented him on the fact that he wasn't still wearing a rut into the round pen but was walking calmly and pretty relaxed.

So we started right into work and she had me work on asking him to trot and only allowing him a few steps of walk before bumping him right back up into the trot again. He began to become very light to the cue, and was shifting in and out of being balanced. His muscles got looser and looser as he worked as he experimented with his balance. He was flipping his head some up and down, but nothing as
dramatic as the last lesson. He was definitely more organized and working hard to sort himself out into the right position. Eventually it was taking quite a bit of asking to keep him into the trot, so Kirsten instructed me to throw in a canter transition to add a little more impulsion back into the mix. He went into the canter without too much trouble, and Kirsten was pretty complimentary of his canter at this point in time. He was much more organized, though not quite as balanced as I hoped, but it was much further along than it had been. He worked for several more laps before she suggested that I let him walk a lap and then change directions and begin working to the left.

I stopped him and sent him off to the left and was pleased that he was able to simply turn to the left without having to make a spin to the right to head back to the left. We set right into the trot work, gave him some time to organize himself. He was quickly figuring out how to carry his body and was finding an amazing place of balance at the trot where his neck was loose and he was just floating along. I asked for the canter, and he was actually able to offer a very well balanced canter, which is an improvement from the last few sessions where swapping leads and cross firing were happening quite often in that direction. His head was still a little high, but it was a big improvement from the previous attempts. Kirsten suggested that we let him relax down a bit, and then take him into the arena on the long lines now that he was really well connected and in a positive learning frame of mind.
I took him down to the other end of the arena and got ourselves organized with the long lines and away we went. I settled in with a few laps of the arena, and then began to do figure 8's through the arena to work without the support of the fence. He responds well to shifting to the outside to get him back on track when he waivers, and he was beginning to get lighter on the reins, though I was still working with a fair amount of contact to help him maintain his balance. We headed down towards the back corner where the kids had drug the cavaletti out to play with, and all the sudden he decided he was just going to walk right over. He ended up taking a slightly diagonal trip through, but despite the fact that he came out of the side over the X ends of the rails he never brushed a rail. Me on the other hand was hopping behind him trying to make it over the rails (set of course on their highest setting) without falling on my face. Jim and Kirsten were both quite impressed with my attempt through the cavaletti until I told them that it was all his idea.

We came down and stopped and Kirsten complemented him on how well he was working (including his little cavaletti attempt) and told me that we could work on long lines at the trot or do a short ride. I told her that ultimately I'd like to do both, but that I wasn't sure that we'd have enough time. To my surprise we still had a half hour, so she agreed that we could squeeze both in. Since we were already on the lines, we worked at the trot first, and I asked her to please get him started since that was something that I had not attempted before. Really, in my head I was thinking "I want you to do this first so that if he blows up he's in your hands and not mine!"
She began to get him organized and instructed as she worked, using the inside rein to send energy down the line to give him the cue to move at a faster pace. He struggled at first, moving into a really hurried walk with Kirsten almost jogging slightly behind him to keep up all the while continuing to cue him to trot. Finally he broke into a trot and then dropped into the most beautiful balanced trot that he has ever done, let alone outside of the round pen. She gently guided him into a circle having him move around her while she walked in a circle to allow him the freedom to
move. He broke back to the walk, and she allowed him a few moments and then began asking again for the trot. He picked it up a little faster and held it a little longer before and finally dropped down again. She asked one more time as he completed the third lap, and then handed the reins back over to me to change directions and work on three good laps in the other direction. It was a bit of a struggle to get him into the trot, but as soon as he found it, he was able to find a balanced place and was light as a feather on the lines. I was hustling to keep up with him and stay on the inside of the circle and try to guide him all at once. We lost a bit of steering so our circles were far from round, but we never ended up out of control, which was quite amazing. He was never quite able to hold the trot for more than almost a lap, but his effort was really impressive. It is amazing how beautiful his body looks when he is balanced in the correct position. He so well we stopped after three laps and got ready to ride.
Kirsten asked if I wanted to ride in the arena or the round pen. I told her I felt that the arena would be nicer, but that the round pen would be safer, so we headed back to the round pen. I got all set up with my reins and dropped the stirrups down and put on my helmet and clamored up on the rail to ask him to mount. I asked for a step forward, and he offered me the saddle in just the right position, so I slipped into the saddle. Kirsten then reminded me about the Ball, the Box and the T. Each part of the horse can function somewhat independently from the others, must to most rider's frustration. The T is the shoulders and neck/head, and the ball is the center of the horse through the ribs, and the box is the hindquarters at the back. Through the rider's shoulders and reins the T can be influenced, through the rider's legs the ball can be influenced, and through the rider's seat and hips the box can be influenced. She asked me to ride around and see if I could identify what each part was doing at any given time, and really identify how to connect to it, and then influence it depending on what it was doing.

