2016.06.06: Like a Florida Duck

We lucked into an opportunity to get down to Kirsten's place in Florida. I'll never turn that down!
I was thrilled that she was able to let me ride Belle, who I hadn't seen since she left my place to head down to Kirsten's farm. I was delighted that she had improved so much and was looking great. She has become a lovely steady horse, and was a great teacher for me. She is a bit further along in her skill level now than Storm is so it was a great chance for me to explore what I need to be doing with Storm when he is ready so that I have a better understanding of it.
I got her tacked up, and we headed to the arena to get started. I did a little walking with her to really settle in for myself as much as for her. Then I mounted and began to get started with what I knew. I could tell that she was way out of balance when we started, being very high on the right side, and as we worked that came more into alignment. I was feeling better, but suspected that I wasn't able to do as much as she probably needed.
Kirsten came out and got us set up and started us working with transitions. The feeling of being able to halt at any moment, and then instantly step forward again. Asking for the halt came mostly from my back and core, while asking her to continue walking came through my legs and seat. The very instant that she halted, I needed to move her forward again or she would lean onto the forehand (and the reins). It was such a quick move that it was challenging to execute. While my brain was still busy being excited that she stopped, I already was late asking her to walk forward again. I found that we were able to stop using my body, and then continue on again. The next layer was to add the longitudinal flexion into the picture. Kirsten gave me the guidance to set up a shoulder fore, which is an extremely subtle move that is more of a thought than an actual physical change. The mere thought to a horse can help change their physiological presence. Kirsten guided me to tip her nose just slightly to the inside, maintain the channel with the reins preventing her from popping a shoulder out, and then keep the hindquarters against the fence. She was extremely heavy, but as we layered back in the transition work she found more and more lightness, and more grace. It wasn't just in the heaviness of the reins, it was also in her movements under me. So Kirsten began to play with the thought of trotting out of the next step. What needs to happen in order to find walk that could turn into a trot in the next step. We began to find the speed, which meant that Belle was finding more forward thrust with her hind legs. We lost a little bit of the balance and organization when she found the speed, but that is to be expected. Lather, rinse, repeat. We took a break for a bit, to give my hands and legs a break. My leg muscles were screaming, and my hands were cramped from holding the reins. Despite being cramped from holding the reins, it does not require a whole lot of strength to do this. It requires a very subtle coordination to be effective. I found more effectiveness in her body when I focused on lifting and widening my upper torso, shoulders, and allowing my head and neck to float upward. When we do in our own body what we require of the horse, the horse is much more likely, and more easily going to be able to accomplish that.
We changed to the right, which was a nice break. Since she is one sided in her pattern, it gave my legs a break to be able to coordinate slightly differently to support her. My right side being stronger works out well because her right side is more challenging. I can better support her through it though because of my own strength and better balance on that side. It took about a half a lap for me to get organized to find the appropriate place for me to be to support her, but then it began to get a little easier. We did not achieve the same level of 'trot the next step' going to the right, but I was fatigued, and she had worked hard to the left already. The beauty of this work is that a horse does not need to be worked in both directions equally in order to achieve results that affect both the left and right of the horse. Sometimes one direction will be physically easier, and often that is the direction that can have the greatest long term change for the horse's patterns. Eventually the "hard" side will become easier, and at that point it becomes effective to use both directions again, and sometimes switch to mostly working the formerly "hard" side.
This technique, to a person unfamiliar with the work, looks like a whole lot of nothing. A duck sitting on calm water. What you can't see is the incredible amount of work going on just beneath the surface that has the horse and rider captivated. My legs were jello when I was finished, and much appreciated the soak in the pool to help release the muscles!
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