2016.06.25: On Top Again

I was thrilled with how much work time we got since our last lesson, and Kirsten could see it. She complimented Storm as looking the best she has ever seen him. I guess I need to take photos again to make sure I am still tracking these things. He was still just as quiet as he had been on Thursday, and I got him ready in the stall while the other boys ate, and he didn't bat an eye at not being put out right away. I turned out Simon when he finished, and Nancy came to get Scooter and we headed to the paddock. We got started right away, and he had his usual mini temper tantrum as we settled into the work. He was working pretty hard right away, which made me happy. Kirsten gave us some pointers when I explained to her our last session with him seeming to be stuck in one place and needing a lot of support to find his balance. She reminded me there are 4 ways to affect the horses balance with this work: transitioning (both upward transitions and downward transitions), circles vs. straight lines (smaller circle requires more balance), tempo, and cadence. The last two are the trickiest to understand and to apply effectively. I think that is the area where I need more work. Storm needed quite a bit of trotting to find his balance again during our lesson, but was finding it much faster and without as much work on my part. Kirsten encouraged me to make the circles smaller to help him find balance, but to be prepared to adjust the size of the circle in order to help him hold his balance. She also reinforced the need to make sure that if he bends his neck and goes sideways, I need to float with him until he straightens out. If not, then he will be moving out of balance and reinforcing the habit that we are trying to break.

We had been going to the right to begin with, and when we switched to the left he revealed a much easier time finding his balance. I checked in with Kirsten on her thoughts on working the left first versus the right. She reiterated that every horse is different, and some horses do better finding their balance working the "hard" side first, and others do better working the "easy" side, and then the hard side. Thus far it appears that Storm does very well working the right, his harder side first, and then working the left. He needed very little encouragement to find his balance, and was doing quite a bit more experimenting on his own. He was making some really nice changes and so we decided to stop and get tacked up.

He behaved himself beautifully again, standing ground tied while I saddled him up. This is the horse that I really love! I asked Kirsten to ride first, so that Storm could get a very clear picture of what he needed to do before I climbed up and muddled my way through it. She climbed up and talked me through what she was asking. She recognized that the ground was uneven enough that it was an even larger challenge to Storm's balance, so she did not place much of a demand on the steering, and focused only on keeping him straight and balanced. If he drifted to the left, she turned it into a left turn, if he drifted to the right, she went with him. If he threw his shoulder out in either direction, she again simply straightened him in that direction. The focus was on keeping him straight nose to tail, and then begin working on asking his hind legs to step up, but then halt, and then step forward again. When she'd made a few laps, she climbed down and I got aboard. I was fascinated right away that his direction of choice was a much smaller circle in the opposite direction than the one he had chosen with her. I am fairly sure he was sneaking through whatever gap I was leaving open for him. But my job was to just keep him straight and then stop him with my seat. It took a little while to figure out what that felt like, but when I got it right, he stopped. It took him a couple steps to figure out how to respond appropriately, but he figured it out. Kirsten cautioned that I shouldn't worry if he doesn't stop right away, but that it is important that he completely come to a stop, so do whatever it takes, but don't over react. I noticed that I could feel him coming down to a halt for three or four steps before he actually stopped. As with my ride with Belle in Florida, I was supposed to ask him to move off as soon as he was stopped. My poor slow human reflexes just aren't that quick, though, and I was still stuck on "hey, look, he stopped!" before I could get in gear to ask him to move off again. Finding the specific body request to get him to stop without using the reins was tricky, but he responded. We have not always been able to find that, and it is a really cool feeling to be able to stop a horse through your seat only.
Kirsten paused to explain that muscular contraction actually has two versions. One is the usual that we think of: the tightening of a muscle, pulling inward. But contraction is also taking place when your hand is outstretched with all fingers spread as wide as they will go. It is two variations on the same thing. Kirsten explained that the second version is the type of contraction needed when asking the horse to stop. It is a lengthening of the muscles rather than a shortening that develops the halt in the horse. It was easy to feel when I got it right, and when I didn't.
We rode slowly, without steering where we were going, and I could feel him understanding a little better what I was requesting, and also figuring out how to coordinate all his muscles to respond in a balanced manner. It was taking a great deal of coordination on my part, which looked like nothing, but I was getting the results. Kirsten identified that she really can't see anything when I student is doing it, but she knows they're doing it right when they look like they're doing nothing and but yet the horse comes together underneath them. She always uses the horse's response as her guide to know if the student is moving in the correct direction or not.
It felt great to be back up on top again, and he was so quiet and calm, and really focused on the work that it was a pleasure. I finally slid down, and hosed him off, and again he was a perfect gentleman.
Next Page: 2016.06.26: Trot Transitions