12.03.25: If One is Good, Two is Better

The lesson weekend ended up being an unusual one. For starter's Kirsten's return flight didn't leave here until 8:55, so she had the whole evening. To top that off, a few people needed lessons on Saturday instead of Sunday, so our Sunday schedule was light in addition to her late stay. Nancy had suggested earlier in the week that we go out for a movie or something, but when Kirsten arrived she had other plans. As a thank you to Nancy and I for assisting with her lessons, she offered to give us an extra lesson in the afternoon after the other lessons finished up. Storm had no idea what he was in for...
Rain was in the forecast for the weekend, and cooler temperatures, which came as a bit of a surprise after 80 degree weather the week before. Saturday was bone chilling, and it took us all a while to warm up. Kirsten had gotten soaked a couple times through the course of the day and her hair was still wet after dinner. I was a bit concerned about Sunday since the rain was still in the forecast, and our lesson was scheduled to start at the same time the other lessons start on Sunday mornings. Since Storm takes up so much space on the 45' line it would be difficult for the other lessons to work and for me and Nancy to use only half of the arena. She has also been working on a lunge line (though not 45' of line...) so we need our space right now. Since we didn't start until 9, I decided I could head down early and work the bugs out with him before the other lessons started and that way he could at least get a little time in on the longer line before we would have to use only half the arena. 
As it turns out, it had rained enough that Linda canceled the 9:00 lesson, so we had a full hour to work in the whole arena. The footing was actually very good where the horses had been working the day before (however, where people had been standing and walking it was a soupy mess!). So Kirsten and I took down a few things in the arena to make enough space for us to work, and then Storm and I got set up. It took a little bit of work to get him out on the line, especially since we were still dodging a couple of poles that were on the ground and a mounting block that was in the middle of the space. It took some work to keep the line from getting caught in anything, and occasionally it would hook on a pole and drag all the way under it to my frustration. Eventually I got a little better organized and he stayed out on the circle a little wider.
I let him work through the walk and trot for a little bit, and then asked for the canter. He made a liar out of me when he moved off smoothly and barely put up a fuss. He cantered for a while, and then dropped back to the trot again and behaved himself quite well. Kirsten watched his transitions and noted that as he slowed down he began to find his balance, but then would break down into the walk again. He was finding it, but yet wasn't holding it long enough to make a change in the gait before he dropped to a walk again. Kirsten checked her watch and instructed me to have him trot for 10 minutes so that he could really work within the gait to find his balance. So it became my task to make sure that he didn't break down to the walk. That was mildly challenging since I forgot to grab a lunge whip when I came down and was using the half a whip that was hanging around the arena. In trying to get him to pick up the trot again when he managed to slip down to the walk I smacked it on the ground and what was left of the fall actually broke off of it, and I was left with a long stick. I made enough of a fuss that he picked up the trot again. 
He ran around with his head in the air for a long time, and it wasn't until he'd been moving out at the trot for 7 or 8 minutes that he finally began to make a change. Kirsten noticed it, and upped the time to 15 minutes so that he could stay in the good posture long enough to integrate it. Lap after lap he worked in a beautiful engaged posture at a lovely tempo that looked like it would be a joy to ride. He completed the 15 minutes and so I allowed him to drop back to the walk, and he got a chance to catch his breath and cool out. After several laps we changed direction and headed off to the left. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Kirsten suggested I give him a couple of laps at the walk to the left to find the new pattern and continue to catch his breath from the first marathon. I asked for the trot, and he was not real pleased about it. He put up a fuss and tried to object by pulling the old jumping sideways/backwards trick. I managed to play out the 45' line and stay with him, and then had to reel him back in to get him off and moving again and right back into the work. He acted quite offended at that proposition and bolted off at the canter. Kirsten encouraged me and said that she didn't care if he was cantering or trotting but that it should be for 15 minutes, so however he wanted to do it was his choice. He finally settled in and did eventually drop back to the trot, and this time was able to make a change slightly faster than the last time. We still left him out there for 15 minutes, and he was quite tired by the time Kirsten said the time was up. He walked for a number of laps to cool down and was (thankfully) not sweaty due to the cool temperatures, so I didn't have to worry about cleaning him up. We cooled out for a little while longer and then headed back up to the barn to do a little more work without the horses before the first lesson was over. Kirsten helped me check the balance bands so that I can set him up to work with them without the saddle (so much easier!) and then I turned him out again.
