12.08.04: Willing and Able

In an effort to help maintain Storm's fitness I have been trying to work him at least once a week. It hasn't worked out to work him more than that since weekend mornings are the only time I can work him when it is during the coolest part of the day. The morning was starting out sticky, and I headed out as early as I could muster to get him started. He was down in the bottom when I got out there, and I called to him on my way in the barn in a vain hope that he would come up and meet me at the gate rather than making me walk all the way into the hollow to get him. I realized I forgot my water, and went back up to the house, and when I returned I found Nancy giving the horses a bit of the scrap hay from the barn and happily Storm was standing there munching.
I brought him in the barn, and lightly brushed him off and tacked up. There are distinct advantages to clipping a horse then hosing him daily. Apparently the bugs don't bother him as much, and it cuts the time it takes to prepare to ride in half! We headed down to the arena in the steamy morning and he very willingly set himself up for me to mount and stood while I settled myself into the saddle and found my space. We started off to the right, and I felt like he was better than the previous ride. Concentrating on maintaining the thought of shifting back and lifting up kept him steady and in a good position. When I would lose the thought he would slip out of balance, and if I forgot to correct my thoughts before I used any aids to attempt to reset his balance it was much harder to regain his balance. The more I kept the feeling of awareness, the easier it was. Its a slippery thing because you can't think TOO much about it, or it won't work. But too little energy, and losing the awareness means the whole thing falls apart. It IS The Force like Luke standing on his head while lifting objects off the ground at the same time.
We worked to the right for a long time finding steadiness and rhythm. He was getting nice and steady so I threw in a transition to the trot to see how he would do. It took some work to maintain the balance through the transition and when he did it felt amazing. We did a few transitions, and I was able to ask him to keep moving out for a lap or so working on trying to rebalance within the gait rather than making the downward transition and reorganizing before picking up the gait again. It was work to try to help him transition downward without falling on the forehand, that is going to take more practice from me! When he did I made sure to hustle and get the weight shifted back to his rear end again so he does not learn to think that it is appropriate to dump on the forehand when slowing down anymore.
After a few trot transitions we switched directions to the left. There was more struggle there, which wasn't surprising. There were some times when I really had to concentrate on maintaining the awareness and still had to work to help him find his balance. We were both working really hard trying to maintain balance together. The pattern continued the same, when I was organized and aware, he moved beautifully and we were able to hold it together, but when I lost my focus, things fell apart. The balanced moments were shorter as we struggled to develop some consistency moving to the left. Eventually, things smoothed out, so again, I asked for the trot, and concentrated on the feeling of up and back as we moved in the gait, even though it was faster and I had more rhythm and movement. It was harder to rebalance him at the faster speed, and he was dumping on the forehand when he slowed down, but it was making a difference. I was thrilled that despite all the work he was not getting over heated and panting. 
After a few transitions we worked on our figure 8 pattern to help maintain balance on tighter turns and changing direction. It was a struggle at first, and there were a few S curves through the center of the arena that were rather messy. Eventually we were able to make neat patterns on the same track in each direction as we worked one way and then the other. We were able to make two really solid laps of the entire figure 8 and I decided to call it quits. We had been riding for over an hour at that point and I didn't want to stress him too much.
I took him back up to the barn and was pleased to find that he was wet under the saddle pad, though slightly dryer again on the left side. I gave him a good hosing and put him into his stall under the fan to chill out for the day.