Apache began the week lighter and more willing. I spent the weekend reading Jean Luc Cornille posts and came away with the reinforced idea to stay slow and straight. I like thinking about a horse taking one step at a time. When I first met Jefferson he imparted to me that balance was the ability to retract a step at any time. Balance is not falling to the next step but grounding in each step so that direction can be changed at any moment. This is the coordination our fine four legged friends need to perform with soundness and carry us on their backs. I also took heart that if Apache wasn't leaning on the bridle and falling on the forehand It would be ok to ask him to remain in the trot for more than ten steps. I didn't canter during this session because staying in the trot seemed challenging enough. Every time we stopped I was interested to see how heavily Apache was breathing. Was this physically tiring or mentally and emotionally tiring? I thought both and still do. Sometimes I would ask him to continue. Sometimes we rested. He still very much wanted to turn towards the gate so when I had exhausted my patience for the saddle I got off and worked on the ground. Standing in riding position with the reins in one hand is something I have been practicing since I watched Mr. Cornille's in hand videos. It is surprisingly challenging. Luckily the horses are so natured that they seem to get more coordinated no matter how uncoordinated I am and since I have done a fair amount of Parelli groundwork I am somewhat familiar with the feeling. Apache seemed fascinated about me being next to him and immediately took the steps I was looking for. So easy! Perhaps I could have done it sooner? Yes probably :)
Our second session I was nervous about. Apache's owner was planning to watch and while I felt relatively confident about how the sessions had been going I had some stage fright. It turned out she wasn't able to stay but we talked beforehand and I voiced my misgivings about how long it seemed to be taking for him to figure out his balance. Turning was tricky and yielding was sometimes impossible feeling. I am grateful for her perspective offered about how little he had ever been asked to use his body this way and the possibility that he had never been. Partially reassured I headed up to the ring alone. Apache was his most coordinated yet! When I slow his walk down enough it becomes straight. He has an odd feeling in the walk when he isn't straight. It is as though he is pushing off sideways and weaving ever so slightly along a line. When I slowed him down and just pictured straightness with no lateral deviation there were moments when he became light and gathered. Dare I say collected? From these moments I would successfully ask him to trot. He followed guidance lightly and happily changed directions. He offered bend around my inside leg and even felt able to travel in the direction of bend. Very heartening!
Our last ride that week found Apache hungry!! All he wanted to do was eat so we took lots of breaks and I also worked on him not pulling me out of the saddle when he wanted grass. Eventually he didn't want to move at all so I spent time standing beside him working on the same. What was the most interesting to me was that while he was pulling on and cinching the bridle often, now that he fully understood that he was in control of releasing the bridle fully he had very little indent on his nose. I continue to marvel at how empowering that must be for a horse. After speaking with his owner she confirmed that he had been very hungry after being put on a supplement that balances the ph of the hindgut. She felt that he had most likely had some ulcers and was in recovery, regaining his appetite and becoming softer in his torso. Again I was glad that I had not pushed him through his reluctance to go forward or move off the leg.