09.03.21: Straightness

We had another lesson with Kirsten today, and I was thrilled to find out that the work (though it wasn't as much as I had hoped for) that we had done with the hand walking had been highly productive. I asked Kirsten about the strange stretching that Storm was doing, and she confirmed that he was probably releasing tension that had been harbored from traveling crookedly with his hind legs. That made me feel better, and so she had me start by walking to the left. She had a good view of his hindquarters as we walked away from her, and she was very pleased to see that his hindquarters looked much more level than they did before. We didn't complete the lap when she asked me to reverse direction and check on his right side to see how he was moving that way. Not surprisingly we found that he was slightly over compensating to the left now, from all the corrective time spent working on that side.
Kirsten was very pleased with this, and she said that it was definitely the right time to transfer into the long reins to offer him more support to make sure that he did not develop over compensations from working only on one side or the other with hand walking. Nancy loaned me her long reins, and Kirsten set me up to get started. Storm needed quite a bit of support to get going in the long reins. Kirsten allowed me to take him around for a lap, and then came to assist me and offer some more support on what the feel should be like, and how to correct his imbalances.
The long reins offer a channel that the horse has to stay between. As Kirsten put it, you want him to pull you along like you're on roller skates so that the feel stays consistent. On a scale of 0-10, 10 being pulling really hard, and 0 being no feel at all, you should consistently allow him you to pull at a 2. This keeps tension on the reins, and enough feel that you can easily be aware of fluctuations and changes in the reins. With less feel on the reins those changes in his balance disappear, and by the time you see them and can react the horse has become so far out of line that the corrections have to be huge. She walked holding the reins with me beside her demonstrating how to support Storm when he would begin to become crooked, and allow him to wobble back and forth between the reins offering the firm feel each time he would add pressure to one rein or the other so that he could find his way back to the center again.
She gave me back the reins and we set out around the arena, with me in tow trying to keep my "roller skates" on so that I was moving evenly behind him maintaining the correct level of feel while accounting for his imbalances and offering the correction. We worked to the left for a while, and the corrections became smaller each time as he began to find straightness on his own. Our corners were still a bit rough, and Kirsten offered guidance, telling me to turn my shoulders and hips and asking the nose to tip slightly inward while maintaining the even "2" feel on the reins. It was more of a challenge because inevitably his pace would change just slightly, and thus I had to adjust my speed to maintain the correct 2 roller skating feeling. We had a few good turns, and Kirsten asked us to reverse direction by making a nice wide circle and then to return to following the rail in the opposite direction.
Our circle wasn't quite round, but when we made it back to the rail again, we followed it down the back of the arena again. Just before we reached the back corner, Storm snorted and blew three times really strongly. Each time that he blew he would totally loose his straightness and wobble for several steps before I could get him back together again, and then he would promptly blow again. I was very pleased that he did blow, which is always accompanied by licking and chewing, too, so he was really processing things well. Just after that he stretched again, this time walking for several strides with his head low to the ground like a dog sniffing after something. He needed a little bit more support going back to the right again, but overall he had very little challenge in moving to that direction.
Kirsten asked for one more lap before she changed the game on us. We came back down to where she was sitting again, and she explained the figure 8 pattern that is the next challenge. She drew a diagram on the sand to make sure that we understood it, and explained that the 8 is composed of two half circles at either end joined by two straight lines that cross in the middle. So it involves all of the elements to practice (straight on a line as well as straight on a bend) in both directions, which promotes balance. So we set off and our first curve was not half bad. Maintaining the straightness on the diagonal of the arena was more of a challenge since there is no longer a fence to use for support. Storm did pretty well, though I am sure that our lines were not as straight as they should have been, and our first several half circles were more amoebas than actual circles as Storm and I wobbled through the pattern together.
Slowly, though, the pattern became clearer, and Kirsten offered support when things would fall apart. The half circles are the most challenging portion, and they require that you really focus on keeping the feel at a 2 in both hands while supporting the turn by tipping the nose in. Slowly, things became smoother so Kirsten offered to work on full circles as another step forward that we can continue to practice. If our half circles were bad, our full circles were really bad! Kirsten explained that with this step the inside rein becomes "fixed" and is really more for feedback to know when to correct the horse. When there is slack in the inside rein, then the horse is drifting inward, and more pressure needs to be applied to the outside rein to ask the horse to move out again. Slowly our circles became more round and consistent, and it became apparent that he had more challenges on one side of the circle than the other, which is not uncommon. Kirsten had us change direction to work for a little while going the other way before we called it quits for the day. He was reasonably consistent in the other direction, which was a good thing in that it means that he is largely balanced right now.
We finished up and chatted for a little while about how I felt about how it went, and the things that I noticed. It was nice to decompress on the experience for a little while, and Kirsten was able to affirm several gut feelings that I had, namely that our few short sessions of the hand walking had been highly productive. I am very much looking forward to getting real long reins made for myself, and being able to work more on these exercises.
Now I need to get back to packing for this crazy trip...
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09.03.22: Under Pressure