I’ve learned so much in the past two months and have had no time to blog. I remember approximately 39 of the things off the top of my head and record them here for my future self.
Top 10 Things I Learned or Deepened My Understanding Thereof
- Horses find joy in patterns. I have always stopped too soon because I didn’t want Rocky to get bored, but actually, I should accept his feedback when he loses interest and do something to reengage him. I also worried I was overtaxing him physically so would switch directions too soon, instead of getting solid on one side and then evening out by doing the other side in the next session.
- In encouraging me to move my body in certain ways, it’s like Erin gave me “permission” to do what my body wants to do, rather than what I’ve taught it to do because of the way I interpreted the riding lessons of my youth. I’d always been taught to ride with contact and poise — but I lacked foundation, so I had no understanding of the substance beneath the form. I also lacked the sheer physical strength and stamina to do it. So I compensated by becoming very locked down — basically riding with a brace all the time. Erin’s demonstration of how big my motions could be resulted in a comprehensive relaxation of body, mind, and spirit.
- Relax Rocky (and myself) into the trot, instead of tense us up. Manage our emotions when our blood gets up in the higher gaits as we progress to the next level.
- No one wants to play PacMan Level 1 maze their entire life. It’s supposed to get more particular, faster, more challenging — that’s why it’s fun.
- Inner thighs can and should be on the horse when in two-point. Somehow I had the idea that my lower legs should be on but my thighs should be loose so that my knees didn’t pinch. No wonder it was so hard! Now I know to hug him with my upper legs, and that I should even be able to swing my legs from the knees down without interrupting my two-point, because I’m using my core, not standing in my stirrups.
- I saw how much effort Rocky puts in to learning something new.
- Tense and subtle just makes us twitchy. Better to be loose and large (“exaggerate to teach”) and refine as we get better. Relax into refinement.
- One of the most powerful influences in my growing horsemanship is the opportunity to watch horses interact with each other throughout the day. Learning how they move entirely by their own choices; how they respond or react, how they play, how they communicate, how they inhabit their bodies.
- Rocky can brace by being a wet noodle. Brace doesn’t have to mean stiff.
- There is no reason Rocky can’t be as excited about being ridden by me as I am about riding him.
- The CSI pad makes my English saddle fit Rocky perfectly, and stabilizes it for me too. We are both much more comfortable and able to move fluidly.
- Girth extenders exist.
- I punched holes in the billets of my saddle to enable us to use my girth even with the added thickness of the CSI pad.
- CSI pads are made in the USA, hand-sewn by horsewomen in Missouri.
- CSI pads cost $300-350. But I have a shim pad that was $150 and several other pads that ranged in price, and none work like the CSI. Hence, saving up for a CSI pad.
Reading the Horse
- Rocky is tolerant.
- Horses can express cinch-related claustrophobia subtly with a nostril twitch, a turn of the nose or ear toward you, a flick of the tail. It doesn’t have to be large, and it doesn’t have to escalate. We need to recognize when they are telling us stuff.
- Rocky pinned his ears when I started to cinch and then immediately perked both ears forward and looked expectant. Apparently our stint of cookies-make-cinching-fun stuck with him and now he’s doing the behavior pattern that paid off for him before, even though he isn’t nearly as cinchy as he used to be. Our other friendly games around the girth have paid off!
- Rocky shakes his head less when I borrow Erin’s CSI saddle pad than when I use no pad or just a dressage pad. Erin pointed out to a student that the horse had given many warnings, putting his head way down and shaking his neck, for two circuits of the arena at the trot. She said it would become bucking if we ignore him long enough. He was generous in his long warning. The student dismounted and they tested the horse’s back and found some soreness; they called the chiropractor right then and made an appointment.
- Rocky has trouble trotting evenly on-line so it’s not surprising that he has trouble with a rider.
- The arena sand had become so uneven, it gave Rocky even more challenges. Erin and her assistant Maddie spent a day with the tractor moving sand back into its proper places.
- Finesse is intense. Follow the 80/20 rule, with 80 percent freestyle and 20 percent finesse. For example, after a few turns on the forehand, walk the length of the arena to “shake it out.”
- When to stop and when to keep going.
- Rocky learned fast to put his head down and relax when I flicked the string during moving Friendly Game. He has also improved his ability to maintain gait while I flick. This is a wonderful new coping skill.
Being Where You Are
- It is okay to be wobbly and weak in two-point right now because as I continue to build skill and strength, I will pinch less and less. I can’t avoid doing it, waiting to get good and comfortable at it first, because I won’t ever get good or comfortable if I don’t do it.
- My focus is improving.
- I have a better idea of how to picture “what it will look like” before I ask us to do anything, and my pictures are more accurate because I am so much better at seeing horses and not being blinded by “Squeeee! Horsie!”
- Erin told Rocky to “find a different coping skill” when he shook his head up and down when he was bored while we talked. I made it a game, shaking the rope as soon as he started; he stopped.
- It is hard to flick the string over his back while he trots around me, and even harder to do that while he’s wearing tack. That extra little whirl you have to put in so the popper doesn’t just curl around and slap him is hard to do while in motion and while farther away from him. It is best to stop when my wrist gets tired rather than keep practicing, fatigue, and establish incorrect muscle memory.
- Corners game helps him learn to go high in the corner and not cut it off.
- Rocky finding his confidence as he figured out the pattern. His gaits smoothed out and he stopped trying as hard to evade or brace.
- When Rocky starts evading by going backward, first check my hands — often I’m accidentally putting pressure on the front of his nose — and keep my legs squeezing him forward. If I must escalate, bend him.
- Bending is key to everything.
- Really understanding direct and indirect rein, and learning with direct rein to move my supporting rein down just a bit when I open up my leading rein.
- One rein for steering, one rein for stopping.
- We ask horses to overcome their instinct to move into pressure. Thus, we must work to replace our instinct to grab with a relaxed, nonresisting response.
- The use of the pinky and piano hand in the direct rein.
- The power of the Cloverleaf Pattern. Erin said she will know that I have mastered it when I can do the whole thing at the canter with my arms folded and not having to correct my horse at all for several repetitions.
- The Cloverleaf build my confidence and Rocky responded to my leadership.