Yesterday afternoon it was chillier and windy, and the sky kept shifting from sunshine and blue to dark gray. I decided I wanted to ride anyway, keeping the routine in place, and seeing how Keil Bay and I did on the ride *after* our good work on Saturday.
It's been dry lately, so all the horses have been easy to clean up, which makes for a much faster "tack up and ride" experience. I used the extra time to do some TTouch massage, from Linda Tellington-Jones. Years back, a riding instructor recommended her book as a good one for a girl getting her first pony, and my daughter and I read it together and have occasionally used some of the techniques. Keil Bay loves anything that falls into the category of pampering or giving him special care, so he lowered his head and chewed and licked.
He was relaxed but at the same time alert. It was one of those days where he seemed to be 17.2. Tarps were flapping on the shavings pile, and one was completely loose in the barnyard, flying around as the wind picked it up and dropped it back down again.
Fortunately, Keil has become nearly immune to the tarps. His thing yesterday was the wooded end of the arena. Each time we rode into that area he wanted to cut the corners so as not to get too close to the woods. I let him check it out and then began to ask that he pay attention to me as we approached the corners and rode deep into them with a correct bend. When he torqued his neck to look at the woods, we rode a circle and tried again. Initially, it took 4 circles to work this out. On the fourth circle he let out a big sigh and gave up the idea that there was something to spook at.
My line in the sand with him about spooking is that if he doesn't spook at something when he's not under saddle he shouldn't be spooking when I'm riding. He'd just been loose in the barnyard, prior to tacking up, and had gone down the labyrinth path to the gate, looking for bits of green to nibble, without so much as a peaked ear or snort.
On some level, I think Keil enjoys making the rides interesting, and usually when he starts out acting like there might be something to spook at, I know we're going to have a good ride.
We did a lot of walking correctly. My focus was on two things: making sure my entire body was positioned well, and riding with what Sally Swift calls "soft eyes." I've noticed that I can get very fixated on Keil's body when I'm riding - noting the bend, etc. - and while some of this is a good thing, it can also add to the crookedness. Often if I let my eyes go "soft" and look ahead without focusing too hard on any one thing, Keil will straighten and move much better. I'm sure it's my body that's torquing in the hyper-focused moments and when I do the soft eyes, I relax.
So we walked. I decided to let him set his pace, since he was already up and alert, and just ride what he offered until it settled into a good rhythm. This was a wonderful part of the ride yesterday. He enjoyed being in charge of the rhythm while I stayed soft and correct. We rode the full arena, we changed directions, we did serpentines, we did the entwickeln exercise again. It went much better today, as I was able to do it without thinking too hard through the steps, and after a couple times in each direction it became obvious that Keil Bay was nice and warm and flexible.
(I forgot to mention that I also did this exercise with Cody on Sunday. Cody does not know shoulder-in, but this exercise presents it in such a way that the horse seems to get it instantly. Cody did a great job and the suppling was evident in his gait after the exercise.)
I had planned to do lots of trotting with Keil Bay, and we started to the right. Again, I asked him to trot very correctly, and I put each part of my body into a good position, checked back periodically to make sure it was still IN that good position, and otherwise just looked up and enjoyed the ride.
The reward for this was Keil really getting down to work. Which I think is a misnomer - what he gets down to is really a pleasure in moving well, with his rider balanced and staying with him. I wish I could show a short video of what it looks like from my perspective from his back when he goes into this "mode."
He rounds his back, which makes my whole body feel suddenly like I'm an Olympic-level rider. It feels easy, and like I can do it really well. His neck rounds, his poll is suddenly the central point I see, and the movement of his shoulders is different, as though they are being pushed from behind by a well-oiled engine. We got this trot going to the right in about one long side of the arena, and we kept going for quite a few circuits, as I really wanted both of us to incorporate the sensation of that lovely, balanced movement.
The transition down to walk was elastic and wonderful. I gave him a few minutes' free walk, but still correct, as we changed to the left across the diagonal.
And then we repeated, but to the left. It was harder getting the correct bend going left. We had to do some 20m circles to establish it, and then try to keep that up the long side. There's one spot in the arena going left where the tends to show his stiffness the most. I think the footing is thinner there, or perhaps it's just his habit, and mine. I tried to let go of my expectation that he would stiffen on that stretch, and tried not to automatically torque my body. We rode through with much less stiffness the first time around, and the second, right as we entered the stretch again, he went into his power trot and we both nailed it. Very very good. I wanted to end on that note for that particular stretch, so we kept trotting, but I circled at E the next few times around so we could continue the work but not push our luck.
I often end the ride by riding on the buckle and letting Keil Bay go wherever he wants to. I practice thinking directions in my head and seeing if he heads that way on a loose rein with no aids, and often he does. He was so relaxed by the end, and I felt completely relaxed as well - strong and relaxed. It was a great ride, nothing fancy, but like both of us notched up quite a bit from the previous ride. I know part of it is the regularity we've had, and that we're both getting back into shape.
There is nothing quite like riding Keil Bay's big, powerful trot when both of us are feeling good and doing our parts together.