12.09.16: The Horse In Front and the Horse Behind

The horses had just moved into the upper pasture with the chute open on Friday night and I was not looking forward to the Sunday morning hike to fetch Storm out of the back. I jokingly told Nancy and Jim that if they saw the horses up to please get Storm, no matter what time it was, and put him in his stall with some hay so I wouldn't have to go out and get him. Of course, the horses didn't come up, and I had to make the hike through the wet grass anyway. They were out in the far back, and as I approached through the chute out into the wide open of the back pasture, I saw them grazing in the warm early morning sunlight. Storm looked up when I called to him, but didn't come any closer. I continued to approach and call to him, and he stood and looked at me for a while, and then turned and walked away, much to my disappointment. I worked my way through the herd and approached him, and he nuzzled me once I got close enough and slipped the halter on. 
We started the trek back with a discussion to him about behaving himself, and a comment to the herd to remind them to remain there grazing and not try to come with us. Much to my surprise and relief, he walked all the way back up to the gate easy as you please. The herd remained out in the pasture, and Storm and I left and walked back like there was no issue.
I got him into the barn and was pleased that he wasn't too dirty since I only had about 15 minutes to tack up. I quickly cleaned him up and put the saddle on and we headed down to the arena ready to ride.  I climbed up and we got started.
Kirsten settled us in evaluating the difference between how much horse was in front of us versus how much horse was behind us. We began working on guiding the horse inward so that there was an equal amount of horse in the front and the back. She reminded us to make sure that there was ample room underneath us for the horse to come together in the middle and bring the ball forward, filling up the space underneath our legs and seat. Using imagery she suggested of thinking of the space beneath the legs as a wide U rather than a V, even going so far as to think of the thigh bones as being curved instead of straight in order to allow the horse plenty of room to fill up the space under the saddle and under our seat. She pointed out that a horse in a wide saddle with a rider that rode with legs like a clothes pin would still pinch the horse, regardless of saddle fit.
We worked on bringing the horse together in the middle, thinking about making sure the distance to the front of the horse was equal to the distance to the rear of the horse. Storm was doing very well, settling right into the work, and I felt much more stable when he would reach too far back for the bit continuing to encourage him forward from the rear so that he could lift his front end up again. It was much easier to allow the contact to disappear and push him forward into the trot. The first several steps of the trot felt nicely balanced, and then we would need to work on it and I would have to really work on thinking about balancing him front to back, making the front and the back equal lengths, and keeping him out on the circle. 
I found my left shoulder hurting in a subtle way, and recognized that as part of me getting sucked into Storm's pattern of not being able to really get off of the front left leg. I made sure that every time I noticed the ache I made sure my hands were nice and wide, and keeping my left hand away from his whithers to help encourage him to balance outward. His trot was much smoother during this lesson than it had been the last lesson, and was a lot easier to ride. It had a more consistent rhythm that wasn't near as quick and choppy, which made it MUCH easier to ride! He was still plowing down into the walk when he would decide to stop trotting, but his upward transition to rebalance his weight was steadier. 
Kirsten helped to guide me through the level of work it took in order to ask him to slow down and transition downward while maintaining his balance. He needed a LOT more leg while asking for the downward transition. As I began preparing for the downward transition, Kirsten guided me encouraging me to continue adding leg as I started to lift the reins and ask him to slow down. I stopped posting and sat deeply while continuing to add leg (you mean more leg?!), and whip to back up what little leg I had left, while lifting with the reins thinking of drawing his front end backwards onto his hind end as we began to slow down. He finally broke down into the walk staying balanced through the transition and then we immediately stopped because I had nothing left to continue to encourage him forward. Kirsten laughed at me and as quickly as I could I gathered the reins up and asked him to continue to step forward into the walk smooth and balanced. It might not have been the prettiest thing, but at least we were able to pick ourselves up and keep moving. 
We worked through a couple more walk trot transitions, though none as clean as that downward transition, and helped him to make sure he was finding his balance on his hind end. Kirsten encouraged us to ride from the rear forward, and as I worked I noticed that Storm was beginning to shake his head as if in frustration, and so I took a moment to allow him to move out on the end of the reins and stretch as he needed to. He really took the time to stretch all the way with his nose on the ground (to the point where I thought he might roll, which would not be good!), and shook his head even with it stretched downward. I was getting concerned that he was getting emotional about the work and didn't want to end up with him blowing a cork, and continued to try to allow him some freedom for a while to work himself out. He stopped several times to scratch at his legs, and even the girth on his right side. I took a moment to scratch him and try to make him feel better hoping that it was just an itch and not something more. I began to collect him up again, but was still concerned about the continued shaking and tossing of his head. I was also a little worried because I could feel him wanting to run away from whatever it was that he was feeling, which is not an appropriate response anymore. I was a little worried that if we went up into the trot like he wanted that we'd end up in the canter out of control if his emotions got the better of him. I didn't feel it was appropriate for him to trot with that kind of motivation with me on board. Eventually he began to settle a little bit, and we continued to work, concentrating on really feeling the rear push forward and lift.
We finally changed directions (how long is this lesson anyway??), and I found that things were a little more settled going to the right than they had been to the left. We worked very hard thinking about pushing from behind and really working the hindquarter to find the lift of the front end. He was still doing a lot of shaking and twitching and tossing, but there was a lot less emotion in it, so I began to feel a bit better about how things were working.
Kirsten began guiding us into really working the upward transition through pushing from behind to really find the power, and maintain the balance. She encouraged us to ask for the hindquarters to come forward, and keep adding energy little bit at a time until the horse accidentally slips into the trot. The transitions were getting smoother and easier as we worked, and the horses more and more balanced. Feeling the power and ease as they were working was making a huge difference.  Nancy and I both took a few minutes to stop and stand, and both Julius and Storm just stood there unmoving in the middle of the arena. Kirsten gratefully called it quits even though we were technically still 20 minutes away from the 2 hour mark. How this lesson felt so much longer, I don't know, but she threatened both of us that we'll be cantering in our next lesson. EEK! So now I guess I have my work cut out for me before she gets here again...