Saturday, January 28, 2012

Finding balance.

Energy cannot be controlled unless you have balance. A horse
cannot be balanced if he does not have a posture that takes more weight on the hindquarters and lifts the weight off the forehand. An impulsive horse may get faster and faster because he is not balanced. Being out of balance is an unpleasant feeling that leads to anxiety, and this makes him move his feet more - so immediately there is a connection from the physical to the emotional that feeds back to the physical again. ~ extract from 101 Horsemanship Exercises by Rio Barrett

One of my best friends (Colleen of the previous blog Smile) posted this on a chat group a few days back. I have been thinking about it ever since.

Saddling up today in the eternal search for more Derby miles and a saddle that fits Royal in which to achieve them, I decided our topic of the ride was going to be finding balance.  Someone suggested that to me, in my personal life, the other day as well. Seems timely.IMG_20120121_150218

Note the headgear! I said that’s it, I am having one as my beanie kept threatening to fly away!

Forecast be damned, it was windy and quite chilly. I was happy to have my brand new Elmer Fudd hat (all the right folks are sporting them this year!) and my several layers of unwieldy but toasty warm winter gear. Hey, how do you lose a quick ten pounds? Get undressed when you come home from riding in January in Nebraska!


I know you have seen this one of Corie before but I love it. And, look at THAT hat!

I love the bright ears forward attitude my horse takes when we leave out the drive. Of course., there are the suspicious tilts here and there at shadows, the air conditioning compressor . . . the “holy cow what are THOSE” moments (in this case it was a couple blown over trash cans that had the audacity to wiggle when we strode by).


Nonetheless Royal seems to enjoy our excursions, and the more hours I log with him, the happier and more content we are becoming with one another. As a rule. There are exceptions.

We strike out across the beanfield, and I just want his happy feet in a straight line. I chose to head up and over instead of around, figuring letting him pull a long grade is not the worst way to warm up and maybe take off a little steam. (yeah right, ARABIAN here, 12 miles later, there was plenty of steam still with us).

Riding alone today, I look out across the distant fields, much as I did across mountaintops as a kid, picked out a spot and decided to ride to it. We cut through a bunch of fields, sometimes through freshly turned heavy soil that caused my horse to really think about where he was putting those feet. Trotted a lot, loped a lot, me mostly two pointing, and allowing him to move freely under me. Staying out of his way. That’s a huge goal.

A friend of mine is on her way to becoming a Centered Riding instructor. We have been discussing those techniques and they seem to do for the rider what the natural horsemanship stuff does for the horse. I think about these things as I ride, unlocking tension in my ankles and knees, flattening my lower back, swinging my shoulders back and forth like hinges until they stay open and down of their own accord.  I feel the tension leave my neck muscles and I smile. Royal lopes happily and is still straight, little to no correction from me!

We found cool spots, a treeline between corn and soy that afforded some downed logs for jumping. Royal LOVES to jump.  Point him, stay out of his way and follow him over. I think he would jump the moon if the right person were onboard.

The saddle I am riding today is the Bronco Billy roping saddle I am trying from that same friend of above quote.  It sure does work for me. I am hoping it works for my horse. My only question is that generally, in saddle fit, I am told you want front and back screw sitting level.  While the saddle seems to sit level on my horse, the front screws are slightly lower, indicating it may be a trifle wide on him.  I used the good Teskey wool pad today and was hoping for a definitive sweat pattern. Didn’t get it.  12 miles on a cool day is not enough to pull sweat out of THAT horse!

BB Roper with shock pad

This is with a Mayatex shock pad under it. The Teskey sat it up a little more in front.  Good two fingers between pommel and saddle.

I left his face alone today. A lot. Each ride, something comes up that tells me what to do. What bubbled up out of this one was teaching Royal to find and take responsibility for himself. His gait, which needs to not change until I tell him to, his feet, which need to not be all over the place, even if he is afraid of something.

He’s not much afraid of things these days. In a few short rides, the stops and starts are almost gone. Royal does follow me emotionally, and when I spy a farm house a few hilltops away and start worrying about dogs, he is worried also. He doesn’t know it’s about the unseen maybe-dogs, and shies at a leaf, a dirt pile, what have you. Things we have been by, 10 feet past and nothing to worry about them.  I, apparently, have some responsibility of my own to find, in this search for balance. My emotional stability so I don’t freak out and upset my good horse who is trying to follow my lead as best he can. . . No wonder he has trouble staying straight!

He’s bold and brave today. Just goes where I point him.  We find a road and follow it. Shortly ahead is a railroad crossing. Took me FOREVER to get Ginger across one of these, first time she saw it. Took Royal about 30 seconds. I let him stretch his head down to have a good look, just as I would have told you to, and trusting him, let him pick his way across. I am ready, in case it’s a leap and skitter. It’s quiet careful footfalls. He is calm. Damn I love him.

