12.05.06: The Golden Boy is Back

I am thrilled to say that the Golden Boy is back! We wrapped up a fantastic two day clinic with Susan Harris today and Storm far exceeded my expectations. As bad as he has been, he went above and beyond for me, and it was amazing.
I was really concerned because Storm had been causing problems for the past couple of weeks around the barn. He had been very keyed up and spooky, it started happening around the same time I had to hit the eject when he bolted off through the woods. He was being just plain stupid doing normal every day things. He spooked on Nancy a few times during feeding as she moved him in and out of the pasture, and got away from her a few times. A few weeks ago, he was being switched to the other pasture in the morning to go out on the grass, and decided to behave like an idiot, and when Jim wouldn't take him when he was being that goofy, he proceeded to sulk at the bottom of the hill by the electric wire for almost 45 minutes until he calmed down enough to be led quietly over to the next pasture. I have never seen a horse pout, but pout he did. This past week in an effort to get them more grass, they were being switched to the pasture that the school horses that had been with the gate open to the rear pastures at night, and then switched back during the day so that the school horses could be closer to the barn. All of the horses were being really antsy about the switches and it was really really challenging to stay safe moving all of them around, even the quiet ones were becoming unpredictable. This weekend with the clinic going on it was going to be really hard to have enough time to move them around, and in addition, if they were allowed to stay in the upper pasture, the back chute could be opened to the pasture in the rear so they could graze down the grass there as well, and allow the pastures on the other side more time to recover.
Once they settled down from being let out into the back pasture through the chute, they actually ended up hanging out in the front two pastures most of the time. It ended up not being too much of a challenge to deal with them hanging over the fence curiously watching the school horses get ready at the little barn.
I gave myself plenty of time to get Storm ready not knowing how he was going to act. Our last lesson he wanted to move his feet, he was polite about it, but he needed to burn off some energy, so I was a little concerned that was going to be the same case this time. I was relieved to find him hanging his head over the fence as the school horses untacked from their lesson, and so I didn't have to hike out to the back pasture and bring him through the chute. He came into the barn calmly, and stood still without moving while I groomed him and tacked him up. As I worked around him, I could tell he was in a good frame of mine. When I need him most, he shows up.
I finished tacking up and headed down to the arena so that I could put him in the round pen to make sure there was no goofy business in him before our lesson. I didn't want to mount up unless I was sure that he wasn't going to pull any stunts. I was pleased when we walked down to the area and past the strange car parked, and the tent and the speaker and the people and he didn't bat an eye. We got into the round pen, and I had to move the bucket of water out from the horse that had been in there earlier, and move the mounting block out as well, and he didn't really care as I struggled to carry these things and still had him on a lead rope. I moved them out and shut the gate and took off his rope, and asked him to move off. He tried to nibble the pile of hay, but I asked him to keep moving, and he walked off. There were some puddles, so I was careful about asking him to step out, but we worked at a trot for a bit, and then I asked him for canter, which he gave me with a grunt and leap, but then settled down again without too much trouble. He was not very eager to move out, so I let him walk for another lap or so, and then stepped back and asked him to run and face me right before he had to navigate the puddle since he had a tendency to come off of the rail in doing so. He stopped and turned and faced me, but then twisted his head down in a sort of funny way, and all the sudden he picked up his back leg and reached to scratch his neck with his hind hoof. I laughed at his contortions, and walked to him to scratch him where he itched. When he was done I stepped to the side and asked him to move off in the other direction.
He did so willingly, but again, was not too interested in going fast. I did push him a bit to ask him to canter, and he did so without too much fuss. I realized that I didn't have my phone and no way to know what time it was, so I worked him a little bit more before I stopped him again and put the lead rope back on and we headed down to wait at the other end of the arena where we grazed until it was time for our lesson.
Nancy arrived with Julius and we got ourselves organized. Susan was immediately smitten with Storm and was impressed with how well mannered he was when I took him to the fence to mount and asked him to bring me the saddle to mount. I have high expectations of him to make sure that we are in the right frame of mind and that he is calm. He offered me the saddle fairly quickly, and so I climbed up, and he waited while I got myself situated before we moved off. Susan checked in with us to find out what it was that we wanted to work on, and I asked for some guidance with really breathing effectively while I ride. I tend to carry my tension in my torso, starting with my jaw, and going all the way down through my neck, shoulders, ribs, and gut. She guided us through a breathing exercise imagining that we were hollow, and with every breath, air came in and filled our body. It was a nice exercise to help reconnect with body parts and check in, a sort of body scan while mounted. The imagery was nice, and I realized that instead of filling myself with air, I was almost getting the sensation of water, as water fills a jug or soft container, it will fill every available spot, but without over filling it or bulging any further than the container will allow. It was a really great feeling for allowing my center to be wide and thick, and then reconnecting down through my thighs, lower legs, and into my feet.
We rode around and began working on breathing to a stop, using deep breaths down into the core to sink into the saddle. It was a lot of work at first, and he was almost not responding. I had to really use my reins to get him to stop, and it was taking him half a dozen steps before he would come to a complete stop. I continued to work, and also began asking him to rebalance his weight onto his hind end while we were walking forward, and then asked him to stop using the deep breath first. He was more responsive right away, and began to get lighter and lighter to my breathing. It got to the point where he was guessing which breath meant 'stop' which was a bit too much. I had to ask him to move out while trying to maintain deep breathing, and yet not have it mean 'stop' and keep him balanced all at once. It was a lot to juggle! 
