Thursday, February 21, 2008

lesson in lightness

Yesterday's ride on Keil Bay was another windy experience: shavings tarp flapping and billowing, dressage marker rolling, whirlwinds of leaves in the back field. Keil was extremely alert and yet still in connection with me. If I clucked or squeezed one rein, he flicked an ear back to check in.

We warmed up with lots of walk and then some lateral work. My focus for the ride was lightness of aids, and timing so that my release of pressure came a split second before he responded, so he was rewarded for the try. I've discovered I can feel his response to an aid before he makes it if I really pay attention, and my feeling is that if I reward him that quickly, he'll be happier.

I noticed right off in the trot that he was lighter than usual. The sensation was intriguing - it felt both like we were moving slowly, in the air, and that I could sense each one of his feet in its own path toward the ground. We built this up to what I call Keil's "power trot" - a big working trot bold and forward with his back fully engaged.

The real lesson in lightness came with his canter, especially to the right. The instant I asked for it and he transitioned, it felt like we went airborne. For a few strides I couldn't tell if we were truly cantering. I knew we weren't trotting, but Keil Bay's big canter didn't feel as big. Suddenly I realized he was indeed cantering, but he was fully engaged, holding himself up (he has a tendency to let me do that for him) and the result was like floating. My seat was firmly in the saddle and my hands and legs were very still.

His harder side is left and while the canter was just a bit less light in that direction, it was still quite good.

This kind of ride makes me realize once again how much the horse teaches the rider. Everything I struggle to accomplish with my own body happens on its own when Keil Bay gets light. How much of that came from my own focus on lightness of the aids, I'm not sure. But either way, the gestalt was lightness, and we were a happy riding team during and after.

There is nothing like walking a happy, relaxed horse out to the field after a great ride. I slid Keil's halter off and waited for him to turn and touch me with his nose before he ambled off down the hill.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Keil Bay sounds like a really special horse. It seems as if you two really connected. I have always heard the saying 'it's not the horse, it's the rider', it applies to any situation or circumstance.If the horse is behaving badly, it is the rider's fault for riding poorly, if the horse is perfect, it is the rider who should be commended for a proper ride. I like to think it is a mix of both horse and rider working in unison. We don't get it all the time, but when we do it sure makes everything we do with and for our horses worthwhile.

billie said...

Around here, he's known as "the King" and he is indeed a very special horse. He's the most expressive horse I've ever known in that he is incredibly fluent in the English language and seems to understand everything I say to him verbally - and in fact, responds using his own vocalizations and gestures.

I know what you mean about "it's the rider" - but I have to say Keil Bay gets a huge amount of credit for doing good things even w/o my lead. He's a solid 2nd level horse with training higher than that, and he has been incredibly kind and giving as I re-learned having a horse, caring for one, and getting my seat back these past 4 years. He always teaches me what I need to know w/o scaring me and it's completely to his credit that I'm no longer cautious or tense when riding. I trust him and he trusts me, and that is priceless.

Just yesterday I was out in the field applying a treatment to his sheath, believe it or not, with no halter, no lead line, nothing. The other horses were wandering up to check out my bucket of warm water, and Rafer kept nosing around trying to see exactly what it was I was doing to Keil Bay. A big bang sounded from down the lane, like the sound of a piece of sheet metal dropping, and everyone spooked. Keil Bay spooked in place, not moving a single hoof, because I was pretty much underneath him at that moment. I felt the shudder go through his body, but he didn't move. I've never known another horse so careful. If I had been out of his way, he'd have run off with the rest of the herd.

He has his issues, but then, so do I! :)

The moments of grace while riding are worth every bit of work, without question.