2015.04.25: Catching Up

2015 has started off as busy as ever. After finally coming out from under sub zero temperatures and finally thawing, things always get rolling in a hurry. And that leaves me flailing to catch up. Again. Kirsten has been back twice now, and has continued to melt our minds with the new material that she's learning from Jean Luc Cornille. She has new techniques and new things for us to work with to help our horse's progress so much faster. The standards are shifting yet again, and we are finding a whole new level of work that we never knew before.
The first lesson involved a new technique of in hand work. Jean Luc has identified that horses should be able to find balance without needing to go through "long and low" along the way. He questioned why such a posture was needed to find balance, and simply asked the horse to find balance. The first technique involves holding the reins at the withers at a length that asks the horse to come up and back. There is not enough play for the horse to go to long and low. In addition to asking for this posture, the first "task" is to simply move with the horse. Mirror their movements, and follow their lead, while simply staying safe. If the horse stops and waits, then pausing with the horse, then preparing within the body and asking for forward motion again, but going with whatever the horse gives which could be backwards, sideways, disengagement of the hindquarters, or no movement at all. Allowing the horse to be in the moment, and simply being with them, gives the horse to freedom to experience whatever emotion that comes up, and then move through it rather than having the human attempt to change it right away. Secondly, being very clear to prepare within the body to make a request and then make the request of the horse allows the horse to actually discover the cue without needing to use a visible aid. Being very very conscious and clear when making a request helps develop the subtlety in the human that is necessary for very refined riding. It makes complete sense that this must begin on the ground and be a conscious act on the part of the human through the entire process. If we are unintentional with the communication that we are sending then we can never expect that the horse will learn to respond to a smaller cue.
So Storm and I began, with my arm way up on his withers, guiding and allowing him to experience while I held space next to him. My arm quickly almost went to sleep, so we changed sides. It was beautiful to see and feel him begin to settle in and relax, as well as really tune into my cues. It wasn't easy to think about all the body parts and make sure everything was in the correct position and relaxed before taking a step, but when it was right, it was right and he would step off with me.
We were a bit fried from that lesson, and she came and did it again in April. This time she brought with her a different lunging technique that offers a beautiful middle ground of support. Providing support for a horse is very important, but it is equally important to make sure that there is balance to the support. Too much support at the wrong time can lead to a horse losing the focus and connection, and too little support at the wrong time can get the same results. The long lines are the maximum amount of support that can be given to a horse from the ground. Liberty would be the least. They are equally important in the process of helping a horse find self carriage. Using the balance bands is a nice middle ground, but it is also still on the greater end of support. With this method of lunging there are three different combinations of setting up the lunge line. The most basic set up is to run the line into the bit on the inside, up to a surcingle or a loop on the front of the saddle, and down to the bit on the outside. This provides the backward feel of the reins and enough support that the head and neck don't resort to long and low, but not so much support that the horse doesn't have to find it on his own. It is important that the horse not be inclined to bolt, because adding too much tension onto the line is almost guaranteed to blow a horse up from the feeling of restriction. Additionally, it is so vital to remain light, super light, on the line. The line should be as light as you expect the reins to be, and no more. So moving with the horse is vital, and the emphasis on using the body to provide the language of suggestion for the horse to move is now even more important. Physically, you have less control, so the subtle cues become even more important. This method of lunging also does not function on a singular circular track. Working with this technique involves a combination of circles, curves and straight lines to help the horse develop balance. When creating a movement with the horse, if the horse goes off balance, the movement should be changed to help create balance. If the horse dumps onto the forehand while on a straight line, then a curve or circle is added, which brings the horse back into balance. It becomes a game of how long the horse can maintain balance, and immediately making a change in direction if the horse loses balance. The challenge is that all of this can only be done from one side of the horse, due to the lunge line being run through the bit to the other side. So the work must be done on one side, then the lunge line configuration reversed, and then worked from the other side. The round pen isn't ideal for this kind of work, but it is the space that we are comfortable in, so it is where we work.
Since this lesson, I have continued to attempt this work. I have a feeling I'm going to need a lot more guidance before I feel really comfortable using it. I feel a little lost, and I think that between Storm and I we are both a little confused as to exactly what and how we are supposed to be doing things. Hopefully he will stay settled down and will work with me. I have purchased a surcingle to make life easier so I don't have to put his saddle on in order to work with him, and we have done ok. I'm very happy that the next lesson is coming up in a week so we can try to master this technique with a little more confidence.