11.03.20: Onward and Upward

Now that it is finally working on getting warmer, it is getting somewhat easier to find comfortable time to work the horses. Our lesson started out pretty easily, and we set to work with the balance bands on the lunge line again. Storm got right to work, and it didn't take long for Kirsten to recommend shortening up the balance bands in the front again to offer him more support. It ended up that they were shorted to just the third to last marker, which was surprising to me since Tali was on the last marker, and Storm, despite how much larger he is, was only two away from her.
Kirsten set up Julius in the bands as well, and Nancy got to watch him cavort on the end of the line as he experimented with the bands and cantering at the same time. Storm, on the other hand, continued to truck along ever more efficiently as he progressed. Kirsten advised us to bump up to the trot as he stretched downward to help him find his hind legs and find better balance. We worked for a long time developing the trot until finally he began to stretch and slow his pace down. At that point Kirsten recommended tossing in a canter transition to help him begin to find calm within the transition. I waited until he came around and crossed the center of the arena and started back towards the end of the arena before asking for the canter. I gave him the double cluck sound that I had been using in the round pen to ask for the canter, and he promptly blew out of the circle and bucked his feet straight at me. I dropped down low to counter his weight, and he thankfully turned back around to me with a look on his face that said "What do you mean use my back legs?! What back legs?? You mean the things I just kicked at your head? I'm supposed to stand on those?!" Kirsten immediately encouraged me to ask him to canter again so that he didn't learn that a reaction would get him out of work. I asked again, and he threw himself forward with a squeal, but never really successfully got into the canter, but continued on at a fast trot, so I accepted that and allowed him to work through the emotions and come down from his fit and all the way back to the walk again. I gave him several laps to catch his breath again before asking for the trot, which he gave to me easily and was working hard at it.
We finally reversed direction, and repeated the exercise, with much of the same results. This time there was not so much protesting when I finally asked for the canter, but he still threw himself into the canter, but never really made it into anything consistent. I accepted what he gave me, especially since he was being slightly less dramatic about it. Since he was already a bit winded from having worked in the other direction, I didn't ask for as much and gave him time to catch his breath in between.
We got set up to ride after that, and Nancy and I took to the saddles finding the ball. Storm is so much different than Tali that it took me a little while to sort out how to get him organized. This time I was carrying the whip, which was a very helpful thing! Since my left side and right side are not always even, it is a struggle for me to figure out if I am being effective, or if the horse is simply ignoring me. Using the whip on the side that the horse is most stuck helps me to be able to know that the cues I am giving have the right amount of follow through. I do, however, think that I need to work on being slower with the whip, and really thinking through my cues. Doing that will, however, mean that we will often wipe out completely as he loses his balance and drifts. As long as I am being thorough in my cues and learning to do less sooner rather than more later then it will support what I am trying to accomplish.
I slowly worked at finding the ball and being effective, remembering the lesson from the day before of holding the ball with both legs simultaneously and pulling up on the right side as much as thinking about pushing down with the left side. Being able to grip all of Storm's ball that way was helping me to be able to straighten him, and then quickly follow through to remind him to push from behind. Since the dressage whip that I have is longer than the average whip I was able to hold it at a more flat angle and tap him high on his hip to ask his hind legs to step up or hold it at a lower angle more straight up and down to tap his side right behind my leg to tell his ball to move over.
As we worked, there were moments where everything in front and beneath me rose up and got bigger. The feeling was quite impressive, and was so fleeting, feeling like a wave rising on the ocean and then disappearing again as quickly as it came. Nancy and I continued to work, each of us making headway slowly but surely straightening and rounding step by single step.
To have achieved this much is thrilling. The challenge becomes how to raise the bar another notch to achieve the next level of refinement to feel when the horse is a smidge off instead of a mile. To know how to feel the tiniest amount of crooked and remind the horse to correct it. In myself I have to learn to trust my body and the sensations so that I can make effective corrections and know the difference between a smidge in one direction, and a smidge in the other.
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11.04.03: Surviving and Thriving