Connecting the Dots

 

Here's a picture of Jenny - just because who couldn't use a dose of donkey cuteness??

Here’s a picture of Jenny – just because who couldn’t use a dose of donkey cuteness??

I love connecting the dots. I love the way the world seems to grow smaller and smaller. I love learning about mutual friends and being able to send hugs through them to loved ones on the other side of the country. “Hey, you know how cool that person is too?!” It’s so fun discovering an idea, a lesson, a person, a place in the world and then noticing all the other people around you who share that with you. It’s like learning a new word and then noticing it in your life every other day for a week. I love learning about how similar we all are – finding out that I’m SO not the only one. And I love the way that people can grasp the same concept but go on to teach it with their own style – the way that different people can shine their own lights upon an idea until the whole lesson is illuminated.

Courtney and Lendon work so well together. In many ways they aim to teach the same thing, but they compliment each other in the way they approach it – using different phrases or exercises to trigger the correct response. Having the right connection and good half halts has been quite the theme these days (perhaps forever?) There was a point in Bimini’s canter work with Lendon when we just cantered around on a circle occasionally shortening a little and going forward again. I think Bimi’s butt was a bit tired from our pirouette work with Courtney the day before and his canter was getting sticky; instead of sitting down to shorten he was pushing down in his shoulders and coming down in the bridle. It was an opportunity to work on our connection. Lendon approached it much like Courtney has been, and one little exercise seemed to make their thoughts come together for me.

When Bimi was sticky and pushing down, Lendon had me give the reins for a stride or two – the canter was instantly better. Hmm. I don’t think that I’m holding. I think that I’m following and making corrections with my seat and legs, but when the reins disappear and everything gets better, obviously something’s been going on with my arms, which they’ve been keeping secret from my brain. Lendon had me think of it this way. At first I was keeping connection with the reins for say, four strides and giving all the way for one or two; now, for this exercise she wants me to give the reins for four strides and use the reins however I need to for just one stride. She gave me a deadline – a pretty short one. Do what I need to do with my hands and then get outta Dodge!

The end goal is in no way to ride around with loose reins or to only have connection when I’m correcting! It’s really important to have steady, following contact. But when I so clearly knew I was only allowed one stride to have a chat with his mouth, my correcting aids were efficient enough that they could be truly passive for the four strides following. Therefore, I was a lot more effective than when my arms were sorta kinda doing something a lot of the time but lying to me saying they were not. Come on body, stop holding on too long to what’s not helping you.

Another piece of the puzzle connected some thoughts from Courtney lessons. I realized the other reason why thinking halt makes me ride better half halts. In my lesson with Lendon, we touched on some work with half steps. Bimini has the idea, but we haven’t been working on them. At first I was getting steps that were too slow and too forward. I was fighting his will to passage instead of taking short steps. Lendon said something like, “The mistake so many riders make is that they’re so paranoid about the horse stopping, they try to do it too forward. When in reality, there can not be piaffe steps if they are very forward…” So I need to quit playing chicken and just bring him on back if I want anything in the realm of half steps.

So, when I’m riding half halts and tell my body to ride like I’m actually going to halt, I’m shortening the horse to a point where I know we could be at a dead stop at any moment I choose. Therefore, I end up with a short quick/active hind leg instead of one that’s just slowing up. I’m thinking about being on the spot the way I need to think for half steps instead of about the hind legs continuing to stretch forward. So think halt, on the spot, piaffe, whoa… whatever thought works for me to make the half halt active!

It’s such a happy thing the way that working together makes it easier to grasp the big picture.

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Stick With It

Bimi HugSpring 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! ❤