11.07.16: Accidentally Transition

Kirsten returned after a long month and I was really ready to have a lesson again. It was another month of only one ride since our last lesson, and that ride had been right after our lesson 5 weeks ago. Our lesson was scheduled for Saturday afternoon and it was quite hot when we headed out to get the horses. I was relieved to find him in the first pasture so that I didn't have to make the trek through the chute and into the back pasture. We tacked up and then hung out to graze for a bit as the prior lesson wrapped up. I had Kirsten check the saddle fit before we got started, and then I headed to the other end of the arena to begin with some lunging. Kirsten was working closely with Nancy to try to help sort out her saddle fit issues.
I started Storm off slowly to warm up a bit in the heat and as Kirsten gave me a few suggestions in between working with Julius, I began to encourage him to push more. I ended up walking closer to him on the circle so that I could really accurately encourage him forward with a flick of the carrot stick to his hind leg to encourage him to shift weight and push to power forward. Kirsten suggested that I simply continue to encourage him to push so that eventually he would accidentally slip into the trot from the walk. He continued to do very well, powerfully pushing and breaking into the trot, but maintaining really good posture without throwing his head up to compensate. We continued to work in and out of the trot and Kirsten recommended to try pushing into the canter to really test how he was doing. I pushed him into the trot, and before he had a chance to slip back into the walk I began to encourage him into the canter. He began to push more, and was struggling a bit, but was still holding himself together really well and suddenly he quietly slipped into the canter with no fanfare or fuss. I happily encouraged him, and he held it for about two strides before he slipped down into the trot again, while still maintaining really good balance. I let him cool down for a while before changing direction to go to the right.
His right side was still much more challenging, and Kirsten commented that I should warm him up even slower to allow him to find his balance before moving into more speed. I continued a low level of encouragement to push, without pushing him so hard to cause him to trot. He slowly became more balanced and he was able to trot though it was not as well balanced as it had been to the left, but it continued to improve the walk, so I continued to use the adjustments in speed to help him find his balance on his hind legs. Once he began to get steadier I encouraged him through the trot to attempt to canter. The first attempt was not successful, however, in his very rushed trot he was finding more balance. I allowed him to come down again, and regroup himself before making one more attempt. He went faster and faster, and threw himself into the canter but never quite finished the stride. It was like he missed the gear shift, and simply kept trotting really faster after he made the attempt.
He was really making some great improvements over the course of our lunging, and I was very pleased. As he worked along a gorgeous butterfly wandered across the arena, and floated right over his back as he passed. I have really come see the butterflies as a message of transformation, and was delighted to see one brush so close to him. By this time I was pretty wiped out from working in the hot and dusty arena in the blazing heat of the day, and headed over to take a break and get some water. Nancy and I both caught out breath for several minutes before we got ourselves organized to ride. Kirsten planned to ride Julius to help Nancy sort out what was going on with him and see if they could get the saddle issue straightened out, so I headed over to the slim shady corner of the arena and mounted at the fence. Storm and I stood in the shade for a few minutes watching Kirsten work.
We finally decided to get moving and Kirsten rode beside us for a bit giving me guidelines. Her latest set of imagery is having a mental awareness of the rear 180 degrees of personal space. In addition to holding this awareness, imagining a big brightly colored ball, and mirroring what is happening with the horse's ball with the imaginary ball like a computer simulation. Using all of the biofeedback from your seat and legs to create the mental image, allows that mental image to be a 'real time' version of what the horse is doing underneath you. As the mental picture gets stronger, is solidifies your feeling of the ball as well as the ability to affect it. Holding the awareness of the space behind you and keeping the imaginary ball active at the same time often automatically helped the rider do what was necessary to stabilize the ball without any other effort. Simply thinking about it made it happen instead of struggling to first feel the ball then get the body into the correct position to change the location of the ball. By the time all of those steps happened, the horse was completely on to something else so the rider would be in a perpetual state of reacting to the ball rather than staying proactive and stabilizing it before it went out of balance. I began to play with these concepts as I started working to the right, and was a little bemused to discover that things felt really good. Kirsten was busy with Julius so Storm and I poked about for several laps experimenting. It was very difficult to keep the image of the ball in my head at all times, because my brain tends to wander and get caught up in the details. But when it was very clear, and I was very conscious of what was behind me, he moved along beautifully. I felt that I was able to tell the difference more clearly between him being behind the bit in position 2B versus position 3 of balance. Kirsten would take note of us and kept encouraging us, but for the most part all of her comments were so good! I was pleased, and we continued to move along our circle.
