I had the opportunity to watch Peggy Cummings give 3 lessons at Cedar Creek Performance Horses on Sunday. I audited the past two lesson days after my ride and was thrilled by how much more I picked up on by watching other people. There is always a new gem that I haven’t listened to before and always things I have heard but forgot to remember. Sunday was no exception.
The first horse that Peggy worked with is one that I was able to observe in the last two lesson dates. Peggy had the owner work the horse out on the line in a circle around her. I’ve seen this horse and handler do this same exercise with Peggy in the past, but I heard something different this time. When the handler would step back to comb the line, she was stepping towards the horse’s hind end. Peggy told her to instead step back to the middle of her circle and to keep her feet moving. She also explained how combing works, it turns off the fight or flight response in the nervous system thus allowing the horse to move without tension or holding. It didn’t take long to see the difference in the big grey gelding out on the line. As he started to stretch his head and neck, his hind end became engaged. As he continued on the exercise his hind step started to cover the track of his front step and was even in front of it at times. In a matter of minutes the horse’s way of going and movement had dramatically improved. I was once again impressed by what could be accomplished in a short period of time without pain, pressure or sweat.
A few other things that I was reminded to remember:
1. Practice neutral pelvis everywhere; when pushing a wheelbarrow, sitting at my desk, walking, anytime handling horses.
2. Horses buck when they cannot find their balance, it is nature’s way of rebalancing them
3. Freeing up the head and neck allows the connection to their hooves
4. Use EVEN pressure between hands
5. I must be soft in my joints in order for my horse to be soft in her joints
I already knew before I got home that my afternoon with Grace would be spent on the ground. I kept asking myself why am I not doing Connected Groundwork every day. I usually get a session in once a week, but I know that if it make it a part of my daily routine with Grace I will be setting us both up for success before I even put a foot in the stirrup. Grace seemed more than happy to not see the saddle come out of the trailer; I knew she would be tired after hauling and showing the day before. When I worked her out on the line I had a much better feel for what I was doing. I was able to have her go out on the circle away from me and then step back towards the center of the circle while combing all the while keeping my feet moving. In the past I had stopped my feet and it had caused Grace to turn in on the circle with me. This time I was able to keep her moving which seem to allow me to soften my feel on the line. I then saw and felt the oscillation in her head as came in and went out on the circle. Then it happened; I had Grace stay straight for a few strides, her head lowered, her neck bounced in a rhythm and her hind end woke up. Before I knew it she was covering the ground with ease. I stood back for a second and said “Wow!” It took a few minutes when I changed directions to achieve the same level of fluidness, but it was there. In total I maybe spent 30 minutes doing ground work and only half of that time was on the circle. The horse I ended up with looked nothing like the one I had lead into the arena.
As I gave Grace her “day after a horse show massage” I let her know that we will be doing more Connected Groundwork from now on. I’ve decided to make a 30 day commitment to doing groundwork before every ride. If I feel I don’t have time for groundwork and a ride, I will just do groundwork. I’m sure like any habit it will take discipline, I find it helps if I take Grace out o f the pasture in her groundwork halter. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes; you guys are going to be my accountability buddies.