Wednesday, November 10, 2010

inspiration to ride, and the amazing Big Bay

Yesterday after posting Uta Graf's lovely ride, I went out to the barn, cleaned the entire tack room, let the Big Bay into the barn yard for some hoof cleaning, and then came in to get his sheepskin pad.

Keil seemed perfectly happy to come into the barn aisle and practice being tied (so much of what I do with him I do sans halter). I groomed him, realized he needed a sheath cleaning, got some warm water and took care of that, and then tacked up.

I decided to use his old bit, an eggbutt snaffle, that I put onto Salina's old bridle so I could use it as needed - I removed the cavesson so it's very much like Keil's bridle now, just with a different bit. When I put it on, he reached for the bit and took it into his mouth eagerly. I thought I had configured the straps for him before, but yesterday it seemed tighter and the bit seemed too high, so I lowered it to the last hole and hoped that might work. The bit was a little lower than I'd normally put it. But the moment I buckled the last strap, Keil lowered his head and began to mouth the bit in a clearly relieved, happy way. So I decided we'd try it and I gave myself the silent instruction to keep a soft contact so it wouldn't clank around too much.

In the arena I let Keil go while I brought the mounting block (I've noticed over the past year that every time I type "mounting" it comes out as "mountain" - which is truly one of those very relevant slips - that's how it has felt to me!) to the barrel I've been using to get on. Before I even had the mountain (see, there it went again) block positioned beside the barrel, Keil had walked over and lined himself up.

I praised him and then instead of climbing up and just getting on, I fidgeted. And he looked confused. "What does she want me to do?" He took a step back so his head was beside me instead of the saddle. This is entirely my issue and while I could spend a bunch of time analyzing it, I decided not to do that. Daughter came and helped by holding Keil and I slid easily onto his back. I think I have actually over-analyzed the whole mountain thing (and again the slip!) and I am just going to get on as fast and as easily as I can for now and forget about it.

There was the immediate feeling of total relief when my bottom hit the saddle. I was so happy to be there. Keil was happy to have me there, and off we went.

I had two areas of focus for myself: keeping a soft contact and equally weighting both stirrups. At one point I felt myself nagging with my legs to get a rhythmic walk and I took my legs off and began to chant out loud: one two three four, one two three four. Keil instantly knew what I was asking for and without missing a beat he stepped into the rhythm. We worked on maintaining that for several circuits around the arena in both directions. It was amazing how that simple exercise catapulted the ride onto a much higher, more advanced plane.

Rhythm and relaxation. It works.

So we had rhythm. We had relaxation. I was focusing on my contact. This bridle is very light in the hand. I don't like it much, as it is not an expensive bridle and the leather isn't that nice, but there's something about it that feels light and it's easy to hold the reins. (which are simple black web reins, but very soft because they're fairly old and also not that well made)  It occurs to me now that because this was the bridle I got for Salina when she first came to us, and the bridle I rode her in, maybe her lightness has soaked into it. There was definitely something going on that seemed almost magical - as though my hands had "learned" a more advanced way of being.

We proceeded with lots of walking, going deep into the corners and then doing free walks across the diagonals to relax even more. We worked on square halts and a little reinback.

We incorporated turns on the forehand and haunches into the corner work, did some shoulder-in, and through it all I made sure I was breathing deeply. Keil was very much on the aids at this point and I asked if he wanted to trot. I mean literally asked: "Keil Bay, do you want to do some trot?" And I put in a half halt and applied both legs. He went into a quite lovely trot and we organized ourselves. I didn't want to do too much trotting since he's been out of work for several weeks - but I wanted to do enough that we could benefit from the work we'd done toward rhythm, relaxation, and contact. We did about four long sides worth of trot in each direction and by the last two we got to schwung.

I should say Keil offered schwung and I received it. I don't think even the most advanced rider can ask for schwung - it comes from the horse, and only comes when we do the right things. Keil Bay almost always offers it when I take care of myself - if you try to demand it from him you might get grinding of the teeth, or you might get him leaning on your hands. But if you do what you're supposed to as a rider, he gives you poetry.

A lovely way of going where of course I wanted to go on forever, but it was the right place to end yesterday.

