My Fly is Down

fall colors

For a while I’ve been rolling around in the deep. I’ve been dwelling on how there’s a huge lesson in the importance of humility to be a good student. One of those lessons that can’t just be learned once. I’ve been trying to figure out how to weave in how much pride gets in the way. I even came up with a list of C.S. Lewis quotes on the subject. Instead of getting too heavy on you guys this time, I just want to say, never be too “grown-up” to lay down your defenses and simply say, “Yes, ma’am” to the little things.

How can we learn if we don’t humble ourselves before we come into the arena? It’s the little things that can be embarrassing to be called out on. Nobody wants to hear that their fly is down or there’s a twig or something stuck in their teeth when they can’t even remember how long it’s been since their last meal. Ha. Just as it can be hard to be taught a basic lesson that your brain may have downloaded a month of Sundays ago.

We still need to fix it.

Listen up and zip your pants so you can move on to being a professional. I’m well versed at these lessons as I’m a fairly awkward human being. That’s probably an understatement. I’m the girl with coffee and/or breakfast stains on my shirt every single day because I’m too amused by my klutzy self to pay more attention. Maybe I’m fooling myself thinking that I could fix it if I wanted to… but that’s beside the point.

Coffee stains are one thing, basics in training are another. Basics are the foundation from which all impressive things are formed. Without them, there will always be a hole in the training. In my last lesson on Shanghai I finished warming up and then explained to Courtney how I’ve been focusing on getting him off my right leg and catching him with my left outside leg. As I demonstrated using my arm to show the job of my inside leg, she stopped me and even corrected my demonstration. “I know it seems like no big deal”, she said. But as I used my arm as my inside leg, it made my body incorrectly shift to the outside – just standing there at the halt. It doesn’t seem like a big deal; I was only talking, right? It wasn’t even the actual body part that I use when riding forward. But, “It’s even the way you think that needs to change.” she explained. Even when I demonstrate using my inside leg, my body should naturally think down on the inside… almost like it’s scooping with my inside aids instead of pressing what looked like flat and straight on their side. That way I’m sure to keep good balance. As I rode around thinking, It’s even the way you think… it was exactly the cure to fixing our balance. Wow. When I use my inside leg now, I imagine that rooted downward feeling that Courtney demonstrated from the ground. That’s where it starts.

Thanks to Clair and Lendon, I was lucky enough to collect a handful more of those little things riding with Lilo Fore at Bel Air last weekend. 🙂 “You need to be like this!” Lilo bellowed as she firmly planted her level fists on the countertop. “The horse needs something consistent to go to. Level hands make a level bit.” She stressed.

For a long moment I feel a little lost in my body. My normal programming as Koryn the trainer has been set aside and I feel like I should be on a lunge line so that I can just focus on how to think about what I want to feel, how to hold my hands, how to use my body. The next step feels like it might be learning to post the trot! That awkward paradigm shift passed before too long and I found the nice straight, steady channel from leg through seat to bit that Lilo was looking for. Everything feels simple and I can make small effective corrections without weebling and wobbling through so many bigger corrections to get there. Less is more!

“You never see the top riders unorganized – no matter the horse.”

That statement rings over and over in my mind. Keeping my right hand up was a large pat of balancing myself out. Lilo pointed out that it likes to live lower than my left. Since then, I’ve spent a good chunk of my mental capacity focusing on keeping my right hand up. I look in the mirror expecting to see that it’s TOO high. If I’ve learned anything from Courtney and Lendon, it’s that in order to fix something, it’s better to make the opposite mistake than to slowly move in the right direction. I want to hear, “That’s too high. I love it!” But what my reflection shows is simply level hands. Crap, I need to fix that!

As I cantered around on Fargo, just starting to collect him after a stretchy warm-up Lilo says to me, “You’re pushing too much with your seat.” I’m surprised, because that’s a new one to me and I’m not trying to push with my seat. I can feel that there’s power in my motion, but this amount of power has been my neutral. Perhaps a trying to encourage push from behind neutral. Can that be a thing? Apparently not, because when I repeated back to her to make sure I understood correctly, “This is pushing too much with my seat?” I hear,“ Yes.” Well, alright then. Surely Lilo knows! So I think about how I can find some notches to take it down. I imagine the looseness my hips feel when I’m plopped into a couch – still keeping good posture with my core, but hips doing no more than relaxedly following the canter motion. Immediately I feel Fargo’s collection improve dramatically. He has somewhere to bounce now that my seat isn’t driving him flatter! It felt like it couldn’t be. It felt like almost nothing changed. But to Fargo, everything changed. Ohhhh it’s the little things. The seriously not so little… little things!!!

