11.08.21: Up to the Limit

Nancy scheduled us for the early lesson again, which was a relief to avoid the heat and sun of the arena midday. However, it turns out that it meant waking up to rumbles of thunder at 7:30 in the morning. I raced to get dressed and out the door to catch Storm before it started to rain. I just barely got him into the barn door when the bottom fell out. I took my time grooming and made sure to really scrub on his butt where he had some grunge that could end up being an issue if I don't keep an eye on it. He is shedding quite a lot already, which is the bittersweet forecaster to the coming cold weather.
As I was finishing getting ready, Kirsten made it down into the barn as the rain was slowing down, and so she took a look at the saddle again since I was concerned about the dry spots I had been finding. She looked at his back and checked a bit to find that he was a little bit sensitive, when she ran her fingers down his back just below his spine the muscle rippled under her fingers by the tiniest amount. But any amount indicates soreness, and so she took a look at the saddle on his back with no pads, and immediately determined that it was too narrow again. Three months. And the first month of those three Storm was unridden (but somehow STILL gained muscle mass!). And now there is no more room to grow. The saddle now has the widest gullet in it. Kirsten was pretty quick to get the gullet stripped out and back together again and we sat it back up on Storm's back again, and she was much happier. We arranged the pads and pulled out another extra pad again to make sure it was in the correct position.
The rain had all but stopped at that point, and so we headed down to the arena to catch up to Nancy who was already riding. The arena was soup, but I found a small spot that was mostly dry to do a bit of lunging to warm up. He settled into the work going to the left, and began to really put effort into working at the walk. We began to slowly add a teaspoon of energy at a time, and eventually he slipped into the trot. He didn't hold the gait for long, but was finding some really nice moments of balance through the process. Since it was so soupy and I only had the 12' line on him I decide against exploring the canter transitions. I didn't want to have to keep up with his pace if he actually made it! We worked for a while and changed directions and started over toward the right. He still struggles still to the right, and we have to start over and repeat the same work going slower and longer and with less expectation of smooth upward transitions. We worked until things smoothed out again and he found some stability on his inside hind leg. We didn't spend as long lunging as we have in the past, I was eager to ride and wasn't enjoying slopping through the wet sand.
I got him set up to ride and took him out to the mounting block since everything was so wet and used the official mounting block to avoid sitting on the wet fence. He behaved himself nicely, though it did take us two passes to get back into the gate again. It wasn't open very wide, and he decided to go around the first time rather than in. Oops. We set to riding, and Kirsten helped us find some clarity to get organized and really get to work. I set about finding the ball, and being aware of what is behind me as much as what it in front in an attempt to really connect with his movement. He seemed to be doing well judging by Kirsten's feedback. It was taking effort, but he was balancing very well, and I didn't feel like I was having to really hold him up, or keep pushing him to get him on the vertical and not behind the bit. After we worked for a while, Kirsten suggested we change directions to develop things going the other way. Very quickly I was getting the same results, since his hard side is my easy side and vice-versa it actually balances out very well when I am riding. Kirsten suggested that we could work on trot transitions if I felt like he was doing well enough.
Since we were doing so well I decided I would see what happened, and so we started adding energy a teaspoon at a time, really focusing on what is behind him to keep the ball up and forward. Eventually, with quite a bit of encouragement, he began to really push, and pushed right into the trot. It only lasted a few steps before he slumped onto the forehand and shuffled hard back down into the walk. Kirsten gave me some guidance on riding "forward through the downward transition" to help him maintain his balance and reduce speed at the same time. The key to doing this, I discovered, is to make sure to keep applying leg even as he slows down. It feels rather odd, but it helps him remain conscious of his ball, and stay balanced as he slows his speed, rather than simply dumping on the forehand to stop. It was really beginning to come together smoothly, though I was struggling in some moments maintaining the correct position still. Kirsten noted that if I worked a balance of sitting and rising trot it would help Storm stay balanced and also me stay balanced. She recommended I sit the first few strides to help him stay stable, and then rise when he picked up speed so that I could stay stable. He was really beginning to move out and it was hard to stay with his rhythm up and down as he moved faster and his motion became bigger. We practiced trotting the long sides of the arena and then walking the short sides of the arena to help rebalance, and he began to get organized enough to handle the pattern, though the one pole along the rail always threw him off a bit, and he would break stride and hesitate as he went over it.
There were ground poles set up from Saturday's lessons, and so Kirsten suggested that we work on large figure 8's using the center pole to cross over, and trotting the ends of the arena while walking the cross in the middle to change directions. We changed the pattern, and he was beginning to get so balanced that applying leg to help him balance as he slowed down actually encouraged him to move out. I really had to work with my balance to try to stay straight and balanced as he really stretched out and pushed upward at the same time. He was really doing a great job of pushing, and it was a bit strange because I didn't feel that I had changed anything dramatically in the past few months that should indicate that he should be doing that well. Whatever the source of his skill is, I am happy about it, but I don't feel (yet) that it is me. I'm waffling between that conscious incompetence/competence and don't feel like I've got a handle enough on the competence to be getting the results that I am getting. It all still feels like a happy accident when it comes together. I hope that changes soon, I would rather feel like I meant it!
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11.08.22: No Zombies