AND THEN HE’S NOT. Up ahead on the left is a big pile of logs. Gotta be a bear, really considering the eight foot necked giraffe I am suddenly astride.  What I know is concealed by the tall grass to the right of us is a section of railroad track. I am not so much afraid he will fall over it as I am thinking about the uber athletic jump he is going to take when he bolts to the side (away from the bear-logs) and they hit him in the ankles.

Suddenly, I Jose. I channel him for all I am worth (Trina Campbell “Terri, WHY would you let it DO that) and the three of us tell that horse to walk through there, straight, and in the bridle.

You know what? He does it. He is obedient to my hand and leg. Maybe for the first time ever when he is really scared, he listens to me over his fears. Now that does not mean we didn’t get some quick steps and a desire to bolt the hell out of there.  But he didn’t bolt, he did stay with me. We turned and faced the scary evil log monster and the roaring wind moved some corn stalks behind it. OH DEAR GOD, he says, we are going TO DIE.

I didn’t escalate with him, (don’t get sucked into your horse’s drama, Georgia Susan), I wasn’t even tempted. We hung out a little and then left at an acceptably calm walk.

Here’s the deal. Not too long ago, I am having to breathe down my fears and concerns, to really think about relaxing so I can stay with my horse, and keep him with me. We are getting to the point where we are both coming to these things pretty darned instinctually. Might not be a big deal for anyone else on this planet, but’s it’s giant strides for us. I found myself wondering, as we plowed through a remote field, miles from anywhere, how long it would be before I would trust Riata like this  . . . awhile, I thought.

On the way home, Royal gets introduced to the life of a working western horse. You think I have forgotten all about the original topic, balance. Nope, it was is the way I sat him,. the way I asked him to ride down one row, how I felt his stride lengthen and shorten, how I would ask for longer, not quicker strides . . . it happened all day long. Easier to do than to say.

This working western horse, you might ask? What’s that all about? Well, for me, it’s about a horse that stays with you in all ways and does it on a loose rein. He’s not real broke, Royal, and it takes a broke horse to attain the levels I want to be at, with him, but you gotta start somewhere.

A set of tin sheds with a loose metal piece, clanging and clattering (did I mention, it was WINDY) was an excellent opportunity to practice. He gets big, wants to leave. I deflect his forward motion, bringing his head around and allowing him to follow himself around in a small circle. At the apex of the circle his feet have to slow, as he gathers for the next half. I release as the feet slow and ride out of the circle on a loose rein.

That’s a neat piece, right there you guys. If your timing is right, you will eventually get a horse that will walk out, head down on a loose rein. If your timing is not right, you may wind him up like a clock and have to deal with that problem. I have been there, too.

It really didn’t take long, this is a very smart horse, and knock me over with a feather, we are strolling along on a long rein, his neck is low and level with that pretty western head set that I really love (having ZERO relation to the peanut pushing of some poor show horses).  I have kind of forgotten about this bit in my latest fascination with dressage and English riding.   Being a magpie, I collect a lot of cool pieces and it would be nice if I didn’t forget them as I go!

There are some sticky parts, where he gets wound up. Doesn’t want to give his hip around and runs out through the shoulder. Uh uh. Nope no way. I tighten up in front, use my spur and the hip comes around. Sometimes he does not pick the best footing for these arguments, but I ride him anyway. Hopefully he won’t fall down, and you know, he doesn’t.  When the hip comes around, I bring the shoulder through. Again, it doesn’t take long and he’s back with me, clangy metal thing far in the distance behind us and forgotten.

When I would feel his hoofbeats speed up in a nervous way, I would give him a job to do that required him to care about where his feet landed. I would care about where his feet landed and try to stay clear and consistent in my communication with him.

Amazing how much calmer we both were on this ride as opposed to the last one. There were so many places I trusted him, allowed him to be brave and only micromanaged him when he told me he needed that. So many times he walked over culverts under us, heard the water rushing, felt the difference under his feet and was brave, not to mention the near cliff face I asked him to scramble up when we ran into a ditch barrier. Even when I almost dumped us in a bog, he put in two front feet, and as they sank out from under us, he was in the air, coming around and setting us back on solid ground. Not in a wild whirl or mad dash, just taking care of business. Being responsible. That’s what we both were, today and it was GRAND.

So, in a blog that I started out talking about searching for balance, I end up talking about responsibility. Interesting, huh?

1 comment:

ann said...

Holy doodles Terri!! You are such an exceptional writer!! When is the book being published!!?? Very nice!