Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Oh, you mean that straight!
I have heard Sarah’s words for years; “Straight, the horse needs to be straight first”. Straight before a lead change, straight so they can come over their back, straight down the rail, straight out of the corner, she always talked about straight. I heard the words, but I never felt straight. I knew crooked, I’ve always been told that I was crooked, that the horse was crooked, but it was what I knew. Sarah would ask “Do you feel her hip drifting? Do you feel her leaning out with her shoulder?” Um, no – it just felt like Grace. I have heard those words for years, but they have only started to truly resonate with me in the last 10 rides.
I’m not sure what it was that caused me to finally feel straight, or lack thereof. I’ve been rather determined to improve my rides after the last two horse shows. At my last lesson Sarah had me work on bending Grace around my legs while I rode one handed. We walked on the quarter line and I had Grace move her shoulder and hip to the left, bending her body around my legs in an arc. We then did the same to the right. Once we got Grace past the “I couldn’t possibly” moment I started to feel straight in between the bends to the right and left. Straight was much easier than the exercise we were doing and both Grace and I looked forward to it. The exercise also allowed me to find straight with my body and not my hands. Sarah then had us work on lead changes down the center line. Grace and I were only allowed to change if we were straight. When we did change, they were some of the cleanest changes I have ever felt beneath me. Grace’s lope improved with each stride. There was something to this straight thing.
I have repeated the exercises during each ride since our lesson. I quickly found that Grace has a tendency to swing her hind end to the left. I could again hear Sarah telling me for the last few years that Grace needed to bring her left hind leg up and underneath herself. Getting Grace to arch to the left was easy, but we both seemed to get stuck when bending to the right. Last night I rode bareback in the snaffle with the goal of improving my feel. The work to the right was wonderful, but Grace needed a little convincing that she could step up with her left hind. I was really pleased with were we were at; it’s been months since I’ve ridden without a saddle. When we came off the turn and onto a straight line, I felt Grace rock back when we found straight. She seemed prepared for a change, but did not tense up like she was anticipating it. When I didn’t ask for the change she kept going straight, the rhythm of her lope never changed. This was a big deal!
Tonight I went back to the saddle and one handed. I focused on turns to straight lines; I kept a drape in my rein and focused on making the movements happen in my body. I could feel when Grace would cut a corner early, so I kept her straight further down the line, and waited to turn until we were closer to the fence. At one point I rode her right to the fence and stopped straight in front of it. After that I felt her wait for me as we closed in at the end of the arena, waiting for me to set up the turn in my body. My horse waiting for me to tell her what to do next is something I never thought I would feel. What do you know, it all started with straight.