Between weddings, and fall break, I have not ridden Apache as regularly, so it is nice to get back into the flow. Over these last five rides Apache has become lighter and straighter. I am becoming more comfortable with in hand work, and typically get off Apache once or twice during a session to review something in hand. Immediately I see a difference in comprehension and confidence. It is nice to be off of him while asking him to go forward anyhow because it doesn't seem nearly as slow when one is walking beside a horse ;)
One of our rides stands out in retrospect. I arrived early, and rode him before feeding. It was cooler, and he was agitated and full of himself. I noticed that I enjoyed the unexpected forward, but it wasn't very balanced or coordinated. This meant bucking In the canter and bobbles in the hind end. Because the groundwork is relatively new to me still, it didn't occur to me until afterward, that the solution to a not stopping horse is similar to the one that won't go forward. Coordination between us would've been much easier if I had not been on his back. This will be so valuable next time!
In another session I began working on Apache's confidence with ground poles. While Cavelletti is not my end goal, he had some serious suspicions about walking over poles, so I thought that would be helpful to work on. Our first attempt with me in the saddle ended at best standing in front of the pole. I dismounted and continued in hand. Without my weight he was more confident to try, and within three minutes we were successfully walking over single poles, and piles of poles. I encouraged him to take his time. I asked him to move forward but did not force him to. So much of this reminds me of the groundwork I learned from the Parelli's seven games. The difference is the focus on the horses' ability to orchestrate the movement rather than getting the horse to perform a task. Slowing everything down is hugely helpful. I get the sense that many more advanced Parelli students understand this than beginners. After that Apache could walk over the poles under saddle as well.
On a side note I am incorporating this in hand work into lessons with students, because not only is a our coordination and balance better when we are on our own 2 feet, but it seems easier to hold our space as well. When we are on the horse's back and they begin to move sideways we inevitably go with them. When we are on the ground we may choose to go with them or not. Also, the way I notice myself and others using their hands while they're on the ground is different. It is lighter, more concise, and generally has more clarity. This very quickly creates new feelings for the person, and is much more easily applied while sitting on the horse.
Our last ride also stands out, because Apache's owner was at the barn and pointed out to me the roan hairs that were growing in predominately on the left-hand side of his back, right around his 10th thoracic vertebrae. She has been worried that his treeless saddle does not have enough structure, and that it was putting pressure on that area after he received a B on his back at their last endurance ride. So I used my dressage saddle on him for the first time. He was much more confident about going forward by the second half of the ride. I am so thankful to work with such observant and knowledgable people! I have not brushed hair backwards before to notice a roaning. I am aware of white hairs when they grow in, but this helped me see that I could be checking even more thoroughly.
Each interaction I have with a horse, sheds light on another old pattern and habit of thinking. Discomfort renders a horse unwilling, and emotional. When I work to coordinate a horse, by staying straight and focused internally on what I want, confidence grows. For instance when I watched a student having trouble with her horse bucking after a turn from the centerline, I asked, "when you feel her turning left what do you do?" She answered, "I turn right". The change in balance was so severe and abrupt, it was very easy to see that it was uncomfortable and this particular horse showed her discomfort by bouncing. When instead straightness was achieved before turning right the horse happily and quietly made the turn. That bobble created strong emotions in both the girl and the horse and I think for both of them the need for their own safety was not being met. They then both needed time to trust each other's balance again, and for the horse to trust her rider's guidance.
The UBB has inspired a journey I never expected. I am now seeking knowledge about the most efficient way to move for my own body and my horse's body. I have been shown my tendency to force things in the name of making something happen. I have been confronted with the realization that I have rehab to do that was created from my own application of training without enough knowledge. I am also aware that there will be more mistakes. Yet I am comforted that while the knowledge is complex and often overwhelming, the application is consistently to find alignment within myself and then to listen and observe. My experiment for the next week is to see if I can do a 180 every time I notice that forcing energy. This is scary because after all what is a trainer but an enforcer? From enforcer to fascilitator, disciplinarian to communicator, and the most challenging, operant conditioner to educator. The transformation has begun!!