12.04.22: Walk, Don't Run

The pending rain was bearing down on us, but looked like it would hold off long enough for us to get two hours of work in first thing in the morning. With the damp the temperature felt colder than I expected, and I had to head back into the house to add more layers (I am so done with winter!). He was rather dirty when I got him out of the pasture, and Kirsten came down to the barn so we talked over what the plan would be. I was quite pleased that she decided that working on the ground was a good idea, and I didn't have to groom him enough to get the saddle on. I put on the bridle and the balance bands and we headed out the back of the barn. Kirsten was chatting with Linda, and so since we walked out she showed her the balance bands and how they worked. As we were standing there the herd was turned out onto the grass, and ran down the hill in front of him. He got a little concerned and got a little up, but I was able to ask him to settle back down, and we mosied down the hill to the arena. I had a feeling that wouldn't be the last of the up I would see.
We got ourselves set up in the arena with the 45' line and settled in. Nancy took the "scary" end of the arena since there were some things set up in it, and she and Julius would have an easier time navigating around everything. I settled in, and asked him to walk off, and started setting up our circle. Kirsten suggested that it was time to get more particular and work on asking him to really step up with his hind leg without going any faster. She warned me that he would probably take offense to the particular requests, and want to move out. Sure enough after a little bit of time, he picked up speed and was quickly in a canter. I organized my line and made sure I had enough left over to handle any jumps to leaps he put into the circle, but also wasn't dragging line to where I might get tangled. He ran and ran, but was extremely respectful of the line. He never pulled against me or fought against the pressure. He was running and moving for the sheer joy of running. It was great to see him moving out without being freaked out at the same time. Nancy clucked to Julius a few times, and Storm decided he should speed up again. He would romp and throw his front feet out, and toss his head, but never jerk on the line. There were moments of real balance among the silly strides, speedy runs and slowing motions. He finally broke back into the trot again when he swung a little too wide on one corner of the circle, and ended up almost leaping over the 3 step mounting block in the corner. He settled into the trot, and then slowly worked himself back to the walk again. I let him cool out and level off for a while before Kirsten suggested that I change direction and make sure that there was none of that left.
We switched directions, and he was not very interested in going faster, so I set him to trot for a while and when we finished that, I let him walk for a bit before Kirsten helped to set me up to be more particular. Now that we'd gotten all of the offense out of him, he could settle down and get to work. She set us up to work to the right since that was his more challenging direction, and I organized myself to work closer to him walking along almost in line with his shoulder, and then using the dressage whip to touch his hind leg to ask him to step up. The trick became that he needed to step up, but not go any faster. It became harder than a game of rubbing your head and patting your stomach trying to stay coordinated giving him the correct cues at the correct moment based upon his response. After we ended up making pretty poor circles Kirsten suggested we work against the fence so that he had some support and wouldn't turn his hind end away from me when I put pressure on but told him not to go faster at the same time. The fence helped a lot, and the more we worked and focused the less he worried about all the scary things in the other end of the arena. He was really putting in a lot of effort, and working hard. I was working hard, too! Continually shaking the rope and tapping his hind leg got to be a lot of work. The lunge whip doesn't seem like it weighs much, but when you are carrying it with that much focus and finesse it gets to be a lot of work!
Kirsten finally let us change directions, which was a break, but only switched the strain from one hand to the other. We settled into the work, and I was having to ask him to slow down a LOT more in this direction than going to the right. I was a bit surprised, and Kirsten noticed the change and identified that he was struggling because he is dependent on his left front shoulder which compensates for the weak right hind leg. He was having a very hard time shifting his weight back to get it off the left front shoulder, and as a result was speeding up when I would ask him to step up rather than actually stepping up. She suggested that instead of continually shaking the rope to ask him to slow down to actually make him stop completely, and back up a step, then push off of his inside hind. That helped to slow things down even more, though I could tell that it was a really big challenge for him, even though the thought of it seemed so simple. He was also cutting me off on the inside, which is part of his normal pattern of falling in when going to the left on a circle. So now I had a third part to add to the list: step up, but don't go faster and don't fall into the circle at the same time. We were going much slower, which was helping with my fatigue, but it was even more particular and he was really struggling to handle the load. I think his poor brain was melting out of his ears. We worked for a while, and didn't get much improvement, which was disappointing, but Kirsten noted that it is just part of him finding complete balance left to right, and the left front shoulder is the one that he cheats on the most. She suggested we go ahead and call it a day because even though we'd only worked for about an hour and a half he had really put in a lot of effort into the time. He was expending energy running around and then settled down and walked for almost the same amount of time in a very balanced and collected state. He was really ready for a break!
I was bummed that we didn't get to ride, but it was a great session, none the less. Sometimes we have to step back from the riding and go back to the ground again to really dig deep into another layer of refinement. Kirsten commented that she watched him running up and down the hill the day before during lessons, and noted how balanced he was becoming. He has found another level of energy from being more balanced, and the extra energy from his muscles releasing again is making him spooky. Once he finds his balance again within this level of release it will bring calmness back to him again. I am very much looking forward to finding the calm again!
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12.05.06: The Golden Boy is Back