Also, there’s so much more clarity now when he tries to escape the collection by pulling through his shoulders. It’s easy to have good timing for a quick, little, and simple half halt saying, Nope, stay right here under this seat with me dude… and he’s right back with me. With less push on my part, I become more of a pillar. I’m quietly following instead of that little bit of chasing – pushing ahead of him. How can he be underneath of my seat pushing and forward in front of my leg if I’m always moving a slither of a pace ahead of him??? Now my patient looseness gives him an invitation to relax his back and bounce up to me. Oh happy day!!!

So, yea. Can I go on a little bit about some of the other kind of little things that have been singing to me? It might just be 1989 getting to my head but… It’s the big smile from a baby who’s just so excited to see that you’re around. It’s the bright colors on the trees falling to the ground but promising to be back. It’s the candle in the birthday cake. It’s the song lyrics that you can feel all the way in your bones. It’s the horse that is so willing to learn from you and let you hug his strong neck as long as you need to. It’s the person sending a note just to remind you that you’re on their mind. It’s the tip of the fluorescent helmet from a construction worker as you wave a thank you. It’s sharing the same space as friends who speak your heart language… It’s the little things.


Corner Clarity

Lately, Courtney and I have been very focused on riding good corners with all three boys.  It has taken me a while to organize what needs to be fixed and how. With all of Courtney’s great input, I have many thoughts on what we’ve been working on, and I just want them to all stop flying around up in the air and settle into a neat list of ABC’s, just like writing. Think about this moment here, then think about that one, focus on this, now explain that. Sometimes things get cluttered and I need to just need to pick and start. There is a time to analyze the process (talking about it and writing helps), and there is a time to just do it. This seems to be a trend for many things.

I’m learning how helpful corners can be when they are used correctly, and how big of a tattler they can be when my inside leg to outside rein connection isn’t quite honest. When they are good, they feel like a great opportunity to half-halt, check in on the balance, and set up for whatever is coming next. It should be like part of a volte where the inside leg to outside rein connection creates bend for the turn and causes the horse to release the inside rein. When that connection is not quite honest and prepared before the corner, it’s really obvious that the horse needs my inside rein in the turn.

First off to get that helpful, honest corner, I need to make sure that my inside leg actually means something to the horse. When my inside leg goes on, there should be an immediate reaction. Courtney has had me be really picky that I am not always using my inside leg in a way to keep the horse balanced, but that I can do nothing with my leg and then get a very clear response of moving away the moment it goes on. It’s a feeling that I could do a very sideways leg yield with bend at any given time – and I should do that frequently just enough to get the reaction and know that my leg works. Courtney explained that the moment he moves away from my leg is the moment he gives. I can clearly feel that first real step away from my inside leg makes the horse release the inside rein, and that is what I want all the time. (When I think about it, I can feel the difference between that initial moment of release, and the slight automatic lean a couple of strides later) It should be made especially clear in those corners. So that give is the feeling that I have to memorize and consistently keep.

Also, I have a new picture in my head for my course of action. Somewhere along the way, Courtney pointed out that even if I could give in the corner, that I needed the inside rein immediately again on the long side. (Not the result we want!) In my focus of being able to give inside rein in the very depth of the corner, I made that right angle my destination. I was determined to give in that spot, so then when I made it through the corner, the goal was accomplished , but I wasn’t ready for anything else. So Courtney had me ride a leg yield AFTER the corner. The new priority was being able to have my horse pushing to the outside rein and releasing the inside rein immediately after. It was ok to take bend in the depth of the corner if I needed to… whatever I needed to do in order to leg yield and give right after. This changed the picture in my mind. Now I create an imaginary rail a few feet inside of the wall on both the short and long side so that I’m picturing a corner but I have room to leg yield to the actual wall when I need to. Focusing on that leg yield and the release  just after the corner without worrying too much about the turn made me prepare for the long side much better. Then somehow I could do that same preparation early on and have the leg yield feeling during AND after the corner. Cool.

Another helpful tool was making a box with a couple of poles across the ring to make the corners closer together. In the canter with Bimini, it helped when Courtney told me to really challenge the collection for the corner. Doing pirouette canter got him on his hind end, and I think it helped me because I really had to make sure that my half halt was going through, it’s easy to feel the shape the horse wants his body to be in that much collection, and in a way I have more time to think when I’m not travelling as forward. Also, it was helpful just to ride corner after corner, knowing that there was another one to prepare for very soon, so I had to make the canter good right away.

Then there comes a time to just forget all the mumbo jumbo (not that I actually think it’s mumbo jumbo, but it becomes just that if my wheels are constantly turning off their own wheels) and just ride. Ride something specific like a half pass out of the corner. After finding the right feeling of the horse being much better around my inside leg and releasing the inside rein, I make sure his body is going to be ready to have that for the half pass. Magically, that focus created a good corner without me even worrying about it. The preparation for the movement after the corner seems to be key for me.

At this point I don’t claim to be any sort of master of the corner. I still have a ways to go before I really own those bad boys, but I think the light for my road is shining a little brighter. It’s always satisfying when many ideas start to align and make everything a little clearer.