Saturday, April 23, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
I keep my hips slightly to the outside as Grace enters the lower corner of the arena; I know this small act of counter balance will keep her along the rail as she lopes out of the corner. She already knows our next move; she’s been looking forward to it for the entire lesson. I look across the arena and my thought of beginning the pattern is all she needs; Grace makes a smooth turn off the rail to come straight across the middle. This is where I have to keep my mind clear, try not to let my thoughts wander to the lead change too quickly. My hips are straight now; they have caught up with Grace’s line. I close my left leg at the girth, pushing her into my right rein. I feel the little mare engage underneath me, she is ready. As we hit the middle of the arena I bring my left hip forward releasing the energy that has been dying to get out from under my leg. The lead change is smooth and clean, it feels like riding a wave as my body stays with the motion as it is lifted and dropped. It is over in one stride, not even a second long. I almost wonder if it really happened, but I don’t have time to ponder, the wall is coming up and we have another change to prepare for……
In the last 10 years I have attempted countless disciplines with this horse. I find myself at most competitions explaining that “she wasn’t bred for this, but she sure does love it”. Whether it was barrel racing, or reining I always knew there would be a limit to what she could physically do over time, as her conformation did not lead to longevity in either sport. I moved away from competitions and refocused on the basics, rebuilding Grace’s foundation along the way. I started to see in her body what Peggy referred to as the “horse’s potential”. It was Sarah that brought it up first when I was rambling on about what Grace and I might like to do this summer. “Western Riding – it’s a pattern class, you know this mare loves lead changes, besides, it’s what she was bred for.”
Grace’s sire Imager (Barpasser’s Image) went to the world show in Western Riding. I stopped finding his get for sale on Dream Horse in the last year. A few years ago there were show horses; one was a tall sorrel gelding out of California. He had qualified and gone to the World Show. His bottom side really got my attention; he was out of a Smooth Town mare – just like Grace. Here was this gelding with breeding almost identical to Grace with a price tag of $60,000. I contacted the owner and let her know that I had no intention of buying her horse, but if she was willing to talk I was curious if she would share any details about her horse that was so closely bred to mine. She went on to tell me about his incredible work ethic, how he had to be worked 6 days a week, how he loved to show and how he excelled in anything that involved patterns. He liked to use his brain. She could have very well been describing the horse I had out sitting in my pasture.
So here we are after years of playing and dabbling here and there in multiple disciplines getting ready to do what the mare was actually bred for. Our first show is May 22nd, and as I wonder if I will ever get my black chaps from 10 years ago to fit again or what am I going to do with my turquoise ostrich bling tack set, I keep picturing that moment. That half second of suspension in mid-air as Grace changes her lead below me getting to do not only what she loves, but also what she was bred for.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
I had a good lesson tonight! Those are my favorite when it all starts to come together right in front of Sarah. The last few lessons I’ve felt as she was seeing us at our worst, not necessarily a bad thing. If I am going to have a bad ride it would be best to do it in front of my trainer. I can tell I am going through one of those “growing” moments in my riding career. Grace and I are on the verge of another big break though, and growing pains are always part of the process. Grace has been made tremendous progress over the last 6 months. I think I am finally starting to make some progress of my own.
The neutral pelvis position that Peggy Cummings teaches in Connected Riding sounds easy enough on paper. I’ve been able to capture it and build on it each time I ride with her and Sarah, but I seem to have almost 30 years of in the saddle muscle memory fighting against it. This is where having a trainer that understands rehab and proprioceptor work is vital. Sarah knows how to get my brain to work with my body to get it to allow and retain the new posture. Tonight’s trick was getting me to hold a my wand (think of a longer stiffer dressage whip) between my two hands out in front of me with my arms about shoulders length apart. I then had to twist my torso while Grace wandered around the arena. It took about 10 minutes but I got it. At one point I felt as if I could not have come out of neutral pelvis, it felt as if my body has always been in that position. I had a new awareness that I had not encountered previously.
Tonight I also came to terms with how stiff I’ve always been in the saddle. I supposed it came about from years of equitating, but it seems every time I try something new in the saddle it always comes from a place of stiffness. It’s almost as though my brain believes that if I stay ridged I won’t fall off when we all know that being stiff and ridged is a one way ticket to the arena floor. My reward this evening for finally getting my body and brain to get with the program was some of the best engagement I have ever felt in my horse’s hind end. Pretty amazing considering that most of last week I was convinced that Grace was lame behind. We backed off at our lesson last Friday because Grace’s hock was out. Sarah adjusted it, but Grace had fallen into her old holding patterns. We worked on groundwork to give her a chance to rebuild confidence. I worked her on the ground at home last weekend, by Sunday she was dragging her left hind toe at the trot. I was convinced that we were entering another downward spiral. I backed off during the week afraid the Grace’s hock might have been out again, but it looked good. Tonight Sarah confirmed that the hock was in, there was nothing wrong with it. We started off with the ground work we had left on last week. When Sarah asked to take the line I gladly handed it to her. She asked Grace to step over and under behind with that left hind leg, she asked for more and then a little more. She pushed Grace past the point of “I couldn’t possibly” and showed her that she could. Next thing I knew, my beautiful clean moving, little horse was back. I let Sarah know that I hadn’t been willing to push Grace past that point in fear that I would hurt her hock. She reminded me that by allowing Grace to carry herself incorrectly I was allowing her to injure her hock.
We ended tonight’s lesson with some of the best lope work I’ve ever felt from my mare. I started to feel how I could influence my horse’s turns and body alignment with only my hips. I’ve understood the concept for some time but this may be the first time that I actually “felt” it. I’m starting to think that Grace isn’t the only one that got pass “I couldn’t possibly” and has now entered the world of “maybe I can”.