14.10.26: Stability within Adjustability

The journey continues to twist and turn as we go along. I watched fascinating lessons on Friday afternoon with Kirsten. Ellen brings two horses to her afternoon lessons, and they are about as opposite as can be. Her mustang, Shelby, needs calm stability so that he can figure things out for himself. He also needs Ellen to take her time so that he can process at his own pace. Missing the moment that he is processing and trying to make a change would only cause Shelby to clam up and stay constricted, which would lead to more problems down the road. Kirsten rode Shelby for a while, and helped him find a whole new level of balance for himself. Shelby needed to stop and stand as he made changes, he was unable to rearrange himself while moving, and stood for minutes at a time with a very internal look on his face, almost as if he were having body work done on himself. Kirsten could feel his back broaden underneath her as he contemplated his balance. Missing those cues would damage a relationship with a horse as sensitive as Shelby is.
During other lessons we discussed bit fitting, and the fact that certain horses want certain types of bit pressure. Some horses need a certain bit, and do not work well in others. As I listened to her discussing things, I began to consider the possibility that it might be time to try something else with Storm. The bit that I had for him originally is referred to as a ported bit because it has a raised portion in the center of it. It also has a roller on it so that the horse can work their tongue against it, which for some horses is a way to relax. The advantage to the design of the bit is that it gave me a little bit more leverage. I have always been careful over the years to be as gentle and kind as I can with my hands, and only use the extra pressure when I NEEDED it to stop. The extra brakes were helpful to me and a little bit of a security blanket knowing that I had just a bit more power than in a plain snaffle bit.
Kirsten evaluated Storm in my lesson, noting that while his balance has really shifted and he's gotten so much stronger and more stable in his body, he still has a tendency to tuck behind the bit. She identified that it could be a bit of an evasion if the port in the bit is actually affecting his mouth, he could be tucking behind in order to get away from the pressure of the bit. She also noted that the appearance of Storm's body has changed since we left Graham. While his body looks better than it ever has before, his neck has appeared to shorten. She pointed out that the highest point isn't his poll behind his ears, but the middle of his neck. She commented that this is indicative of an excessive amount of tension being carried in the neck. When his posture reflects this at rest and not in work it is especially worrisome because of the structure of the horse. The muscles over tightening across the top of the neck create excess strain that is carried through the shoulders and all the way down the back of the front legs and into the foot. An excessive amount of tension in this manner is one of the puzzle pieces that can contribute to the perfect storm of conditions that lead to laminitis. She decided to experiment a little bit, and we got Storm's regular web halter and put that on him instead and attached the long reins. When I sent him off, he immediately began to stretch his neck and reach forward. Minutes before when I had been long lining him with the bit and bridle, he did not attempt to stretch at all. It immediately confirmed that the bit is hindering his ability to release the muscles all the way through his top line.
So a new bit and bridle is on the list for Storm...
Knowing this, she recommended that I not use his current bridle again. She confirmed that the tension he was carrying in his neck is very likely the cause of some of his pent up energy that explodes at random times. This tension is very tiring to carry because the neck is pulling from the top and that creates a lot of muscle strain. She related a story of a horse that was brought into the rescue as a stray (yes, they have a stray horse problem in FL) with a body condition score of 1 (it doesn't get any worse), but yet it had a large "cresty" neck. She said that was when she truly connected that the "cresty" neck relates as much to the tension that the horse is carrying as it does to an excess of fat.
So now we had a little bit of a conundrum... I didn't want to use my bridle again, but I didn't have any other option. So we decided that the safest and most practical thing to do in the moment was ride in the rope halter with the lead rope tied into a rein. Using the halter and rope tied into a rein would actually be safer than riding with the bit and bridle because it would help Storm reduce the tension rather than continue to trap it. So we set up the halter and I climbed aboard.
Storm was in a great frame of mind, and I found that he felt really good, and did a little stretching when I got on. I discovered it was virtually impossible to really worry too much about his head and neck alignment since the rope was tied under his chin at a single point, so pulling on one side or the other really only resulted in the halter twisting to the left or right. So we focused on my legs and balance in staying level. It is very difficult for me to receive clear signals from my body when it is not straight left to right. Kirsten helped me find a small point that I could clarify, and then we worked from there to find more straightness with her feedback as to what was really happening. When we turned and went to the right after having made several laps to the left, I discovered a great amount of pain in my left shoulder that I was unaware of. It suddenly seemed to feel as if I had been trying to curl my shoulder around my collar bone. I realized that in moving to the left Storm was falling into his old pattern of dumping on the left front, which pulls his front leg back, which makes my shoulder hurt. I wasn't able to ride to the right long enough to work out that strange sensation, so I was having a hard time really sorting things out and feeling straight. Kirsten pointed out that the challenge of stability is that being unstable feels very uncomfortable. But in order to find true stability with must be in the instability long enough to recognize the difference and allow our bodies to find the new pattern. In motion, stability also must remain adjustable. We have to be able to be adjustable to the changing environment but yet stable within it the entire time. It is a conundrum, but when the body figures it out, it becomes effortless. It was a brief ride, but a very revealing lesson.
So now I need to find a (giant) draft sized bridle and a 6.5" bit before the end of November, preferably sooner rather than later! In the mean time, I'll be working on the long lines only in his halter to help him release the excess tension in his neck and rediscover his balance again.
Next Page: 14.11.04: Truth is Heavy