Finally there was enough shade that it was worth it to ride in the other end of the arena, so we moved to a little more comfort. Kirsten encouraged me to continue adding ounces of speed one at a time to help Storm find his balance working a little faster. Nancy was watching Kirsten ride, and commented to me that I wasn't trotting yet. I told her that we were working on it. At the next pass by her on our laps I told her that we were now going 2 miles an hour faster, couldn't she tell!? I slowly worked on pushing him to help him find the faster speed and discovered that it was a lot of work, he was a bit sluggish in the heat. Eventually we began to find a faster gait, and slipped into the trot without much fanfare or throwing his head up. Kirsten continued to encourage and guide us with a word here or there, but mostly left us alone. We began to find our groove at the trot, and he was doing very well. I was able to stabilize him and help him balance on his inside hind leg so that he could shift his weight back. I discovered that since she lowered my stirrups 3 holes a couple months ago I was having some trouble posting with the longer length. She took a few moments to help me find the right position again, which meant practicing at the walk, which is so challenging. As I worked for a bit, she commented that I should try sitting the trot to practice that since I haven't done it much. I experimented a bit and discovered that if I kept more weight in my toes, I could get a very comfortable smooth ride out of his trot, without much jarring or uncomfortable feelings.
After a while of working to the right, we switched directions to go to the left. That is his stronger direction, but my weaker side. I concentrated very hard on keeping my weight shifted left and my leg long. We worked at the walk, and then again began adding speed one once at a time and allowing him to rebalance. He slipped into the trot, and we were able to maintain a few laps without him falling to the inside as he normally does. I was very pleased with that accomplishment, and when he did begin to fall into the circle, I managed to correct him with the help of my whip and the outside rein and really concentrating on standing up on my left side. It was easier this time, though I don't really understand what changed. He was doing very good, and by this time Kirsten was helping Nancy to ride Julius and get creative to help him break out of the pattern that he had gotten himself suck in. Storm and I were working away at the trot, and I was finding really nice moments of lightness. Kirsten was complimenting us as we would pass by now and then, and the group watching was also impressed. I was pleased but wasn't quite sure of what was happening or how.
We wrapped up our lesson and I was pleased to find that Storm had very even sweat marks under the saddle, and seemed to be well balanced. I gave him a sponge bath and let him cool down good and then let him graze on the hill for a while.
I finally put him away in his stall while Nancy got started feeding and went to watch the last bit of Pat's lesson in the round pen with Shaggy.
We finally wrapped the day up and ended up eating burgers and dogs outside on the table, which was refreshing for the first time in the summer season. Our conversation ran late into the night, and we covered all sorts of topics. I told Kirsten about going to see the movie Buck, a documentary about Buck Brannaman, and how well done it was. Kirsten began to talk about her experience studying with Buck and the difference in horses found in the east and the horses found out west. She enlightened that she can throw a rope and rope a horse with the best of them, and detailed a little bit of the methodology behind why roping a horse's foot is employed when attempting to ride a horse that is very wild and what it can do for the horse. She has utmost respect for Buck, and hearing his story is quite amazing. His childhood was wrought with suffering from an abusive father, but somehow he managed to not only overcome the trauma but also grow beyond it. Having gone through the trauma also gives him a deep bond and connection with the horses that allows him to do things easily that others sometimes struggle with until they can gain a better perspective. It was a joy to see someone that has overcome things and still have such a beautiful sense of humor and presence. Through the discussion it was quite amazing to also hear more of Kirsten's story and understand where her journey of horsemanship started and how it brought her as far as it has. People's stories are what makes life so interesting.
Nancy finally left about 10:30 and we came back in and started to scan through the almost 500 pictures that Jim took during the half of our lesson that he watched. Both Kirsten and I ended up so tired that we couldn't finish them. But what I got a sneak peak of was really great. She was even able to identify Storm in posture 4! It was a fleeting moment, and the images on either side of it weren't in posture 4 at all, but he was able to get there, and that is what was amazing. The lightness that I didn't even recognize while we were trotting was him finding his ultimate balance. Now that I know what it is, I want to find it more!
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11.07.19: Transformation in the Process