I con friends and family into letting me ride their horses. Lucky for me, all the girls at the barn just love to play this game called ‘musical horses.’ It is like musical chairs, but without the music and without the mad dash to grab anything we can get our hands on because said music stopped. I love to ride, so I will happily throw a leg over anything. All horses have something to teach me, and I am eager to learn as much as I can.
One of the horses that I have the pleasure of riding is a Paint mare. The first time I rode her, she was much more interested in backing up than walking forward. As I pushed the issue of moving forward, her favorite evasion was/is to pin her ears, snake her neck, and pop her shoulders up in a threat to rear. As a result, I spend much time on the ground working on her outlook and mentality. I am always elated when a horse accepts my invitation and TUNES INTO ME! I can insist and reprimand all day long, but the horse must ultimately decide to seek my direction or tune me out.
I felt like we had a huge breakthrough when I asked her to walk around the arena and she decided, all on her own, that trotting sounded like fun! This was not a tense, fearful, or anxious transition. This was a “Oh, it feels so good to move!” sort of transition. That day, I watched this horse (that didn’t want to so much as march at the walk, let alone trot or canter) embrace forward thinking and relax into the canter as I sent her around the round pen! Later, in the arena, I got several canter transitions with a minimum of naughtiness. She maintained the canter long enough for both of us to just relax into it and enjoy the motion. I guess when you are moving freely forward, it gets kinda hard to balk and protest, huh?
With her new desire to move forward, I felt my shoulders come back and stabilize over my hips and my leg stretch down and around the horse. I could feel my sternum reaching up and forward. I was truly beginning to feel this concept of “up the body, down the weight.”
Canter things are coming ever-so-slowly, but we have actually been able to practice more downward transitions from canter to trot when *I* want to do them. Most of them involve her dropping into it and running headlong onto her forehand, but we had one lovely transition that was much improved (despite her getting tired from so much cantering) and I was able to communicate that I wanted her to continue in a nice, forward trot. She remained relatively supple and swinging, so I encouraged a long and low type stretchy trot. She stretched toward my hand. I asked for some lengthening. She stretched her back as she filled my hand (I’m just not sure how else to describe this feeling). I fed another inch of rein, and she stretched toward that. She stayed long, lower, and stretchy for an entire lap of the arena! And this was on her stiff side!!
I gathered her back up into a working trot, turned down the centerline, rode all the way to the end, halted at ‘C’ (and she was soft and square!), dropped the reins on her neck, and hopped off. I praised her up one side and down the other, loosened all buckles, and walked her to the barn. I told her how wonderful and clever she is. I told her she is a rock star. I massaged her and pulled on her tail. (She is really getting into tail pulls!) I fed her treats. I tried to make her feel like a princess. We’ll see if she gets the idea…