11.04.17: 2B or not 2A

The weekend of lessons was rather unusual as the weather wreaked havoc on all of our best laid plans. A roaring front rolled through starting Saturday morning, and the first lesson was postponed until the following day, and the second/third lessons started early. They only managed to squeeze in about 20 minutes of riding time, but Diane said it was some of the best time they've had in a while. As the rain started to fall they put the horses onto the trailer and headed into the house and everyone sat down for a discussion with Kirsten regarding posture. Kirsten had laminated sheets drawn up of the 5 stages of posture from head up in fear and out of balance, to the second two phases of posture, 2A where the horse drops its head and begins to stretch all the way down the topline and back, and 2B in which the horse makes an attempt to lift the back but does not shift the weight to the hindquarters. The result is that the horse gets 'behind the bit' or 'behind the vertical' which means that instead of the head being straight up and down, the nose is pulled slightly in to the horse's chest. In the attempt to lift the back, the horse is cheating by lifting from the neck only, rather than freeing the topline by shifting weight back to the hindquarters. Posture 3 is the first stage of the horse really getting their weight shifted back, and posture 4 is the final goal of really having the horse engaged and their weight shifted back. The end result is an amazing amount of lightness and freedom of movement. Being able to view the 5 postures, and examine the keys to recognizing each posture and discuss how the horses shift between each one of them, and bounce up and down the scale, sometimes straight from posture 1 to posture 3 and even how to recognize each posture as the shifts get subtler and subtler.
Nancy and I headed out about 11 to round the horses up off of the grass and bring them all inside, which ended up being an adventure. The boys ran in as we started calling them, and Storm recognized that I was calling for him, but was not able to figure out how to bring the herd to the side to come through the chute and get back up into the front pastures. They had a bit of a run around and finally all made it up into the front again where Nancy and I met closing off the second pasture. As we started to bring them in, the rain and wind picked up and they no longer wanted to come out of the run-in shed. She and I had to slip and slide through the mud to the shed to get each one and bring them out. I came out of the barn after bringing one in and found her shutting the gate with one horse in her hand and another standing next to her. I quickly realized that it was not intentional to have both horses out at once, and watched as Audrey kept very close to Piper in her nervousness. Realizing that she was not going to stray away from Piper, I headed into the barn to be prepared to have Piper go past to her stall and shoo Audrey into her stall once Piper was out of the way. There was a tense moment when Audrey didn't want to actually turn into her stall, and I had to actually throw the rope around her neck to get her into her stall. We finished getting the rest of the horses out of the pasture, and she headed out to the boys who were hiding out in their run in shed. Thankfully when she brought Dix out the rest followed up. LJ was the last gelding, and he got so nervous he ran all the way back out to the gates to the grass and then all the way back in again before we could catch him and get him into the stall.
We headed down to the deli to get lunch, soaking wet and finally dried off as we ate lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent quite lazy and relaxed, which was such a change from the ordinary. After some lazing about, a short nap and some knitting we eventually got ourselves together and made dinner. We stayed up way too late for lessons and a crazy day that would start too early.
I was thrilled to head out to the sloppy pasture and find a rather clean horse. As it so worked out the rain washed all the dirt away, and then the horses came in for the rest of the day and dried off. By the time they headed out again the rain stopped, but the ground was so wet that they weren't interested in lying down for the night. And thus I had a clean as could be without a bath horse for my lesson. Grooming went quickly, and I grabbed Kirsten to double check his saddle before I finished tacking up. He was rather squirrely as we placed the saddle on his back to check the fit. She looked at it and mused, and pulled the saddle off and placed the wool pad on his back and then one of the narrow banana shaped pads up front and then placed the saddle back up on top. He shifted around uncomfortably as we worked, and I gently quieted him as she checked the balance again. She was very pleased that he had grown enough to not need the base bad anymore. I finished tacking up and as we headed out of the barn we got hit with a strong gust of cold wind. The sun was slowly making its way up, but the temp hadn't come up yet, and the wind was cold. I was a bit concerned, but felt ok to start with.
That is until I stood in the middle of Storm's circle with the wind roaring as he worked around me. The longer we worked the colder I became. Before we started out I set up the balance bands, and commented to Kirsten that I was beginning to think that the back band was too tight. We discussed it a bit and decided that since it was maxed out length wise that it would be best if we found an alternate way to attach it. She normally attaches it to the girth instead, but I wasn't as keen on that because it drastically changes the angel of the band itself. I noticed that there were some extra D rings on the side of the saddle, but discovered that they were only on one side, and not both. We moved the clip on that side back to the D that was closer to the seat of the saddle rather than the front, and it loosened the band considerably to the point where it was the correct tension. Enough that there was pressure, but not so much that he would never find release from the band. It worked like a charm.
Storm was working to the right, and was pulling outward quite heavily, and my hand became clamped around the rope from tension and cold. He was putting effort into things and Kirsten encouraged me to use the trot and canter transitions to improve the walk. As she put it if the canter improves the gaits below it, then it doesn't matter what the canter looked like, the impulsion had purpose. I began asking for upward transitions to help him find more balance as the slower speeds, and was pleased that he was not fighting me to get into the canter. At least no more than speeding up his trot and making me work pretty hard to get him into the canter. He was traveling more than half the circle at a fast trot before finally breaking into the canter, but it was still a canter all the same. It wasn't pretty, but that didn't matter, the trot and walk were prettier after that. I continued to toss in an upward transition to the canter when his trot became too labored to help him find more impulsion. After several repeats even his canter began to improve, it was not as scrambled when he got into the gait, and it didn't look as bumpy when he made the transition.