I wish I could convey the aura Keil has after a really good ride. He is so connected, so pleased with himself, so relaxed, and totally willing to stand in the barn aisle with no halter or lead rope and let me untack him slowly, brush him down, check his feet, and then offer him a handful of oats. He usually licks my hands, lowers his head so he can look me right in the eye, and only then does he saunter out of the barn aisle to graze a little in one of the barnyards while I clean tack and put things away.

I always think about the way Keil ends each ride with me. He rewards ME for the ride. It's what makes him so very special, and why I think we'll keep going no matter how old he gets or how old I get.

Every single time I watch him saunter out of the barn aisle after a ride I think: how did I get so lucky to find this horse?

Thank you, Keil Bay. You're priceless.


Anonymous said...

He sounds so special - and what a lovely ride!

billie said...

The most interesting thing about Keil Bay is that his previous rider and his trainer who handled finding him a new home, adored him. The trainer literally cried when he loaded up to go home with me. His previous owner teared up when I ran into her and told her how wonderful he is.

But there is another trainer who I deeply admire who mentioned to me at some point that he was "difficult."

I think what she means by that is the thing I noted about asking him versus commanding him. He's the kind of horse who responds to being adored and treated like a king. I've seen two trainers (both were working with me) ride him with a much more commanding air and although he gave them what they asked for, he gave it, if this makes sense, in the precise way they asked for it. Which was in one case a very matter-of-fact "okay I am doing it, are you satisfied now" way, and in the other, in an "oh so you want me to act like the kind of horse you favor, well fine, I can do that" kind of way.

What I get from him when we really hit our strides together has a magical, musical, lyrical feel to it. I'll take that any day!

Jenn said...

Oh, those poetic rides always leave you wanting more! Keil Bay sounds like he's a pretty special guy and very loved!

Sounds like you and I have the same "Nagging leg" issue. I recently developed it and really have to pay attention or I start "nagging" at Gabe to get him to pick up the energy. Pretty sure he's starting to ignore the "nagging." Oooh...nasty habit!

billie said...

Jenn, I have a habit of nagging (fairly gently - I'm not someone who boots a horse) until Keil gets on the aids - then I stop! Once he clicks into his high gear there is no need for anything but riding the big movement.

The most effective way of dealing with my nagging and his slugging has been Jane Savoie's technique where you ask ONCE with the quietest touch of the leg imaginable - she calls it a butterfly touch I think - and if the horse does not respond, immediately "chase" him into the next higher gait. Then transition back to the original gait and "re-test" with the softest request and praise like mad when the horse responds.

This works incredibly well and I love it because it's easy to incorporate a quick tune-up using this technique into the beginning of a ride or simply use as needed during a ride.

She suggests doing it for the verbal aids, the leg aids, and the seat aids so that your horse responds to the softest, quietest, one time request.

For me, this method offers something very specific to do so that I stop nagging and get Keil into his high gear mode.

Jenn said...

Hmmm...I'm gonna have to try that. I've been using the "whisper...tell...yell" method with Gabe to try to get a quick response with the softest aid (see how that can lead to nagging?) and it's not as successful as it has been for me on other horses. Time to shake it up for him and try something a lil different. Thank you! I'll let you know how it works with him.

Máire said...

I love your description of this ride. I could feed your and Keil Bay's mutual delight. (I must try that Jane Savoie idea too, it sounds good.)

billie said...

I'm not surprised Jane's method worked for Keil Bay, but the true test was the pony - it works so well for him.

The re-test with praise is the most important part - you want to reward the response to the quietest aid, not reward the 'yell.'

billie said...

Maire, we had another one today - I'll write about it later.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Keil Bay is a very special horse. You and he are very well tuned in to each other. Sounds like a very enjoyable ride for both of you. I agree with you about asking and not commanding. If I ask Dusty politely with let's say a 'butterfly touch' then she's up for anything. If I dare to command she may just take off like a rocket or not do anything at all. They surely let us know how to earn their respect.

billie said...

Arlene, Dusty has always looked to me in her photos to be a very dear and regal mare. I have so enjoyed reading your posts about the work you've been doing with her. I hope she's continuing her progress in healing and you can both get back into regular work in that lovely indoor arena!!