I quickly discovered that Storm liked to throw his shoulder out, and then pop his ribs out in the other direction. I had to work on keeping the T organized through the reins and then use my legs to influence the ball. I was having a hard time identifying where the box was, but Kirsten kept just encouraging me to experiment and "listen" with my body to see if I could find it. I was able to work on influencing him in little bits, and when things
would come together he would effortlessly move in whatever direction I wanted him to go. Now if only I can put all those pieces together and be able to actually direct him rather than only attempt to balance him!
Tali's lesson came all too quickly after lunch and I was eager for Kirsten to see her again and see what changes that she noticed since it had been a month since she saw her at the last lesson. In the mean time I had noticed that walking her down the barn aisle she was no longer swinging her head from side to side the way she used to, but was only sometimes swinging her head to the right.
We settled in with the long reins, and Kirsten was immediately able to see a difference in her from the month prior. She was still wobbly on the long lines, but had improved significantly in her ability to attempt to balance. She was still having a challenging time moving across the arena from one fence line to another, and I was struggling with really keeping her on a nice gentle curve across the arena. I was able to finally get a little bit better organized and find a little more steadiness before we changed directions and headed to the right. She was still much weaker on this side, and Kirsten pointed out that right before she would lose her balance her right hind leg would usually give a little bit and would twist as she stepped forward and then she would capsize completely as Kirsten puts it. Recovering from those moments was an incredible amount of work, and sometimes took me a half of a lap to get
her to really recover and allow her to get herself organized again. I was really struggling more with her moving into the center of the arena again. Without the support of the fence she really has a hard time maintaining straightness, and was sometimes cutting the circle down to a quarter of the size we were working towards. She was really shaking her head a lot, as if there were tons of bugs bothering her, but there were not many flies at all. Finally her reins ended up sliding down her neck, so I stopped her and Kirsten straightened everything out again. As she was getting the lines organized, Tali looked to the right and heard a big pop in Tali's neck. Something was apparently happening! Tali didn't stop shaking her head, but it did seem that there was a small amount of improvement after she had the chance to move her neck around again.
I finally figured out that taking more contact on the reins helped to some degree, but it made my job harder as I had to really work to hold against her balance. We finally got a few steady laps and so I got
set up to ride. Again, out came the Ball, the Box and the T, and I had much the same assessment that I found with Storm. I'm not sure where the box is, but the ball and T I am beginning to have a pretty good feel for. With Tali it is even harder because her ball and T are constantly in motion, and never quite in the same direction. We slowly got organized, and I managed to begin getting her to the point where I was able to almost direct her where I wanted to go rather than following her whim of only keeping her balanced or recovering from a major capsizing moment. Kirsten gave me little words of encouragement as we worked, and talked with me to help me be able to verbalize what I was feeling, which is a major part of being able to process and understand what is going on. Slowly but surely the motion improved and Tali was able to go longer distances without capsizing, and when she did I was able to get her reorganized faster. I figured out the trick of being able to straighten the T and quickly redirect the ball so that straightening the T didn't pull her off course. It is a million and one things to
manage all at once. Its like playing pinball with your feet while juggling with your hands. Slowly but surely things are coming together to a point where it is smoothing out and becoming easier to manage. We came closer to the end of the arena again, and Kirsten commented that she knew I was working hard because it looked like I was doing almost nothing. I laughed and agreed that the appearance of nothing was a sure sign that there was a lot going on all at once. I stopped and asked her how long we had been riding, and to my surprise we had already burned through a half hour. That is the longest that Tali has been ridden since she came to us, and I don't feel that I had hit her max out point yet. I knew it was probably close (mine was!) but I had not hit the point where she would capsize almost to the point of no return. I was pleased that we got to stop on a stronger note rather than a weaker note, and we wrapped up and headed out for the evening.

I am so proud of how both horses did, they have both made huge changes in a rather short amount of time, with seemingly little work. Now if this momentum will only continue through the winter...

Next Page: 10.10.23: Work Out