12.05.20: Light in the Bridle in Hand

It has been 2 weeks since the clinic with Susan Harris, and as usual I hadn't had a chance to ride Storm since then. He was still doing very well, and I had been checking in on him every day giving him his homeopathic every day. Thursday evening we arrived home after running errands to give him his treatment and found that Nancy was already done with feeding and the horses were in the FAR back corner of the pasture grazing. I begrudgingly headed down the hill in my not barn clothes and in a vain attempt to call Storm up, not really expecting him to respond, as I continued down the hill. I looked up as I walked and was surprised to discover that he was headed along the fence-line towards me. I stopped and waited as he continued to approach, turning to trot up the little hill along the electric fence. The rest of the herd moved as he walked, and reached the break in the electric and flowed through, bringing him along. He trotted a bit as he pushed up the steeper slope, and then stopped about twenty-five feet away from me. I quietly called to him again, and he stepped closer, and paused again a little closer. By this time Sado was hustling up to me with a pitiful look over the top of his muzzle. I gave him a bit of a rub and pat, and by that time Storm had reached where I was standing. I was floored that he had come from the back of the pasture after he had been turned out from dinner. I was a little distraught that I didn't have a reward for him making the huge effort to come all the way up to me. The only thing I could do was give him some good scratches. And so I stood and scratched his forehead for a while and gave him some loving before I had to give him his spray, which he is not fond of. He got fussy and upset, and so I rubbed his mouth a lot to help him get used to it again, and simply told him he had to deal with this and that it wouldn't be forever. I managed to get some quick squirts in and kept rubbing his mouth until he relaxed and put his head down again. When I finished I gave him some more scratches to end on a happy note. I hung out among the herd for a little while longer before heading back up the hill.
I headed out to catch him bright and early for our lesson and he was quite chipper in the early morning cool, and impressively, he wasn't that dirty! I gave him a good curry and then brushed off the dirt and hair with the stiff brush and tacked him up. I collected all of our required gear and we headed down to the arena.
I felt he was in a good mood, but I wanted to check him out on the 45' line to see how his balance was doing. We started out to the right, and it took him a little while to get out on the circle consistently, but he eventually settled in and began really working himself on the circle. I was pleased to see him put himself together so quickly going to the right, which is usually his harder side. Kirsten recommended that I not work him too hard so that we could get on to other things, so I gave him a few laps at the walk and then switched to the left. He was actually struggling more moving to the left than he had the right, which surprised me. He was working harder to try to find balance at the trot, and would often drop back to the walk when he found it. It was taking quite a bit of work to keep him in the trot, and so Kirsten suggested that I allow him to break into the walk as he needed, and that we not work for very long to make sure that he didn't push too hard.
I allowed him a little more and then called it quits on the long line, and switched out equipment so that we could do some In Hand walking again. I got set up with the regular lead rope, and we set off walking. I was struggling to stay in the correct position and maintain the corrections at the appropriate time and became fatigued very quickly from trying to walk forward, but be able to reach back and tap him on the hind leg and tell him to not walk too quickly at the same time which resulted in an uncomfortable crab step sideways twisted walk, all the while attempting to make sure that he stayed on the fence line and didn't push into me. We managed to make it part of a lap when I figured out that it was much easier for me to walk backwards than it was to try to walk forwards. I could reach his back leg better to ask him to step up, and it was in a much better position to ask him to slow down, and I was much more comfortable doing all of it! I could also feel his shoulder and his energy knowing the difference between him plunging forward on his forehand, bulging away from the fence or actually maintaining a weight shift to his hindquarters.
Kirsten stopped us after we made half a lap, and gave us some refinement to the exercise. She showed me how to get organized close to his head, putting a hand on the bottom of the halter, which mimics the feel on the bit. When he moves forward, he must move forward from the hind end, which keeps the feel light on the hand at his halter. When he falls forward, the weight in the halter gets heavy, and then is used to ask him to stop, back up a few steps, and then push off from the hind end again. Creating the feel that is required on the bridle from the ground allows the horse to sort it out without the weight of the rider affecting the horse. She worked with Storm for a few minutes to show me the timing and feel, and talked me through the process. He started out fairly light on the backup, which she explained is because the horse is heavy on the forehand. When they begin to shift their weight the backup gets heavy and the forward gets lighter, before lightness happens all the way through the movements. I talked with Kirsten about how this affects the riding, and the fact that this was similar to what we were working on with Susan a few weekends before with the breathing and how light he got when we did it in the saddle. She recommended that I work on applying the breathing to the ground work as well. She explained that she had been experimenting with the Alexander work while she was doing ground work with the horses as something to focus on within herself while she worked the horse (it is often boring work for the human), and to her fascination she discovered that the horses, even when out on the end of a 20 or 30' line, or at the end of long reins, would respond to her body changes. It really boils down to the horses being a superior barometer of balance - when the human gets balanced, the horse responds likewise.
I took Storm back and she helped me get organized and find the right feels and right balance to our work. It was slow going, with almost more backwards than forwards. We managed to make to the long side of the back of the arena, which was comfortable in the shade. Storm was putting in a lot of effort, and really responding when I could remember to organize my breathing to give him support. When I could concentrate on breathing deeply when he needed to stop, he was much lighter to stop. Breathing for him to step off his hindquarters got easier and easier. We began to struggle after a while, and it was obvious that he was really trying hard and was just maxing out what he was able to do in that moment. We didn't even reach the far end of the arena, and that was perfectly ok. Kirsten had me back him up for quite a few steps before we quit and I got organized to ride since we only had about a half hour left in our lesson.
I climbed up and found that he was doing fairly well, though I was still needing to work to really help him shift his weight back onto his hindquarters. We did some walking, and added a few short trots, several of which really had a nice step off from his hind end. I could tell that even though we had not been riding for long he was struggling and getting tired. We worked a little to the left, and then a little to the right. Interestingly enough he struggled more with me in the saddle going to the right than he did going to the left.
We called it quits on a good note, and I was pleased to pull the saddle off and find even sweat marks under the pads. I cleaned him up and he grazed for a while as I brushed the dreads out of his mane and tail. I got him all cleaned up and dried off so that Nancy and I could take photos of both horses to compare to last year's photographs. More on that later!
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12.05.28: Plugging Along