Lessons learned above the ground

I have been riding Rocky bareback in the arena about three times per week these past two weeks. Not long rides. Five minutes at first, working up to 10 minutes and then 15. His backbone is so prominent that I can almost hear my tailbone grate on it, so I suspect I was not entirely on my balance point. Yet with each ride I became slightly less wobbly, slightly more secure physically and emotionally. It helped to have a buddy in the arena who could keep an eye on things, too.

Tonight I pulled out the bareback pad to give us both that little bit of cushion. It was only when I finished the second circuit of the ranch drive that I realized it had not occurred to me to ride in the arena this time. Seems like the bareback pad was enough to make me feel secure out in the varying terrain and additional obstacles and potential spooks of our furlong of “track.”

Rocky and I played — let’s face it, worked — on respect tonight. That was more on my mind than any worry about spooking or bareback. I discovered I don’t have a clear picture of what respect looks like for me ‘n’ Rock. Without that, how can I provide leadership through consistent boundaries and phased reinforcement thereof?

In a lesson with Erin last month, I learned what constitutes the minimum level of having a plan, a vision of an outcome. She asked me:

What savvy?
What pattern?
At what gait?
How many times?
With what level of quality?
What am I prepared to do to help my horse be my partner in achieving this outcome?

I came up with:

On-line
Figure 8
Trot
Twice
Soft, rhythmic, with contact, asking questions, willing
Calmly send again if she breaks gait; wait for the question instead of coaxing; allow; encourage forward motion if she gets bucky and squealy and maybe turn it into a circle for a while; stop when we achieve the outcome and not go back for “another.”

It took a lot of thought for me to come up with that goal and plan for achieving it because at each step I thought “but it is kind of pointless; what does River get out of it?” and had to remind myself that River gets the fun of movement in harmony, which is how horses play.

Tonight, as I walked back to the house, I wondered what goal I communicated to Rocky on our four loops of riding. I did not play follow the (t)rail along the inside or outside edge. I did not play point to point. I was not exactly a passenger, although I did leave him alone when he walked in the direction we were going. I paid attention to my fluidity but used the reins almost every time to turn so my body language must be sloppy and inconsistent.

I am at a point now where I can have a riding goal beyond “not fall off.” We have not mastered follow the rail, which is the first or second freestyle pattern. Is follow the rail a goal? Or a means to fluidity, focus, and all the rest?

I Remember Pat saying his mastery students have to do follow the rail pattern every day until they can go for 45 minutes with only one correction. If I remember correctly, it is even 45 minutes at the canter, although maybe not, maybe the 45 includes walk and trot warm up and cool down too. But I think it was 45 minutes at the canter.

Rocky and I can’t even stay on the rail for one whole side of the arena. He anticipates corners and wiggles in one or two tracks, so obviously I do not have even half the focus riding requires, nor am I providing my sensitive princess RBI with strong leadership. I remember from my ride on Kresege how much focus it took to keep a straight line down the length of her big arena. When I got it, I recognized it, and that even though I had thought I had focus before, I hadn’t. Not really. It was like that elusive moment when you realize you have “feel” with contact. That one perfect moment where you recognize THIS is how it is supposed to be. THIS is what they mean. I get it now. Yes. This. Now that I recognize it, I know what to go for. The question becomes, How do I get there from here?, not anymore Where am I going?

So. On Wednesday. Before I even go out to Rocky’s pen. I will write down a few things.

What is my riding goal for this ride, for the next ride? If my big goal is to canter bareback, what step can I take this ride to move myself an increment closer to that canter? What one thing can I fix today? Because I can’t fix my focus, my fluidity, my independent seat, my balance, my softness, my leadership, and my ambidexterity all at once.

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