Monday, December 6, 2010
Someday I will get this!
I had a great lesson with Sarah on Friday and was reminded once again why she is my trainer! Sarah and I go way back, we rode at a Hunter/Jumper barn together almost 20 years ago. She was instrumental and helping with my last horse “Bailey”. It wouldn’t be out of line to say she saved him. She has also saved Grace many times over in the last 10 years.
Sarah is a Master Saddler; she also does body work, rehabs horses and is one hell of a trainer. She understands movement like no one else I have met before. If I think something is not quite right with Grace and I just can’t put my finger on it, Sarah will have it figured out in a matter of seconds. I have a ton of respect and admiration for her work.
I had a history of straying from Sarah. I say “had” because I believe I have learned my lesson. In the past my “agenda” has gotten me in a hurry which caused me to cut corners. This has ALWAYS resulted in my horse coming up lame, at which point I sulk back to Sarah, hand her the reins and say “Fix it!”
For the last year, I’ve stayed put and have for the most part worked on the exercises she has given me. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that at this time my horse looks and feels better than she ever has. So it surprised me one day last week when Grace looked off behind. I could tell right away just by the way that she was moving that it was her hip. I could also hear her left hind toe dragging in the wet arena sand when she worked at the trot. Grace’s stride was short behind; her movement just didn’t add up to her new and improved body.
I know from years of training with Sarah that for Grace to be sound, she needs to carry herself over her back when she works. As much as I would love to let her work long and low all the time, she tends to hollow her back and allow her hocks to go out behind her in that frame. When Grace stops using her body correctly and it isn’t long before she is lame. This is the area where I as the “amateur owner” struggle the most. Sometimes when I ask Grace to step up from behind, she says “I can’t possibly do that!” Her first reaction is to stop forward motion, swish her tail and grunt. This is when I usually back off and go on to something else. When I don’t back off and I ask again, she might slam on her brakes and throw in a little rear. At this point I am convinced that she “can’t possibly” do whatever it is that I am asking so I go on to something less complex.
This is where the trainer comes in! I had Sarah check Grace’s body before we worked on Friday. Sure enough her hips where out. After an adjustment, I put Grace on the lunge line so Sarah could see her move. She looked much better than she had earlier in the week. The toe drag and short step was gone.
I do an exercise on the lunge line where I ask Grace to come in on a smaller circle; I take her nose to the inside and ask her to step over with her inside hind leg. This is hard for her, Grace usually talks me out of it. Sarah confirmed that we need to continue this exercise and worked with me on when to ask for the collection, and when to give a release on a large circle.
Sarah introduced a new exercise under saddle. It was a serpentine at the lope, while staying on the same lead. I understood it in my brain at the lesson, but will admit I did not get it in my body. It required me to ride off my leg and not my hand at the lope. The exercise – when executed properly- will help Grace to use her body. Sarah rode Grace during the lesson and did the serpentine exercise with her. Now I saw that Grace could do it. When we ended the lesson on Friday, I knew what I needed to do in order to get the exercise right – use my leg at the lope. Once again my brain gets it, but the connection to my body is very slow. I learn by feeling, once I “get” it, I won’t lose it, but the process of getting it can take forever (10 years) sometimes.
On Saturday, Grace and I headed out to the large outdoor arena at home. I had one goal in mind, to nail down the lope exercise. After a really good warm up, I experienced 10 of the most frustrating minutes I think I have ever had on Grace’s back. I hit that point where I usually turn back, but this time I was determined to push though. I immediately understood why I don’t like to use my leg when I lope my mare. She drops her back and RUNS when I add leg. Grace knows to lift her back when leg is added, she did it just the night before at the lope when Sarah rode her. Knowing this only added to my frustration. I pressed on and tried again. My goal was to accomplish the exercise with leg, not hand. This is a bit of a challenge when my horse is running from my leg pressure. This was one of those moments that I am grateful that no one is around 99% of the time when I ride at home. I’m sure if someone had been watching they would have wondered who the beginner was and why her horse was running away with her. At one point while letting Grace catch her breath, I decided to just work on guiding her at the lope with my legs. I didn’t care if we were in a serpentine; I just wanted to get the feel of her moving off my leg pressure at the lope. I asked for the lope again, this time keeping Grace on a large circle. I asked her to move her hip to the right, then to the left. I only used my reins to guide her on the circle. Grace seemed to say “oh, that’s what you want, ok”. We then went on to the serpentine exercise. It was no big deal. Grace slowed down her lope and moved off my leg. I asked her to speed up coming out of the counter bend to help her keep the correct lead. Again it was easy and relaxed, no problem. I switched directions – again no big deal. As we cooled out I realized that it may have been the first time I have ever kept my leg on Grace at the lope and not backed off when she pitched a fit. Makes me wonder what the next 10 years will bring.