2017.05.27: Stability in Time

Storm was in for a rare treat for his lesson this month. Lenore (Othello's owner) wanted to have a lesson, but was unable to bring a horse out, so I volunteered Storm. So he got an extra hour of work while Kirsten guided Lenore through the work he was doing. It turned out to be the best thing for him because Kirsten put him on the decarpentry setup and just stuck him out there and let him go. She guided him in and out of some trot work, but often left him at a walk while she and Lenore discussed theory and watched his movement change. Having the time to himself was one of the best things we could have stumbled upon. Without being managed the entire time, or even closely watched, he started figuring some things out on his own. Working in the grass paddock means there are slight terrain changes happening almost constantly. One of his major struggles that has been present for the entire time I've owned him is that he tightens his back as he moves downhill. This shows up by his head coming up and he moves laterally (or same feet on the same side of his body) down the hill rather than being able to sit back and use his haunches to support him and carry his weight down the hill. Kirsten saw the shift happen when he began to sort out his body and stay organized moving down a slight slope (by slight I mean almost imperceptible, usually only noted by his choice of moving into a lateral walk). This is a big deal for him!
As they were working, I gathered my tack in the hope that he would be stable enough from working for almost two hours that I might be able to get on and ride. I spent a few minutes sitting near the paddock and settling in with a little meditation before it was time for my lesson. When Lenore's time was up I headed in to take over and was happy to get confirmation of the results I was watching as they worked.
When the mowers and weed whacker arrived we decided to keep working a little more just to make sure he was settled and hope that they would go away. We continued to the right and Kirsten pointed out all of the things she was noticing while he was working before, including how much he was able to sort himself out on his own. She noted that the trot work was really helping to improve his walk, and how springy his trot was getting. It was exciting to see him begin to find his own self carriage on a whole new level. I was able to watch him move down the tiny slope with a very different posture than he had before.
I took him to get tacked up and give him a break for a moment, and then decide since the mower was still around and someone was moving a trailer that it would be best to do a little work to the left and see how that was working for him. We found a lot of improvement, and noted that he still preferred to use a little more momentum and speed on the left to find balance, but he was a lot steadier and able to support himself than he had been. The improvement was noticeable, and confirmed that despite working only to the right and from the right side for the past several months his left side was still benefiting from the time.
When the mowers finally calmed down and he wasn't paying attention to the trailer anymore, I mounted up. It felt great to be back in the saddle again, and settling in on the back of my familiar friend. Kirsten began to help me find the best position for my body and guided me through adjustments that gave me better contact and awareness in the saddle. She adjusted my legs, and then helped me find a straighter spine. Then we discussed the difference between muscle tone and muscle tension. Tension cuts off any ability to receive information through the body, and puts us out of alignment and balance. Muscle tone has the opposite effect - it frees us up, not only to support our body, but also to still receive messages and feel through our body. Finding the delicate balance of using tone, but not shifting to tension is very challenging. Particularly when you know you need more tone but there isn't any more reserve left in your muscles! In the brief time I was up on his back she had my entire body working. It looks like nothing, and feels like a ton of bricks! The short ride was all that I could handle without fatiguing to the point of ending up out of alignment. It sounds so simple, until it is put into action!
I'm grateful for the extra time that Storm got to spend working because I think it really helped to improve his stability and helped him to find a few things on his own. Hopefully we will continue this way for a little while longer so that we can continue to make progress forward!
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