09.06.13: Brought to you by the Letter B and the Number 8

Watching Kirsten's lessons in the morning revealed the theme of the day was going to be figure 8's. Holly and Beth's lesson both utilized them, and it interested me to watch the lessons. The challenge was to keep the horse on the pattern and work to always keep the horse splitting the line, whether that line was a curve or the straight diagonal. It was fascinating to watch Holly and Beth work and see the pattern reinforcing the positive behavior and physical patterns in the horses. Holly was even able to experiment with some canter work.
My lesson with Storm was late in the afternoon, but knowing how the previous session went with having him allow me to mount, I decided to get an early start just to be sure that I would have enough time and be ready when my lesson started. Anne was riding before me, and we made it down there in enough time to hang out and watch for a while before I headed in the other end of the arena to begin the mounting process. It did not take near as long as the previous day, and when I finally mounted Storm was content to stand quietly for a long time.
Eventually, Anne and Kirsten began to wrap up her lesson, and Storm started to creep closer to them as they talked. I kept asking him to stand still, but he seemed eager to move closer to Kirsten and get started. She sent us out on the pattern and we began to work on straightness. I told her of the two rides that I had since the three day clinic, and she explained what I should have guessed: during the three day, we learned to "talk" loudly to ask the horse to bend his ribs - the next step was refinement. I was still riding trying to "talk" to bend the ribs when I only needed to whisper. I was very glad for Kirsten's near constant voice from the corner of the arena guiding us and helping to reinforce when we got something right, and reinforce when something went wrong.
The pattern was set with using dressage letters to mark the "corners" of the 8, and I quickly discovered that from E to M across the middle I did great, but the diagonal from H to B was not so good. Kirsten kept encouraging me to find what was working between E and M and find that feel between H and B. I discovered that the pattern was actually a bit compressed on one side. Around the curve between M and H the 8 was actually flat along the fence, making the two curves at M and H much tighter than the nice half circle on the other end between B and E. So coming into H I had to ask Storm for a much tighter turn, and often he was either to
o far inside or too far outside the turn, which set us up heading to B very crookedly. Once I finally got to B and started around the nice gentle curve to E, I was able to get things organized again. Thankfully the line between H and B was directly down Kirsten's line of sight, so she was able to continually guide me the whole way. Her first point was that I had to be less wiggly. "Use your bones! Keep your bones aligned!" she kept telling me. I think I've been wiggly all my life (likely the source of some of my pain...) so how in the world do I get unwiggly when I don't even know I'm being wiggly in the first place! She helped to get me to keep my ribs and hips aligned so that when I shifted my weight my whole seat shifted rather than wiggling through the middle, which was ineffective.
Storm and I were still wobbling from H to B, and she then guided me to use my "triangle" (seat bones and pubic bone, on which you should be balanced equally and level to gravity) and really concentrate on aiming where I wanted to go, instead of where Storm might be going. This helped to refine the communication and reduce the wobble that I was getting from over correcting him when he got slightly off the straight path to B. Working so hard from H to B was drastically improving our effort from E to M as well. It became almost effortless to stear him around the smooth curve and into the diagonal to M. Rack and Pinion steering as Kirsten calls it. I barely had to think about where I wanted to go, and he just glided there.
She explained that when the horse is in the correct position with their body the only thing you are affecting is the fulcrum. It takes very little effort to move large weights with a fulcrum, and the same is true of a horse. She elaborated that people get in trouble with large horses attempting to move their MASS, which is large and heavy. The more that you try to muscle around the MASS of a big horse, the less fluidity and lighteness that you have. She told me to think about his ping pong ball, which is centered in his balance point, and use my ping pong ball from the center of my triangle to move his ping pong ball. The less concentration that is given to moving the MASS, and more is given to moving a tiny part of the mass, the lighter and more fluid things became.
We worked for a time until H to B improved, and then she tossed in some trot work on the diagonal lines. Our first couple of attempts were messy, as I expected, and Storm "dumped" on the forehand instead o
f carrying his own weight. He began to improve with each pass along the straight, though we had to start all over again with the track from H to B.
Each pass brought us straighter and straighter with Storm really beginning to use his body efficiently and effectively, and the lightness once again improved. Each time we slowed to a walk he found his own center faster and really was beginning to round up into the "good banana" that everyone strives for. We were trotting across the good diagonal from E to M, and Storm's back leg suddenly went out from under him. I was nice and centered so I didn't lose my balance, though it took a moment to recover when he tripped in the front in an effort to regain his feet. I asked her what that was, and she said that since he was using his body effectively and had not been practicing that way he was exerpiencing some weakness in those muscles, so literally, his leg just went out from under him. It happened a second time a short time later, and he managed to keep moving just fine. We didn't have much longer to go in our hour anyway.
As we wrapped up our lesson, I asked her about the round pen work that we had been doing. Storm was doing well, but was still having moments where he was 'loosing it' completely, he would be working along ok and then all the sudden toss his head short and squeel and then spin and run the other way. She explained that the round pen was fairly small for his size and so for him to find his own balance within that space would be tough. I mentioned again the fact that it wasn't completely round, and she agreed that would only add to the challenge for him. So we talked about using the round pen as a test of his balance rather than to practice his balance. That made me feel good that the 'temper tantrums' were from his struggle to find balance and not from any sort of behavior.
We wrapped things up and I took him up to the barn and pulled a
ll his tack off and was pleased to find that the sweat marks were nice and even again. I just need a Kirsten to sit on the rail all the time! We hosed him off and then I took him back down to the arena for a roll. Since Nancy had already begun her lesson I went into the back gate and took him towards where the sand was softer from being churned up again after the rain. He stood watching me and moved when I moved and didn't seem to interested in rolling. I asked him to back up a bit and stood there for a moment, and he just stared at me. Finally I turned my back and looked off into the trees for a moment before I finally herd him put his head down and start sniffing. He started walking right after that, and i knew he was going to roll. He finally dropped down and really enjoyed himself, grunting and groaning and flipping all the way over. I guess he just had to know that I didn't expect anything from him in that moment, and that he was free to roll. I think I'll have to work with him a bit to try to come up with a cue for that so that he knows it is ok to roll and we're done with work.
Another great lesson, I've been spoiled this month with Kirsten here
an extra time for the three day. Now I have to wait a whole month for her to return!
Images from the day:
<<Storm in the beginning of our lesson "dumping" on the forehand. You can see that all of his weight is on his front legs and he looks heavy in the front.
>> Storm still "dumping" on the forehand at the trot as we began to do faster work. The shape of his neck is another indicator, its horizontal or slightly elevated, but flat.

Late in our lesson, Storm's shape has changed, and his neck has more of an arch and his hind leg is reaching further up under his body. (There is that pesky B in the background too!) My posture isn't perfect, but its getting better.

Next Page:
09.06.16: Letters on the 8