Tuesday, June 23, 2015

First Lesson Since January = Reins Crossed

I was able to connect with Trainer yesterday for a lesson. First once since January. It's not really anyone fault. Mikey had surgery in Feb and the only horse I was really interested in lessoning on was Cody (sorry, not lessoning on a green bean!), and Cody's prep schedule for Rolex ended up not including lessons for me (they were planned then he'd do something that Trainer wanted to fix in the next ride, so my lesson would be cancelled). Then he just got too fit for me to want to sit on!

Anyway, I got out to the outdoor and we did about 10 minutes of walk while I waited for my lesson time. trainer asked me what was going on with him. I told her I'm having a very hard time maintaining right bend. His jaw locks and no amount of flex right/left softens it. It's just a dead air feeling on the left side when we track right and I've found myself working the right rein to compensate. It's a hole we had last year. We 'put a band-aid on' it so I could get out and do my 3rd level tests, and we planned on fixing it this winter (which got scrapped due to his accident).

She asked me to put him through walk/trot/canter each way so she could watch him go. She's seen him on and off for a couple months now, but hasn't really watched him. I did a lap in each gait, starting left. Nothing spectacular- he felt very average and non-committal to the whole connect to the bit thing. Tracking right was more of the same until I went to canter and asked for a circle right, and struggled to keep him on the circle because of the dead air on my outside rein.

She told me to pull up and that she had an idea.

Due to a lack of pictures, I googled "horse trainer with ideas" thinking I might find some cute drawing.
This is what came up.
She took my reins, crossed them under Mikey's throatlatch, gave them back, and said, walk on!

Everything I talk about now is going to reference tracking right. We never got to the left because it doesn't have as many issues.

So the idea with crossing the reins really makes you ride inside leg to outside rein. That about sums up what we had to accomplish. So now I'm attempting to walk Mikey around with botched steering. Bless his heart, Mikey is just going along with bat shit crazy mom's very poor steering. Crossing the rein really multiplies any holes in the front end. With Mikey and me, it amplified the fact that I lose control of his left shoulder.

So we're walking. Use the left hand to get the horse to go right. Be careful of too much right bend.... only that's not what I have. The hole in both of our training is so bad that if I pull with my left hand, he moves his head left. If I pull with my right hand (so pulling on the left side of his bit) he goes left. Both reins now mean go left. Huge hole.

So the answer is to use right leg to get the bend back and push him into my left hand, only he's so resistive to it that I end up tying him up in a pretzel. I halt, attempt to put his head back on straight, try again, and he's bent off to the left again.

Trainer comes over to get me started because now Mikey's feet have stopped moving forward and I probably look drunk. She holds the right side of his bit and bumps the handle of my whip on his belly as I use my right leg. It becomes a battle for right bend as he's very resistive to stretching the left side of his body and bending around the right.

The next thing Trainer tells me is to use my right seatbone. I tell her I am. She says nope, you're not. Well hell. I know I have trouble with it, and I know all of Mikey's problems are because of my problems. So she has me lift my foot in my stirrup just a fraction of an inch. That helps me find my right seatbone, and Mikey immediately flings himself left and magically has right bend.

Poor Mikey, he was very confused by this point. He's tossing his head and in general pretending he's a giraffe. Trainer said he's allowed to be a giraffe, but he's not allowed to toss his head. Both legs kick on when he tosses his head.

So now we're walking on a circle and around the arena unaided but unable to keep right bend consistently. After finding my right seatbone and getting right bend (that's really all it took for him), I had to send him forward with my left leg without losing right bend... or hitting the jumps in the arena.

Poor Mikey. Those nice cavaletti blocks I made? I ran him into at least 5 of them. He'd try to go around and I'd try to encourage it but inadvertently pull him right into them, so the best I could do is stop, regroup, and try to get him turning and forward again.

For the number of times I said, "I'm sorry Mikey!" yesterday, you'd think he would have a good handle on the phrase!

We went around like this: Mikey swaps to left bend because I put my left hip into him/pulled the right rein/did something wrong, right leg press into him at the girth and lift my foot slightly to engage my right seatbone, Mikey swaps to right bend, LEFT LEG LEFT LEG LEFT LEG move forward! Repeat.

Trainer had me trot on even though I was still driving drunk in the walk because Mikey reacts better with a bit more forward momentum and I was doing a good job shutting down the forward. I finally got some softness near the end of the trot work and got a lot better at not hitting things in the arena.

We took a break (during which I neck reined Mikey on a long rein), and she said before we quit, do it in canter, my choice if I want to do trot-canter or walk-canter. I was like, let's go for broke and did walk-canter.

I have to say, once I set him up for the proper bend in walk and asked for canter when I'd normally put my left leg on to ask for more walk or trot, I had some of the crispest, lightest departs in our career. They weren't round by any measure, but they were prompt, with no shuffle steps to start the canter.

My hip problem became immediately apparent. Mikey was flip flopping leads like crazy. Every time I'd get right bend back and put my left leg on to ask for forward I'd swap my hips and he'd do a quick simple change to the left lead. We went for forward first where he was just straight, add bend, kick on. Apply right to left half halts, left to left half halts. I got a couple laps around the arena, then something incredible happened:

My horse became round, through, light as a feather, and so incredibly uphill. So uphilll. I finally had his shoulders under control. I transitioned to trot. An uphill transition into a trot that was no less uphill. Then we walked and fell apart and he got tons of praise.

I asked to do it once with normal reins to see what I could get without crossed reins. Applying the same idea, inside leg, inside seatbone pushed to outside rein, lots of leg go forward, left to left half halts, and bam, I had my super fabulous uphill horse. I didn't quite know what to do with him at that point so I had some trouble directing him, but he was so good! We agreed it really wouldn't take too long to fill in the hole after such an "aha!" moment.

Part of the reason I was able to cover up the hole last year is the fact that my core is very strong, and the struggle we would have would give us momentum to get somewhere. Between those things, I could muscle my way through the 3rd level tests, but would fail miserably on the flying changes. The other place I couldn't quite hold it together was in my lateral work, so that's why that work tended to fizzle out as we progressed in the movement.

Very exciting stuff. I'll spend a week or two working on it (not drilling the reins crossed as Mikey will eventually have enough of that), and we'll see what we have!


  1. That sounds like a physically and mentally demanding lesson, but a really good one. I have the same problems with my hips, but on the opposite side. It's so frustrating when you think you're using your body right and you aren't.

    1. More mentally draining than physically. I couldn't figure out what to do with myself for it to be physically draining! We did spend a bit of time in walk... between actual walk work, screwing up and using walk to reset, long rein walk breaks.... haha! It's not an exercise for everyone, that's for sure. The horse has to be willing to tolerate it without walking on its hind legs for one. Then the rider has to be tactful enough to realize when the horse has had enough and to stop pushing for a few minutes... one of her other students was watching and was concerned she'd have to do it too! It's an absolute good one if the horse will tolerate it.

      I've been trying to fix my hips for a while and I'm finding it extremely difficult. Sitting square in a chair or saddle and lifting my foot just a fraction of an inch has been the best way for me to get my right hip engaged. I know that's not a way to hold myself around the arena, but it's a start. It'll be something I have to actively remember every stride for sure.