Photo by Margaret Chant and edited by Jessica Metropulos

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Learning How to Bend

I've been waiting forever to use that as my blog title! It's a great song by Gary Allen that I totally love, but the moment never seemed appropriate...anyway, today it seemed to be the theme! I had two awesome sessions with two awesome horses, both focused in some way on flexibility and bending.

First, I played with Prin. She's a bit out of shape from lack of attention, so a few times a week, I'm going to try to start taking her out for long trots, much like I did last fall, except this time she's in better condition to handle it, and will benefit from it more. Anyway, I digress.

Today, our focus was on finesse, specifically in bringing the shoulders up. Prin, being a stock horse, built essentially level and made for getting INTO the ground quickly, is not naturally made to come up in the front end and be flexible throughout her shoulders and rib-cage. Using an exaggerated suspension rein as my active rein, and a solid fixed rein, as well as the shoulder-in maneuver, Prin learned VERY quickly (I was actually very impressed at how much effort she put into learning this, today!) how to move in a much more tall, elevated posture. It felt lovely to ride, I'm impressed at how quickly she's picking up on it!

We also played with all manner of trot. I would bring it down to a slow little collected thing that was starting to get some elevation to it (baby-steps to passage perhaps?), and then we'd bust out of it into as big a working trot as she'd offer on a concentrated rein. Very cool stuff, she's really starting to USE herself through her transitions nicely.

To aid the process of developing finesse, I've been playing with my own riding posture, as well. In my last lesson with Kristi, she told me fluidity was beautiful, but in order to advance to where I want to go in Level 4/5 finesse stuff, I was going to need to do a few things:
A)Open my hip angle, engage my own HQ, and really stretch my legs DOWN (Prin, being an LBI, will use it as an excuse not to move out if I don't)
B)Lengthen my stirrups a hole or two to aid that
C) Develop a more side-to-side flow in my sitting trot.

I've been playing with all of that, but mostly really focusing on lengthening my leg and engaging my OWN body for finesse. Long legs are definitely NOT what I'm known for, so that's been an adventure, but it's REALLY come along nicely now, and the more flexibility I gain, the more I realize it affects my horse! Great journey, and definitely learning how to bend!!

After finishing up my session with Prin, I took Hart out to play. He's been pretty much put on the back burner since I've owned him, which I feel awful for, but fortunately now, (going into winter, ew) I've got the time to spend on him. As of right now, he's just thin, and horrifically out of shape. Everything will come at once with him I think--both being more proactively used (as opposed to lounging around the pasture), coupled with more...caloric...feeding (my poor holistic care friends would be horrified at the CRAP I'm pouring into this horse to get weight on him!), will help him get back on track.

So today, we started out just trying to work the kinks out. He's a very one-sided horse. Years of being ridden to the left has done a number on his right side, and he has a noticeable strength problem with his right side. He's very inflexible throughout his ribs, has trouble picking up his right lead, and carries and almost constant brace in his neck going to the right.

Rule #1 when playing with a horse as lopsided as this: Slow and right beats fast and wrong, and slow and right BUILDS fast and right. Hart needs a lot of focus on flexibility throughout his right side, and so I chose to use small, but slow walk circles to build this. Cue the bracy, upside-down movement. Ew! Is that the gorgeous English sport horse I bought? Really?

Rule #2: Never release on a brace. Though it's hard to watch and horrible to consider, the easiest way to discourage this kind of movement is to hold the rope firmly (his nose is tilted to the outside, zone 3 closest to me at this point) until the horse makes an offer at correct movement, and then to release, LIGHTNING fast. That way, he finds comfort in correctness. It didn't take me more than 3 repeats of this before Hart's head came down, he licked his lips, and he switched his bend on the circle, and maintained it.

Next, I pulled out some ground poles and set them up.

Horse's Responsibility #4: Watch where you're going! Oh my...this horse doesn't know where his feet are! I set the poles out in a cavalletti pattern, and sent him through at a walk. Clunk, clack, clunk, CRASH. Hmm...how interesting! I continued this pattern, and he did get progressively better--I stopped when he made it through without knocking any poles out of position.

Finally, I taught Hart the figure 8 pattern. Again with the whole "slow and right beats fast and wrong", except this time, I had created my own impulsive behavior. Often, once a horse finds comfort/a new way of moving, they'll beg for more--Hart had found it in walk and trot, and all he wanted to do was trot! I had to interrupt the pattern rather vigorously a couple of times, but he finally found himself. At that point, I guided him through the pattern, and he got this wise-ass look on his face. He totally understood it, and dang it, he was GOING to trot before we were done! We ended by trotting the pattern twice, and then circling 3 gorgeous circles to the right on the 22' line. I put him back, and he stood there rather regally for several minutes, regarding me with mild interest, licking and chewing, before heading back to his hay. He's such an interesting horse. Definitely a LBI at heart. Very great lessons for both of us!

Anyway, it's bedtime for me, I have lessons tomorrow at 9:30 am! Feedback on the post is always appreciated. Thanks folks!

Savvy on!

1 comment:

ParelliGirl said...

Wow! Hart sounds like such a smart boy!