Saturday, May 02, 2009

finding the joyful moments with Keil Bay

The Big Bay and I got back to work on Thursday, after another few week hiatus from riding. Fortunately for me, Keil tends to come back quickly after a break and more often than not, we've built on what went before, even with the time in between.

We're having a bit of a puzzle with the mounting block. Keil Bay has never had an issue with it, until I forgot to tighten the girth that one day and slid underneath when I tried to mount. Interestingly, he didn't move during that debacle, but since then about half the time he will take a step back when I get on the block.

I realized yesterday that part of what happens when he does move is that I've expected him to step back, and I hesitate. The moment I hesitate he starts to step back. So I slide the block to where he's stepped and start again, but if I hesitate, he takes yet another step back. I can work through the issue pretty quickly by breaking it down into pieces, but what I'd like to do is stop my own moment of hesitation. Which gets back to my middle-aged obsession with the mounting block being at the exact right spot for mounting, something that never used to matter when I rode as a girl/young woman.

Yesterday, we did the mounting block thing two times and the third time I just visualized EASE and vaulted myself up without allowing myself to think about it. That worked well.

I have become slightly obsessed with reins lately. I think it's mostly because that's the part of my riding I'm working on most diligently right now. I feel secure in the saddle, my legs mostly do what I want w/o my having to hyper-focus on them, and Keil Bay is in front of my leg and moving with light aids. So the hands/reins are the primary focus.

I've adjusted my wrist position enough that it's happening naturally now, and that alone has made a big positive change. I'm on to two things: connecting my "hand" all the way up to my shoulder, so that there's a continuous line of "energy" that doesn't get blocked at the wrists, and practicing being able to constantly adjust rein length without it being clumsy - which is, I guess, learning to maintain a soft but steady contact with Keil Bay's mouth.

It's one of those things that is immediately gratifying - when I get all the pieces to happen at the same time, he gets very round and soft and that "circular" energy of a horse moving completely through is obvious.

The hard part, as always, is not giving up when any of those pieces fall apart, which they do, regularly at this point.

I've been thinking for awhile that the beautiful web reins that are on Keil's bridle are too wide for my small hands. They are also a bit stiff, and taking them up and loosening them is awkward. When I ride Cody, whose reins are leather and much thinner and more supple, I find the motion of gathering up/loosening reins a more organic process.

So Thursday I switched an extra set of rubber reins from the pony's spare bridle onto Keil's bridle. Although really long on the pony, they were a bit too short for the Big Bay, but even so, they had a different feel, and my hands were more comfortable. I've been attached to Keil Bay's "gear" - all of which belonged to him when I got him, but it's time to make some changes. I'm hoping on my next trip to S. Pines I can find a pair of used leather reins in the right color that are already broken in. Meanwhile, I'm going to try another spare set we have that are longer.

I've also realized recently as I go through Jane Savoie's Happy Horse DVDs, and continue studying Walter Zettl's Dressage in Harmony, that I'm not utilizing the outside rein as effectively as I should be. I am using the inside rein for too many things, the outside not enough, and I've got to focus in on this for a few rides to try and balance the two.

Otherwise, we had a good ride. We did mostly walking, a bit of trot work, and ended with some really soft and beautiful walk/trot/walk transitions around the arena in both directions. I became completely attuned to the feel of the transition moment itself, and how wonderful it feels when the two of us are in sync and the transition comes from that deep place where our positions are good, and there's almost no need for the actual aids. It's more like I think the aid and he does it.

These pure, single moments when things are so finely tuned and working perfectly are what bring me the greatest joy in riding. That I'm getting tuned in enough to feel them makes me as happy as winning blue ribbons would.

I was reading a blog the other day where a group of posters keep a sort of journal of their riding and work with horses. There are a few posters who continually refer to their horses as idiots, and talk about them "being stupid." There's almost a derisive tone to their descriptions of every ride, and it makes me wonder what brings them back to the saddle.

I can't imagine ever calling any of our horses idiots. I can't imagine blaming my horse for things that don't work. For the most part, I figure everything that happens under saddle is ultimately my responsibility, since the horse wasn't born with a human being sitting on its back, and since I know without question that even though my horses are trained to carry a rider, I am far from perfect at being in balance, giving clear and consistent cues, and rewarding them properly when they do the exact right thing I've asked.

Each time I get on my horses, I do the same thing I do when I open a new book. I allow myself to be willing to be amazed. I never get out of the saddle without expressing gratitude for the ride.