At the point where I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to unclamp my hand from the rope I pried it off and stretched it out just as Kirsten made the suggestion to change directions. I was a bit relieved that I would be able to change positions with my hands, but finding the ability to do so was another matter, my hand was so stiff and cramped! I got him reorganized to move to the left, and discovered that he was having more trouble in that direction, which challenged me in a different way. Instead of pulling out as bad, he was falling in on the circle, which meant more work to continually push him back out. He was also not holding the trot very well at all to the left, I had to work harder to get the upward transition, and then he would drop back to the walk again after only a few strides. I quickly began to employ the upward transitions into the canter to help him find more balance at the walk and trot. Again, it was obvious that he was working harder to find the canter than he had to the right, and the resulting gait was messier. However, it did improve the lower gaits, so I allowed him to come down, and settle in again and then start to slip back into being out of balance before asking for another canter transition. After several repeats the canter began to improve again, and he began to settle in to the slower gaits and really put some effort into being balanced.
I was amused as I watched him working in the circle that I had adjusted my circle several times in an attempt to stay between the tree shadows in what little area of almost direct sun that was available to try to stay somewhat warmer. It wasn't really working, and so I decided before I could have any prayer of climbing up to the saddle, I would have to get more clothes. Kirsten suggested that I go ahead and get ready to ride, and I left Storm with her and headed up to the house as quickly as my frozen legs could carry me to add layers. I grabbed my chaps and my heavy carhartt jacket and gloves and returned to find Storm in the exact same spot right next to Kirsten that I left him. She commented that he stood there and didn't move a muscle and licked and chewed quite a bit! There was obviously a lot of thinking going on!
I changed the long line for the reins and got set up to ride. I hadn't ridden in my chaps before and was pleased to find that they were a natural fit in the saddle. Storm and I began working and Kirsten helped to guide me to use my legs and the whip to encourage Storm to step up from behind and lift forward. She watched us move around for a lap or two and then suggested that we remove the balance bands in the front and allow me to experiment with using the reins for feedback to guide Storm rather than letting the bands do most of the work. Kirsten noted that she suspected some of his "getting behind the bit" was actually him attempting to relieve the pressure from the bands, but not connecting the need to shift his weight back in the process. He found a way to create the release, which was positive, but wasn't getting the complete picture. She started by holding the rein herself and giving me an example of the types of feel that I needed to have as he went through the various posture changes and weight shifts. It helped give me a better feel for the actions I needed to take as he went through the various stages of weight shifts. We started out and it was a bit tough to get coordinated. It is like trying to do 5 things at once at first, too many things to keep up with interpreting feedback from the feelings in the reins, and acting upon that information while it continually changes, all the while using your seat and legs in conjunction with what is happening through your hands.
Slowly, somehow we got coordinated. I was able to keep him on a larger circle, and react to his changes in balance so that he was able to find corrections and better postures. He would dump his weight onto the forehand, I would resist while applying leg and a touch of the whip to ask him to step up underneath and allow him to release off of the rein pressure, then make the correction to push forward more when he would sneak behind the bit again, and adjust again when he would fall into the circle as he lost his balance and was unable to hold the good posture. It became a continual stream of sensations and reactions, and I began to feel the "box" from behind more frequently, especially when I applied faster firmer encouragement for him to step up when he snuck behind the bit. Kirsten suggested that I could begin to use the upward transitions to the trot to help him find the impulsion from behind as well, and I told her that I wasn't sure how to apply them but that I wanted to experiment with it in order to gain a better understanding while she was with me and able to be the voice from the fence as we worked.
She guided me and helped me find the right moment to ask for an upward transition, which was tentative at first. It took me several strides to find the trot, but once we found it, he was able to go for several strides before coming back down to an improved walk. I know that I was not able to stay as effective in the trot, so I lost some of the contact and ability to maintain his straightness and balance, but the transition up and down again was still effective at improving his walk. I was pleased with how easy it was to ask for the trot and get it with calm attention and neither of us losing our hats into chaos. He was still thoughtfully working hard to do what I was asking of him. We changed directions and worked to the left, and again met the same struggles that we had on the ground. It was harder for him to achieve the transitions but once he was able to do so, he did better and better. I was beginning to develop a better sense of feel and thus timing for my cues as we rode, and so my communication was becoming clarified for both of us. It didn't feel as muddy anymore.
We finally wrapped up for the morning, and I rode Storm up the hill and was able to ask him to let me off at the picnic table. I discovered in my attempt to slide down that suede chaps don't let you slide very easily, they're quite sticky! That isn't a bad thing when you want to stay in the saddle for sure!! I untacked him and was pleased to find that the marks under the saddle were smooth and even. The padding adjustment had been a smart move.
Now we just need the weather to cooperate and some time to work and we can apply what we've learned!
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11.04.23: Square One