11.01.15: Moving Up

The mild snow storm prior to Kirsten's arrival served to cover the arena and kept everything very frozen down in the hollow, so it was lessons up in the field instead. Nancy and I had the first lesson of Sunday morning, and were both mildly concerned about our foray into the wide open space. I was just praying that Storm would behave himself.
I brought him out of the field and did a quick groom on the important parts (i.e. where the saddle/girth goes) and tacked him up quickly to head up into the sunshine on the hill. I allowed him to follow Kirsten and the scary cooler up the hill so that we had something to focus on getting us into the unfamiliar territory. We arrived and I dropped all my stuff and set to work walking backwards to help him find his focus. He quickly settled in despite the wind that would kick up now and then as we worked. Kirsten recommended that I go ahead and connect the balance bands and continue to walk backwards so that he had more to work on at one time. He was putting a lot of effort into the work, and it didn't take long for us to be able to shift into hand walking which is so much easier for the person! I moved around and worked beside him watching his body in motion. It was quickly apparent that even the slight slope of the top of the hill was a lot of work for him to maintain his balance. Adding the grade of the terrain to the work increased the level of work exponentially. As a result we kept the level of work a bit simpler for him to be able to accomplish the work without too much struggle.
After a lot of walking, Kirsten suggested that I switch to the longer line and work him on a circle and begin to introduce trot back into the work again. I switched lines and then put him out on the end of the 22' line, and allowed him to settle into the circle and finally asked him for the trot. As I persisted he got upset and tried the running half sideways/backwards trick which I was able to regain control, and ask him to continue walking forward. We realized then the extent of the challenge of the terrain, and readjusted a little bit. I began to walk with him to widen the circle to make it easier on him again. Kirsten had me work within the walk adjusting speed to help him find rhythm and get organized to move faster. We played with our speed finding the 'sweet spot' that he was able to hold his balance without as much struggle, and slowly I played with speeding up from there and then returning to the comfortable speed again. Eventually I began to attempt to ask him for the trot again, this time jogging myself before picking up the cues very slowly to ask him to move faster. When I finally tagged him with the string, he acted all offended again, and I simply kept moving as if it didn't happen. We also started using the terrain to our advantage, walking slower down the slope and then moving quickly up the slope on the other side of the circle. Finally he accidentally sped up so much on the up hill that he trotted. Oops! He quickly dropped back down to the walk again, but it began to get somewhat easier to get him up into the faster gait. We changed directions finally and worked to the right, which was harder for him. I didn't even attempt to ask him to trot on that side, and only played with the speed within the walk to help him build his balance.
Finally Kirsten suggested that we do a little riding before the lesson was over. I was never so relieved to be able to stop walking! I took him back to the mounting block and switched out the lines for my reins and got set up to mount. He was already standing at the block, so I picked up my foot and got organized to mount. It was then that I discovered that there is just no way I can mount off of the two step block on the left side anymore. In all my stiff winter clothes, having my left foot up in the stirrup (which is basically at the height of my waist even standing on the mounting block) made it impossible for me to get any leverage to swing up into the saddle. Thankfully Jim was hanging out watching and was able to give me some assistance and push. As I settled into the saddle and got organized, Ellen drove up and pulled around to park. I was concerned that Storm would react to her rattling trailer, but he stood perfectly still, even as she parked in the middle of the area where we had been working, and had to pull around and park further out a second time.
We began moving around, and Kirsten reminded me of what I needed to do if he became distracted and concerned about Ellen and her horse as they worked to tack up for their lesson. He did get distracted, but was fairly easy to refocus as we worked along. I was really pleased with how well he was doing despite all the challenges in the field. With the balance bands on I was still struggling to find where his balance was since the feeling was so much subtler with the support of the bands in place. We worked for a while simply walking as I tried to get a better feel for where the ball was and refine my sensitivity to it.
It wasn't a long ride, but it was a really productive lesson. Meeting the challenge of the field and the open space was a really positive thing, and I only hope that we're able to continue to move forward from here. The question is when will we be able to work again in the winter weather...