12.08.19: Dropping the Contact

I was really looking forward to my lesson since I have ridden so much since our last lesson. I was thrilled to update her on some of the things we have made progress on. I was looking forward to the next phase of progress to continue to move forward. I got prepared, and brought down the long line and gloves just in case we had the chance to work on some speed work if time allowed.
I brought him down, and realized I had completely forgotten my helmet, and had to make the trek back up the hill for that before I could climb up. I settled into the saddle and we started working. Kirsten helped both Nancy and I to experiment with the awareness of how much horse was out in front of us versus how much horse was behind us and trying to equalize the feeling, which usually involved drawing the front end backward mostly through feel and awareness rather than reins. This version of creating the collection helped to slow things down and helped the horse find the position with less of a chance of cheating and tucking behind the bit. As we played with this concept, I actually felt Storm lifting from the front of the saddle, pushing straight up and back into the front of the saddle. I was really surprised because I wasn't aware of the back really lifting at the same time, and Kirsten pointed out it was different, and was a big step for him to get away from cheating in the front. We worked for a while and I was struggling a little bit with him getting behind the bit, and maintaining the encouragement forward so that he could push out of it. Kirsten encouraged me to completely give away the contact when he did that so that he would have nothing to counter against (and would not learn to seek the contact behind the bit), and to really push him forward even if it meant that he stepped up into the trot. We began to play between the gaits, and I discovered that I was organizing a lot around the rein contact, and when he would move up into the trot, it was really hard for me to stay organized and balanced while helping him to seek the contact by shifting his weight backwards again. His trot was really rough and choppy, and Kirsten complemented me that I ended up on the right diagonal at one point, but then he slowed quickly down to the walk again, and I asked her what happened because even if I was on the inside diagonal the trot was terribly uncomfortable! She explained that since he had found a new level of balance on his hind end that it was very unstable before it would get strong and stable again. I am looking forward to the strong and stable, because that was horribly uncomfortable. I struggled to find enough balance to maintain the gait, help him shift his weight AND ask him to stay with his weight shifted when he slowed down. He is still plowing down into the walk hard. Kirsten gave me some pointers, and I worked with it as much as I could, though sometimes Storm would stop abruptly so I wouldn't get to practice. I was fighting my balance a little bit, and felt like I was probably organized a little too far back that day.  There were moments when things came together, but they were fleeting. I need to work on focusing more on my bubble, and allow the details to come together from that perspective so that everything flows with more grace. Managing my own balance and his balance and all the moving parts and pieces keeps me caught up in the 'conscious competence' when I need to move to 'unconscious competence' in order to be the most effective.
We changed directions and worked to the left for a while, and Kirsten highlighted the fact that horses that have the weak right hind have an over developed left front, which they will pull back and inward in order to organize their balance. That explains completely why my left shoulder/bicep hurts when I ride, especially going to the left. The answer, again, is in pushing forward and not maintaining contact when he sucks behind the bit. The trot was fast and choppy, not covering a huge amount of ground, but I was working hard to maintain balance while posting to the rhythm. So many things to juggle and try to sort everything out and keep it all moving the way it is supposed to is a real challenge!
He did very very well as he worked, and was putting a lot of effort into it. We finished our two hours, and I was exhausted. I hung on to his neck when I slid down, afraid that I was going to hit the ground and keep going down! I managed to keep my legs functioning under me and then drug myself and the horse up the hill to untack.