I was struck that Susan kept things moving fast for the lessons. Nancy and I are used to focusing for thirty minutes or more on one aspect of our work, and the horses do very well. Susan, in dealing with a much shorter amount of time, kept changing things up, switching directions and only working on one task for what felt like a short amount of time. It did give us a chance to touch on a wide variety of things in a short amount of time so that was helpful. Susan brought us over to her so that we could experience what became known for the weekend as "the foot thing." She had us drop our stirrups, and then came over and took her first two fingers and tapped on the bottom of our boot - first the toe, and then the heel. Then she went back to the toe and started gradually tapping towards the heel. Somewhere behind the ball of the foot is a reflex point that will send a nerve zinger up your leg when you get to it, similar to the knee reflex point or the funny bone in your elbow. That spot is a nerve point that the body uses to organize around when standing and moving. Once she found the spot, she would lift the foot and place it back into the stirrup with that spot across the stirrup. She would then tap the bottom of the stirrup to make sure the same sensation was still there and that the stirrup was in the correct place. She did this for each foot, and then we rode off again, and the feeling was really different. I had a feeling of being very grounded as if I were just standing and not in the saddle at all. The connectedness was a good feeling, and working in both trot and walk it helped me feel more stable.
We began to wrap up things working on preparations for cantering by using trot to walk transitions. Storm did very well, but was beginning to anticipate trotting and walking, and was also beginning to get fussy, so I didn't push him too much harder. He was getting tired and so was I! It was also a pretty hot and sticky day.
We wrapped up for the evening, and took the horses up and I was pleased to find fairly even sweat marks under the saddle. He was good and wet, though there were a few lighter spots, but no dry spots at all. I wiped him down and cleaned him up and he was very pleased to get ready for dinner.
Sunday's lesson approached and I was worried that they would be out in the way back, but thankfully they were still milling around in the front pasture despite the fact that there really wasn't any grass left. Winston was chasing Izzy when I went out to get him, and I had to navigate Izzy racing between the other horses trying to get away from Winston. Thankfully since Storm is the boss I didn't have to worry too much, but it is not comforting to be moving among the horses and having some of them going after each other. We headed down to the barn to get tacked up and I was happy to find that he was pretty clean again so it didn't take much work to get him ready to go again. We got down to the arena a little early, and again, he was cool as a cucumber, and so we hung out and he grazed for a little while as we waited. Brita came over to love on him a little bit while we relaxed, and I know he enjoys the attention.
We got ready to ride and he remained in a great mindset. I came over to Susan and had her start me off by setting my feet in the stirrups using the reflex point again. She showed me a few tricks that I can use to check the reflex point myself, and while not quite as profound as having someone else do it for you, it is still effective to help reset the mind-body connection and bring awareness to the feet. I felt grounded really nicely again, and so we moved off, and Susan brought us back to breathing again. I was glad for the refresher, and the reminder of feeling breath all the way down deep into the body, through the core, and down into the legs and even feet. It was helping me to reconnect deeply and feel the width feeling through the middle that helps me be very stable. It took a while to get there, but eventually it really came together. Susan guided us through several different breathing exercises and went over how each one could be used for a different result.
She gave us a Pilates breath which works the core, and can help settle the seat deeply. I found that I didn't like the other breaths as much because I felt like it was constricting my core and activating the negative patterns that I hold within my core. I experimented for a bit and found that the simple deep breathing worked best for our halts. I didn't have a chance to find a breathing pattern that would help him transition upward from a walk to a trot, but I expect that with practice we will find something that works for us. I did find that the more balanced he was the easier it was for him to find the halt. I could tell when he wasn't balanced because it was like trying to stop the queen mary and weighed a ton. When he was really nicely balanced it would take him only a step or two to come all the way down to a halt.
We worked on transitions again between walk and trot, and he was really beginning to get very balanced. There were a few moments where he was not staying as balanced as I wanted him, but he was moving very lightly, so it was a bit of a give and take to help him maintain and keep pushing him but also not asking for too many things at any given time. I could tell that I was beginning to work harder than I needed to, and my shoulders were getting stiff, which is one of the main places I carry my tension. I continued to try to keep things simple and focus on only one thing at a time in my own mind to try to stay balanced and loose in the way that I needed to.
Susan introduced us to turning on the forehand and turning on the haunches by working against the fence. With the horse's nose against the fence to prevent their forward movement, we had to ask them to step over with their inside hind. It took a bit of wiggling to help Storm find the right answer between supporting with the reins and legs to help him understand the goal. We practiced a few times, and he was beginning to figure it out. Then we switched to turning on the haunches, which was a little trickier because it is easier for the horse to cheat and walk forward out of the maneuver than when working on turning on the forehand. It took more work with the reins to ask him to not walk forward, and continue to send him the signal that he needed to step over with his front end but he did manage a few steps in the right direction (pardon the pun).
We rode out a little more to make sure that he was still balanced with his weight shifted correctly, and had a few more trot transitions before we called it a day and quit. I was very proud of him for how well he handled himself and the change of routine, and how much he had settled down after being off balance emotionally for the past few weeks. It was a relief to have the Golden Boy back!
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12.05.20: Light in the Bridle in Hand
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