“Oh Grace, this doesn’t look good for you” I told the mare when I saw Sarah putting her spurs on while I tightened the cinch for our Monday afternoon lesson. Sarah undid the stirrup hobbles on my saddle so she could utilize the full length of the fender, another indication that she meant business; she usually keeps her feet free in my saddle because my midget length stirrups sit at least halfway up her calf. This lesson was my idea; Grace has spent the night at Sarah’s on Sunday after we arrived home from a horse show, and I planned to pick her up Monday after work, but wanted to get a lesson in to absorb what we had learned over the weekend.
The biggest success of the show for me was my ability to stay present throughout each one of my classes, even the rail classes! We had a good ride Friday night considering how long Grace had been in the trailer that afternoon. I rode her again Saturday at lunch break, it wasn’t until the end of break that I noticed all the busy traffic I had been riding in. Trail classes were at the end of the day Saturday. When we entered the arena for trail schooling, Grace took over bringing up her head and dropping her back when she saw all the poles we were going to lope over. What the heck Grace? Where was the nice horse I was sitting on earlier? I took her back out to the warm up pen to get her back into her body before our classes started. Our trail runs went well especially our lope class; still Grace wasn’t “obedient” to my cues. She was still thinking for herself on pattern, I was just lucky that we had the same idea on most of the obstacles. On Sunday she warmed up well, loping off on cue as I prepared her for our pattern class. When I asked for the lope on pattern she let out a squeal, lifted her head and leapt into the lope. Really mare?
Sarah and Grace had several “Come to Jesus” moments during their Monday night ride. When Grace sped up without being asked Sarah made it clear to Grace that she has made the wrong decision. When Grace moved into pressure when Sarah asked her to move her hip, Sarah again made it clear that Grace needed to move off the pressure, when Grace dropped her back and lifted her head Sarah made her pick up her back and drop her head. I stood there impressed by Sarah’s timing, she knew exactly when to add pressure and when to reward. I watched as Grace’s expression changed from “I can’t possibly” to “oh, you mean this? I can do that”. Sarah now owned the mare’s feet it was her decision as to where and how fast they would travel. When it was my turn to ride I was pleased with how lifted Grace’s back felt. She was no longer dropping me into the hole that she makes out of the left side of her back. I was able to feel when the rhythm of her gait quickened and improve the timing of my corrections. I could feel the difference between when gave me her hip and shoulder and when she dropped a shoulder or swung her hip. Sarah had me push into my stirrups with the ball of my feet instead of my heel. She reminded me to make sure to bring the weight down starting from my hip. My low back immediately softened, as did my seat. My mare lifted her back into the space I had created and softened her foot fall. “Wow that feels really good! So that’s what stirrups are for” I shouted out to Sarah like I had just found the lost link. I had an equally good ride on Tuesday night before giving Grace and I a much deserved day off on Wednesday. I found that I was able to push Grace up into the bridle on Tuesday without her rushing off from my leg cue. She was lovely to ride; the word “obedient” came to mind. Her missing attitude allowed me to focus on my leg position and my seat. I found that when placing the weight on the ball of my feet it put my leg directly beneath my hip and allowed me to use my seat as an aid. In the lope I was unable to jam my legs out in front of me, they remained lined up with my hips and I was now free to use them to shape my horse.
It is now very clear to me that I did not believe that my horse could do what was asked of her. When my horse drops her back or throws her head in the air when I ask for something my initial reaching is “oh that’s just Grace, she has a hard time with this”. I make excuses for her and then tip toe around her asking a question that she can answer. It seems that I have been changing the subject to avoid confrontation. While I am by no means advocating being rough with my horse or treating her unfairly my passive approach to her has been a disservice. I created the horse the takes over in the show ring by not asking enough from her at home. I also have not believed that I as a rider had what it took to be the leader that the mare needs. I often blame my body imbalances for her poor way of going and while my imperfections in the saddle defiantly contribute to her tension, I am amazed by how much easier it is to get in my body when my horse’s back is lifted and she is waiting on me. I no longer spend my ride anticipating that she will surge forward when I ask her to move a body part. I look forward to continuing this journey with a horse that is not opinionated or intimidated but who is a willing partner. For my part I will do my best to be clearer in my communication and I will start to believe that we really can accomplish the goals that I have set out before us.