Nancy got to go first working with her posture on the Equicizer. It is a fabulous tool to work on your position without having to worry about the horse underneath you. When sitting on a horse every little change is received by them and often causes them to react, and it can be a challenge for a teacher to work from the ground to help the person make changes. The Equicizer is at just the right height and allows the rider's legs to hang and gives the instructor easy access and there is no horse to fight with. Kirsten began working on Nancy's shoulders and helped her to release the tension there. Then she moved to her pelvis and back, and then up to her head before going down to her legs. The change was amazing.  Nancy looked so much more strong and yet light at the same time. Her posture did not look forced, and looked stable but relaxed. She worked to really feel those changes and absorb the differences. We ran out of time before Kirsten was completely finished, but the change was dramatic. Despite not riding, I was plenty tired from the morning's work, and still had a whole 'nother lesson to go through in the afternoon!
Nancy and I checked in with Kirsten, and we decided to go ahead and get the boys ready and leave them in their stalls so that we could go work on the Equicizer and then grab them and head right down to get started. I felt bad for Nancy because Julius rolled some time in the morning and she had to get him all cleaned up all over again. I curried Storm the best I could, with as much hair as he is shedding there really isn't any real 'improvement' to be made, so just getting most of the hair off was good, and then I saddled him up and put him in his stall with some hay. Nancy didn't want to put Julius in his stall with his saddle on knowing Julius and the expense of her saddle, and I don't blame her! Nancy finished up grooming and I finished cleaning up the small scale snow storm off the floor, and we headed up to the hay barn. She started with me and began with my shoulders working to release them from the forward position that I tend to grip them in. She helped me to find more balance through my pelvis and then up my spine to my head. It was a strange sensation because I felt more compressed through my core, and that made me feel somewhat slumpy, but the reality was that it was a very grounded position. She continued to work on my legs and helped me to find the hip joints and find the balanced position of the hips, and then the thighs and lower legs. When the hips are in the correct position the lower leg naturally follows. The position felt really good and solid, and comfortable, even if it was different. She laughed as she was moving my legs around because apparently my joints are very fluid. She kept calling me Gumby! She was surprised to find that my left side was as loose and mobile as the right side was, she said she expected it to be stiffer from the injuries and issues that I have had with it for so long. Really, it is probably too loose, and it is probably at least partially due to the fact that I guard that side so much.
She finished up with me and had me walk around for a bit. It felt interesting because it felt like I was almost squatting down because of the change in the angle of my hips. Reality is that they were much more normal than they usually are because I tend to hollow my back and tighten everything upward. She commented that it made my presence seem much more grounded, and less wispy, which is not a bad thing. Nancy climbed back up on the Equicizer and Kirsten helped her to re-find the position she was in before. Nancy commented that she felt very strong in that position, and she looked strong and had a really great presence about her. It was easy to see that there wasn't any tension, but it was balanced and firm at the same time. 
Kirsten also went over the position that our arms should be in when holding the reins, and how to engage to adjust when the horse falls on the forehand and gets heavy. She positioned the arms with the elbow close to the hip and ribs, and called that "home." When the horse pulls forward, the core engages, then the elbows slowly give and resist, and then the fingers close on the reins, and then as the horse gives back, the order reverses. The fingers release, then the elbows come back to home and then the core softens again. 
She hopped down and we headed to gather the boys and get started on round two. Storm was a bit confused at all the work, but he was a trooper. We got down to the arena and I got set up to ride. He didn't really want to let me up there right away, but finally put himself in the right position so I could climb aboard. I spent a little bit of time just sitting there readjusting and experimenting with the feel of it all and trying to find the same feeling from the Equicizer and translate it to being up in the saddle with my feet in the stirrups. It was feeling pretty good, so we set off walking. Kirsten helped to talk us through finding the same positions again, and discussing what felt different and what felt good, and what the results were in the horses. Both horses started out walking off easily and with their heads down rather than up. I was feeling a lot less of the left/right straightness issues, and his head was staying lower overall. I was able to focus on asking him to step up, though I could tell he was having a hard time. The bugs were bad, but he was tossing his head often as I would ask him to put more effort into what he was doing. At one point he shook his head and blew a bit, and so I let him have a bit more rein and he snorted several times, and when he finished I gathered him back up again and we continued to work. I think the break was what he needed to have a good stretch and blow out a bit, and then he went back to work. Kirsten mentioned that I could trot him if I wanted to, but that the walking would really be just fine because it would continue to integrate the changes that he made earlier in the day with the lunge work. Judging by his head tossing I really didn't think that pushing him was a smart idea, so we continued to work at the walk and put in effort to strive for engagement and balance. He was still trying, but he just seemed to be tired. That is more work than he's done in a very very long time!
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12.04.08: Hitting Eject