10.12.11: One Hour Two Long

Nancy and I discussed the option of sharing a lesson with Kirsten since Melina was no longer taking lessons for Nancy to share with. Kirsten felt it was a good idea, and felt that Storm would benefit greatly from the extended period of focused work. I was concerned that we might still need time in the round pen to blow off steam and find his balance mentally. Kirsten encouraged me onward, and so Saturday morning in the chilly cool and still snow dusted arena Nancy and I got started.
Kirsten and I were chatting the evening before our lessons in the morning, and she remembered that I emailed her and asked if the changes in the herd dynamics could have been the reason behind Storm's extreme behavior in the past month's lesson. She agreed that the herd instability was probably affecting his outlook, and had him worrying that much more about everything that was going on around him. Now that the herd was settled back down again, he was back to his usual self. Important thing to note for future reference!
Nancy and I checked in with Kirsten to find out where we should best start to make sure that we were both working on things we needed to start with, and so Kirsten set Nancy into work with the long reins, and she and I got Storm started with the balance bands that she brought with her.
Balance bands are made of 1" elastic and the front set clips from the stirrup bar to the bit, and the back band clips to the D rings on the front edge of the saddle and wraps all the way around his butt just above his hocks, and up to the other side. They act as a reminder to help support the correct position. When he goes out of balance and gets crooked, the bands gently create extra resistance to help him find the correct position again. We finally got the bands on, and Kirsten had me set out hand walking to make sure that Storm was comfortable with the feeling of the bands and the resistance they created in his movement.
Kirsten was really pleased with his movement and the fact that he was responding to them so easily and really putting in quite a bit of effort. After we did several laps, she asked if I had a lunge line available, so I headed up to the barn to grab my 22' line. It had been a very very long time since Storm and I had worked together on the longer line. Since we needed to stop and deal with control and safety issues we had been spending the vast majority of our time within the comfortable confines of the round pen.
I got him set up on the longer line and we moved out and I gradually sent him further out away from me. He was somewhat puzzled with the line connecting us, all of our online work had been closer proximity with the shorter line. I gently encouraged him to move outward to fill up the line, and he finally got comfortable on the circle and began to really independently maintain the distance and continued to slide in and out of balance getting closer and steadier with every lap.
Kirsten laughed and commented that we must have put Prozac in the horse's feed because both Storm and Julius were about as quiet and thoughtful as they could be. They were both putting a tremendous amount of effort into the work. Kirsten encouraged me to begin working on the trot transitions with Storm to help him build more balance. It was taking quite a bit of work to help him find the speed, but he was doing the transitions in a really good frame, and was able to hold it better and better. He was doing so well that Kirsten actually shortened up the front bands twice to help him find more resistance.
I did have to get after him once to really help him find more speed since he was dragging along so much. He pitched a little fit, but then hit the canter, and then dropped back to the trot quickly. It was still work to get him into the trot, but slowly he began to find more balance and was able to hold onto the gait longer and longer, in a beautiful shape.
After changing directions and working equally well on the other side, we finally stopped and got set up to ride. Kirsten wanted me to ride with the balance bands on in order to feel what he felt like when he was closer to "right" and when I did not have to work as hard to maintain that balance. I climbed up and somehow found my seat through all the winter layers. We settled in to the work, and I managed to find a rhythm and we worked outside the circle we had worn in the arena on the lunge line. The advantage of riding with the balance bands on is that it freed me up to work on myself more than I needed to work on Storm. The bands did all the right things even if I did nothing. Simply riding and being aware of the movement helped improve his movement. He was still losing his balance, which was coming in little fits and ripples, and Kirsten encouraged me to try to explain where I felt the sensations. I was struggling to define what I was feeling, and about that time Storm really was able to hold it together and reduce those little ripples until they were almost gone.
After two hours of really focused work he was ready for a break! The two hours did him good, though, and I look forward to the next time we'll be able to put that much effort into things.
After everything was done for the evening and we came back to the house, Kirsten and I sat down and went through the photos from the lesson, and she was able to give me some insight into things a little bit more than what I could see. I love being able to look things over like that with her because it really helps me see things much more clearly.

Just starting out with the balance bands. The outside rein has the appearance of slack in it, but his body position indicates that the inside rein is probably stretched. His neck is hollow on top, and the lower muscles of his neck are tense. His hind foot is not even tracking to the back of the saddle.

After a little bit of work, he becomes steadier. His neck is not so hollow, and the "triangles" made by the placement of his front feet and hind feet are getting to be more even, rather than the front triangle being much larger. His hind leg is also stepping up further under his body.

Since he has gotten more balanced, we moved the rear band to the correct attachment point at the front of the saddle, rather than attached to the girth. The triangles are again more even, and the angle of the balance bands themselves are becoming a more even triangle.

Falling a little bit heavy on the forehand, but getting to be more balanced. His front feet are landing much lighter, and there is more flex in his joints. Again the triangle of the bands is becoming more level and symmetrical.

Starting out riding he is much improved over his usual positioning. Not having to worry as much about his balance allowed me to focus more on me, which is always good! He still has me tipped a little bit to the inside, as is evident by my left stirrup being lower than my right. He is very straight, though, so the difference is very subtle with the bands on, which makes it more challenging than when the horse needs gross corrections!

Towards the end of our ride, the triangles are again more even, and he is lighter on the forehand. He is using less of his lower neck, and more of his topline to stay balanced.