11.02.20: Moving Right Along

Saturday's lessons were really great to watch, but after a while the wind was just irritating. It was roaring, and things were snapping all over. During Jeanie's lesson a tree came down somewhere in the woods, and scared Winston. Thankfully she stayed on, so it was ok.
Mary graciously offered to look at my saddle with me to make sure it was fitting well for Storm. She was auditing Kirsten's lessons, but is a saddle fitter trained by Balance saddles, and gave me some things to think about with Storm and the saddle. Just as I headed into the barn to get the halter, he decided to lay down to get out of the wind. I took a moment to rub and scratch on him, and discovered that he is into full blown shedding now. He finally got up and I led him back up the hill and into the barn where we would be out of the wind a bit, and hopefully he would be able to behave himself and not get spooky. I got the saddle out and Mary first noticed that his back was uneven left to right, and asked how much I was riding him. When she found out how little it was, she recognized it was something going on with Storm and not something that was being influenced by me being on his back. She put the saddle on his back and looked at how it sat, and noted that it appeared to be pretty flat, which meant that it was being held up in the front by the size/shape of his back. That meant that adding pads in the front would tip the saddle back, which would mean that the saddle was too narrow. She recommended changing to the next size up in the gullet and then re-adding the pads back into the equation to get the saddle in the correct position. I was pleased that she was able to give me some guidance, and figured I would let Kirsten know so we could evaluate it in the morning when I got ready for my lesson.
The day wore on, and the wind wore on everyone. It was raging most of the day, to the point where you had to brace against it to stay standing. My good friend Jean arrived for her lesson with Skye and I went up and helped her get organized to bring him down. I was very excited that she was taking a lesson since most of Skye's ground work training several years earlier was actually done by me at the request of Jim. Jean boarded Skye at GEC and hired Jim to get him started for her, and he in turn hired me to do much of the ground work since I was available and could go out with Skye every day when I got home. He was a blast to play with, and had the amusing habit of licking things. He always had a lot of try, and would work hard to figure out what it was that I wanted, and seemed to enjoy our play sessions, which sometimes were held right in the pasture. Jean ended up bringing him to a lesson because she was having some trouble with Skye always wanting to pace down a hill instead of walk correctly. Kirsten, of course, started her out with the first four exercises and worked to develop Skye's focus. The beautiful result was that by the end of the hour Skye gave no thought to the wind that was still raging or things flapping on the hill, or the horses scattering in the pasture from a gust. He also went much more willingly into the trailer at Jean's urging to go home (that made her very happy!). It was great to see Kirsten working again with someone from the very first steps, and seeing the results just flowing from the program so quickly.
Jean wrapped up and I headed into the house for a change into warmer clothes. By that time I was freezing as the sun went down. We headed over to Linda's place so Kirsten could work with Honey there rather than Linda having to haul her over. I was amazed at the progress that Linda was able to make in the month since her last lesson. Linda was nervous due to the high winds, and I do not blame her (I have so been in her shoes!), so she asked Kirsten to take her. Kirsten was very complimentary of Linda's work, and was easily able to hold Honey's focus despite the gale blowing around us. Honey would get upset, but would quickly come right back to Kirsten when corrected. She finally was able to offer some releases, lowering her head, blowing, licking and chewing a lot, and shaking her head. She was also doing an odd kind of full body shudder that appeared to me as if she were about to shake her entire body like a dog shakes off water, but that never quite happened. She whole body would ripple briefly as she dropped her head and let go of the tension. I was so clearly reminded that the first four exercises can't be over done.
And so clearly reminded that I need to do more of them. Storm and I still have challenges when he gets concerned about things, or focuses too much on something, and it is up to me to push his boundaries to help him find calmness in all situations, no matter where we go. My work is cut out for me for the next month as the weather improves. I simply need to spend a little more time revisiting those old friends and work to expand Storm's comfort zone and in the process expand my own.
Linda invited us into the house after her lesson to write a check for Kirsten and had Irish Coffee waiting for us, which really hit the spot. Since I had to zip up and take care of the horses quickly before we headed home it hit the spot and warmed me up and helped remove some of the stiffness before I had to go back out in the cold one last time.
Sunday morning arrived early, and I had to hustle to get Storm together. He is shedding like mad and so I vacuumed him, which barely made a dent in the hair. Kirsten came into the barn so I had her check out the saddle situation. She advised to keep everything as I currently have it for several reasons. Firstly, the saddle sits further back on Storm than most people place a saddle. That's just where it goes. As Kirsten says, it just goes into the hole. So when the saddle is further back, the fit is not as tight as it appears when it is placed more forward. In addition to that the left right
imbalance that Mary noted is likely due to tension on his right side, not necessarily atrophy of his left side. We know that moving to the right is his more difficult direction, so tightness on his right side would indicate that he is semi "stuck" in a left bend. We made note to explore that during the lesson. Additionally she pointed out that changing the gullet is a dramatic shift, the difference between each size is pretty extreme so it would mean that while the saddle was better balanced, it would be less stable. The translation is that not only would I have to work to balance Storm, but I would have to work to balance the saddle between the two of us. That is a little bit more than I am interested in!
I finished tacking up and made a mental note to practice these things a bit more as he was a little squirrelly. I had Peace and Calming oil in my pocket and meant to offer him some to see if it might help his mindset, but to my pleasure it was not needed at all. We headed up to the field, and I made a lap walking backwards to check in with him and see how he was feeling, and discovered that he was totally cool and calm. I checked in with Kirsten, and she recommended putting him into the long lines to evaluate his balance and verify the issues we saw with the muscles on his right side versus the left side of his back. I got set up with my lines and we moved off to the right to begin with and I was able to immediately identify that he was pulling a lot more on the inside rein since he was counter bent against the circle. It took a lot of steady work to help him find
straightness on the circle. As he struggled with his balance, his mouth was working a lot harder than usual as the shifts were reflected in the action of his mouth. When he found his balance, he became very quiet, even though it only lasted for a moment. We worked for a long time steadily walking on the circle and trying to find the magic spot where the reins are light and he shifts his weight back and loads his right hind leg in balance with his left.

