Spring is in the air and it kind of feels like the beginning of an age. I’ve gotten so used to the bitter cold that the other day when I was on a walk break, I felt like I was in a sauna. I was really cooking and I had no more appropriate layers to strip. I was wishing for some AC in the shady 52 degree indoor. Come on body, it’s time to wake up and enjoy the sunshine!
I recently had a couple of those great lessons when one idea makes five other things that have been a challenge fall into place for both Bimini and Fargo. In fact, it feels like many of our puzzle pieces are coming together. It seems like we’re starting to get past the get-to-know-each-other phase and moving on to being partners.
Courtney really tuned in to my connection with the boys. I’ve been quite focused on half halts and playing with the bit to create life in the connection and suppleness, but she had me refine that by keeping the connection very steady, making my gives more like softens rather than disappearing all together for moments. She explained that when I keep disappearing and then showing back up to chat, the initial contact back from giving is abrupt, almost like a little jerk. Even though I’m not really thinking about taking back, that’s how it feels to them.
I’m not sure if someone taught it this way to me, but I’ve explained the feeling as being like holding someone’s hand… following each other’s motion while walking or skipping along. When you want to send a message you can squeeze or play your fingers, take more feel or soften, but you are always there, never totally dropping out of that understanding connection.
We improved the connection by doing a lot of transitions within the gaits, prioritizing a steady contact – all the while playing the bit and bend in the body both ways. I need to keep up the conversation and be clear with my aids, and the boys need to relax and stretch… accept the contact with both my legs and hands and wait until my body says to push forward or come back within the gaits.
I was afraid to make the horses too deep, and for now sometimes they are. When I’m waiting for them to relax down or when I say, “No, you can’t race forward.” the neck sometimes comes too deep, but soon after when the message is received and we are both relaxed, the connection is so much more through and honest than it was when I totally avoided deep.
“Stick with it.”
In the short trot and short canter, I ask them to clearly shorten – but while finding a steady connection is the priority, I only shorten to a point that they can keep it over the time it takes until everything softens in that shortened gait. I need to be able to sit comfortably and follow without changing how much ground we cover. I have to stay committed to the speed I decide to go while suppling and waiting for it to feel easy.
Spending time on this made such a big difference for my leg aid on Bimini. He tends to be quite hot to the leg so it’s hard to use it to activate or push when he would rather just race forward. My leg has to be on in the shortened canter or he will get too slow behind or break. So taking time to wait for the relaxation in the playful bridle also helped him to accept that my leg was not going away. It clearly doesn’t mean run faster when I’m making him stay in the shortened canter. Then I could push him forward and use my leg to mean active in the bigger gaits as well. I actually had some good weight in my leg contact! Yay!
With that connection being so much more comfortable and relaxed, he was also very sensitive to my seat’s aids. Sitting back and stopping the motion was my first aid to come back, and he became sensitive enough that I didn’t really need the reins as back up anymore. It’s always amazing to me when one priority makes other things fall so neatly into place.
“Left as well as right.”
It’s important to keep the conversation going with both sides of the body. Courtney helped me to think of my aids working together as a team. They have different jobs, but they don’t think and operate separately; they consider each other. For example, it’s the job of the inside leg to push the barrel toward the receiving outside leg. The inside leg thinks about a leg yield toward the outside leg, rather than one and then the other correcting. I need to ride the whole horse and use my whole body.
I have a tendency to overly focus on the side that feels like it needs the most fixing, but it doesn’t come through in that harder direction until I supple the body both ways and tune in to all of my aids. We use a lot of inside bend to renvers on the circle to straighten, supple, and make sure my aids are working especially for Fargo who likes to keep his haunches in a bit. I also have to make sure to think about riding the neck fairly straight in order to focus on making the bend in the body and connection to the outside rein rather than being stuck on the bending inside rein. When I get a little caught up in having too much neck bend, my seat and legs cannot ride the horse’s barrel effectively.
I think the focus on connection and my aids working together has really made Fargo start to feel like my partner. The other day I did a medium canter down the long side thinking about all of this work, and it felt SO much easier and fluid than usual. I could feel the power being right on my aids and it rolling over his back. We were dancing. Courtney always teaches to be really obnoxious about rewarding the horses. Make a big fuss over them and make them feel like a star! It was such a breakthrough feeling of a moment; so you can only imagine my loud, super flowery cooing as we lengthened. Midway down the track, Fargo just joyfully leapt in the air! There was nothing for him to react to besides my voice, and he didn’t feel upset, he was just so excited and proud! ❤