Just as in day to day life, where looking for the joyous moments brings grace and satisfaction and fulfillment, seeking the same when riding can be a path to transformation with a horse. If we seek the pitch-perfect places, however fleeting they may be, and build on them, we find softness and willingness and connection.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Glad to hear you and the big bay have been having good rides. I know what you are referring to with the reins, I do have a terrible time with them also. I've got to say I do have a trainer who is adamant about correct rein usage and independent seat, so I feel that someday I will have an aha moment and actually 'get it'.

On another note I totally agree with you about horses and their riders. It seems to me that it's not the horse who is an idiot but most mistakes can be solely attributed to the rider and the wrong signals they give. The horse is not a mind reader and needs to know exactly what it being asked of him/her if there is to be compliance and complete understanding between the two. As you said each perfect moment with your horse no matter how fleeting should be built upon step by step until we can string them into the softness, willingness and connection we seek.

billie said...

Arlene, it's a relief to hear someone else has struggles with the reins. I feel like it's the last *big* issue I have to work on, and then it will be more work on putting all the aids together - seat, legs, and hands - and having them each be independent and ingrained enough that I can get more of the magic to happen in sequence, simultaneously. :)

I admit, I do have images of Keil Bay and I out on a wooded trail that will someday adjoin our property, doing all sorts of upper level dressage movements just for fun as we enjoy the ride and the day, together.

Nachodonkey said...

When you get on the mounting block and Keil Bay steps back - would he come forward a step if you asked him? If you placed him at the block and then stepped up and down and asking him to take a step forward when he backs up and not trying to mount until you can step up and down without him moving, do you think that would work?

I agree with you wondering about people who think their animals are idiots when it is we who condition their thinking to what it is. It baffles me as to why they would bother. The more I learn, the more I know that the horse is just being a horse and I am being unclear in what I ask if I don't get what I would like. Funny how it goes, the clearer I am, the smarter they are!

billie said...

He will step forward, and he doesn't move if I climb up and down. It's the split-second between my left foot leaving the block and putting it in the stirrup - if I hesitate in that split-second, he steps back.

It seems connected to my hesitation, like he thinks there is something wrong and steps back.

It's possible the day the girth was loose, I hesitated, and now he's associated the two.

He's completely used to me climbing up and down, moving the block five times before I get on, etc. But it's that moment when my foot is heading into the stirrup and I don't quite follow through.

Now, admittedly, he shouldn't do this! But we just have to re-lay the tracks, so to speak.

I love the last line of your comment!!

Nachodonkey said...

Suppose you stood on the block and just lifted your foot without putting your foot in the stirrup and if he moves back just lower your foot and ask him to move forward - then just lift your foot again until you can stand on the block and lift your foot up and down. When he stands for that put your foot in the stirrup and out and down without trying to mount until he is again comfortable with that....just asking him to come back into position whenever he moves.

As you know, I have been looking for a Homeopathic Practioner and as luck would have it, the lady who will be replacing me at work (I am retiring, yippee!!) put me in touch with a lady who treats animals and people. They say when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

I will make an appointment and get my homeopathic supplies now before I need them. Thanks for your advice when Bing caught his leg in the gate. He is now back to his cheeky self with just a few scrapes and no swelling. I went for a wonderful ride through the forest with my daughter last night. We just walked but it was wonderful.

billie said...

We are on the same wavelength, I think!

That's exactly what I mean when I say "break it down into small pieces."

That works. And then at some random point I hesitate again when mounting (different ride, different day) and we start over again.

I'm so glad to hear that Bing is good and that you have a homeopath! How exciting!

I should report that our cat Apollo Moon (aka Moomintroll) has not had a seizure since his one dose remedy!

Janet Roper said...

Good to be back and get caught up on what's going on. Loved what you said about being willing to be amazed. That is going to be my mantra tomorrow!

billie said...

Hi, Janet! It's good to see you here - I need to pop over to your place and catch up too. Hope you're well and enjoying spring.

Victoria Cummings said...

I couldn't believe the difference it made when I switched to soft leather reins. There's also a leather cleaner and softener called Oakwood that I swear by. I have to admit that I have no patience for people who say bad things about animals. Let them all blog back and forth until they're blue in the face - fortunately, we've found a kind and decent group of people who understand the joys and lessons of living with other creatures. I'm sorry if I sound self-righteous, but I really wonder when someone who refers to their horse as an "idiot" is finally going to realize who the real idiot is.

billie said...

Thanks, Victoria - you've reminded me to be grateful that when I post something here, I'm practically assured that no one is going to tell me Keil Bay is being an idiot and I just need to have a "come to jesus session" with him. I think that might send me right over the edge!

So to all who comment here and write blogs that keep me smiling and learning and growing and appreciating, THANK YOU.