Kirsten recommended that I change direction about the same time I started to think I should, and we set off to the left to find out how he was carrying himself to that side. I discovered quickly that he was falling into the circle, and my outside rein was heaviest now, which meant he was still mostly bent in the same direction. The pull was not as strong as it had been to the other side, which meant that he was less stuck this way.
worked for a long time as he struggled and worked his mouth until finally things began to smooth out and the good steps came more frequently and his mouth quieted.

He was doing so well that Kirsten suggested I wrap things up whenever I felt really good about things and go ahead and set him up with the balance bands again and get on to ride. He did as well as I expected after the first half of our lesson, and Kirsten set me up exploring where he was stuck and sitting off to the right to help push the ball back down so he would straighten out. He did very well and I was able to help him maintain his balance fairly well with the assistance of the balance bands. We worked for quite a while as he shifted in and out of balance with some really golden moments, and some really total whip out moments along the way. Kirsten had to remind me to check in with the ball once in a while and I discovered that my ribs on the left side were all crunched up because Storm had straightened out and I hadn't reacted with him. At that point I finished out the lap with me more in balance and then changed direction again.

I had to readjust and find the ball again, which was not as far out of balance in this direction than it had been to the right. So I worked on finding the subtle signals and balancing from that, and not getting stuck in his pattern even after he changed. Several things started happening the longer we rode, Ellen arrived for her lesson, and some folks showed up to pet the horses and their kids were excited. Someone showed up with a dog, and people were moving around. It was taking a little more work to keep Storm focused, though he never got really far out of whack. When he would get distracted, I would turn him away from whatever it was, and kept right on moving. He did very well, and finally was beginning to get tired, and was losing focus more frequently and was struggling to maintain his balance, so we took one more good lap, and then quit for the day. He did so well, I was really pleased with how well everything went.

Next Page: 11.03.05: Journey of Learning