Monday, September 19, 2011

The Lope

I love my horse, but have not always loved her lope. It has been stiff, ridged and difficult to ride at times. For years Grace’s left lead has felt like a sitting on a completely different horse than her right lead. Her left lead was unbalanced, even more stiff and choppy. The “V” made by Grace’s hind legs at the lope has always been small. On her really bad days she would double foot almost hopping behind on the left lead. Like all things Grace related there have been some tremendous improvements to her lope in the last year and a half. There are now days that I cannot tell her left lead from her right, I’ve had to question the direction I was riding in more than once lately. I can now sit her lope; it is quickly becoming my favorite gait. The V behind is larger and more consistent from day to day. Grace lives for lead changes and they often help her loosen up her end even more. Still, there is a stiffness to Grace’s lope and it becomes very apparent in the show pen, which is the last place I want to ride it.

After the trot work at our last lesson Sarah had me bring Grace up to the lope. She asked me to come down the rail towards the middle of the arena. When we hit the center of the arena, I was to point Grace back to the rail, but to keep her on the same lead. The exercise looked like a big on the long side of the arena. We’ve done those before, but not while holding the same lead. Grace and I were both convinced that she could not have her head going one direction while holding her lead going the other direction. Sarah told me to take Grace’s nose back to the direction of the lead as soon as I felt that she was going to change. My goal was to catch it before the lead change. We started on the right lead and I was surprised by my ability to get Grace before she changed. After the second time I found that I could point Grace’s nose to the left for longer periods of time before bringing her back to the right. The third time – I felt something change underneath me. Grace’s shoulder and wither felt like they let go and lifted, the back and forth movement in her shoulder became fluid and her hind end drove up underneath me. All I could say was “Wow!”

The left lead was understandably more of a challenge. Once again both Grace and I were convinced that we couldn’t possibly keep the nose to the right while holding the left lead. Each time I moved her nose to the right Grace changed her lead. Sarah told me to use more right spur and to make it very clear to Grace that she was not to change lead, she pointed out that Grace had to get in trouble for changing without being asked. It took a couple of laps around the arena and one princess fit before it happened, but Grace moved her nose to the right while keeping the left lead. It wasn’t long before I was able to move her front end all over the arena while she continued to hold the left lead. With each stride the quality of her lope improved. The V behind became larger as Grace kept her hoofs in contact with the ground for longer periods of time. Grace’s left lead was lovely to ride. I’ve practiced the exercise a few times now since the lesson and each time the lope improves. It makes me wonder; what else do Grace and I think we can’t possibly do?

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