My lesson last night was a tough one, mostly for Abbey. K really worked with me on getting Abbey to unlock at the poll and in her jaw to assure that she has a loose and supple spine, and can balance herself vertically, especially through the corners. Abbey tends to lean on her inside shoulder and push her hip out and her left lead is definitely the side she has more trouble with. Just like yoga, ballet, martial arts, any physical activity really, there has to be a flow of energy. If you have a blockage in the flow then things fall apart. Sally Swift talks about it in her book, Centered Riding. This post is about unlocking and finding the flow.
I have been riding in a Kimberwicke for the past few months. I know it's not a Western bit, but it allowed me to ease in to a leverage style bit without too long of a shank or much curb action, even more so because for the most part there is little to no contact the way she is being ridden, unless there needs to be. Yesterday, we migrated to the Tom Thumb with a shorter shank, probably about 3-4 inches of drop below the bar. I rode her, and then K rode her so I could watch her work on unlocking Abbey at the poll, and in her jaw. She also showed me how to school her on standing her up through her shoulders. K would bring her off the rail and into the center and ask for forward movement and then for her to lift up through the bridle by lifting her hand, while she moved Abbey's shoulders over with her leg. She worked at a walk and a trot for this part, and she said to be firm and to ask strongly until Abbey showed an eagerness to comply. This means sometimes there is a fair amount of spur to get her to stop leaning in on that shoulder and move away from the pressure. And as always, the timing of the release is the most important part. There is a lot of ask, but there is an equal amount or more of wanting Abbey to get a release and be allowed to carry herself around the arena, making this the reward.
After K worked with her doing a lot of the shoulder yielding and counter flexing, she went back to loping and there was a big difference. I got back on and after adjusting to having longer reins with the TT bit and working on the should yields at the walk and trot, we worked on her lope again. It was like being on a new horse (a tired one, but a new one). After all that yielding, it only took a little leg support and correction to keep her moving in a fluid strait line. I still had to push her hip in with my outside leg, and support her shoulder with my inside leg, but nothing quite like as hard as I had to before the change in bit and schooling. She was soft, supple, and fluid in her movement. I was calm, relaxed, and able to make small adjustments and corrections versus the all-out hot yoga riding I was doing at the beginning of the lesson.
We had a few really nice loops around the arena at the lope and called it a night. Abbey worked really hard. She is so good-minded, kind-hearted, and really wants to please her rider. I know K likes to train her, and I just love her no matter what, but it sure feels good to learn something new and feel a change in our way of going. The cool down is when I really think about what I learned and try to burn the feel of it into my mind and body.
When I was younger, I think I picked a lot of fights with horses who were probably taking a little advantage of the situation, but who got away with it because I wasn't skilled enough to ask correctly or to school them correctly, and keep my temper. My temper is my biggest enemy in life, and I am so thankful to have the ability to challenge myself to keep calm in the face of frustration and think through the problem. I think if those of us with tempers would approach it like we do with horses there would be a lot more happy people walking around.
Usually confrontation is the result of a misunderstanding, a miscommunication. If the person doing the communicating gets angry and thinks the recipient of the information is just being a defiant jerk, then the shit hits the fan pretty fast. But, if the communicator checks themselves and reframes the request, the result can be a collaboration instead of a knock-down, drag-out fight. Staying calm and centered is the best way to achieve the desired result. You can react and redirect the misdirected energy, but as soon as it is flowing the way you want, you soften and allow the flow to happen. Just picture the Kung Fu master, or Neo in the Matrix, who hardly seems to move while the opponent flails and jumps and spins with all his might. With the right position and redirection, the extra energy is tamed and harnessed to aid the Kung Fu master. I am now a Horse Ninja. (Or, at least a Horse Ninja in Training (HNIT).