April 30th: We had a late start to the morning which was really refreshing. I still woke up at 7ish, but I was able to slowly get up and get the day started. We talked over the plan for the day and decided to ride here before it got too hot, and then head over to work under the covered arena during the warmest part of the day, and then return home for the afternoon.
We got Mick set up to ride and Kirsten got on first to warm him up good so that I would have an easier time of being able to ride and work on myself. She actually went all the way up to cantering with him in order to improve the slower gaits. Mick’s trot looked really good and strong, getting several steps of posture 3 at a time even in the trot after she finished the canter work. She talked me through the process as he worked in each direction and what she was having to do to balance him. He was going very well, and so she got down to let me climb up.
She set me up to try to find the same feelings that I had on Prima the evening before. Searching for the same sensations on a different horse took some experimentation. Finding the same position took a little while but I started to find the right feelings again, though Mick took more encouragement to really balance well in addition to my leg and rein aids. It took a while to really recreate the sensation, but once I found the right feelings he began responding faster and faster. Kirsten worked with me to adjust my posture some and help me find the right cues to be able to balance him. When we started working he was popped to the outside of the circle, which was interesting to re-balance because it was counter to what most horses do. It meant that paying attention to the feel of what the horse was doing was more important to keep correcting the horse to straightness. Trying to develop the same feel to keep getting back to the same sensations was a challenge, and as I got tired it got harder and harder. When we finally changed directions, it was a challenge to be able to keep him balanced because he began to flip back and forth from one side to the other very quickly. I was getting pretty tired by that point so it was getting more difficult to maintain my correct position, and to add to that the speed with which he was flipping made it really difficult to adjust to rapidly. Kirsten was calling out the directions of the ball to me as I was riding, which helped but I just couldn’t keep up. We wrapped up on a good note as I found some stability and Mick improved into posture 2 and I was able to maintain it.
After un-tacking Mick we took a short break before heading over to Quail Hollow Farm to work a couple of horses. Hercules and Condessa needed marathon 2 hour sessions on the long lines to help them work out some issues. Hercules was so tight that he needed the entire 2 hours of very slow walking to make a change. He was working so hard at the slowest pace possible, but yet wasn’t trying to stop too much. Kirsten working Condessa at the other end of the arena made Hercules look like a cow pony just poking along. He was doing a lot of stretching and twisting and chewing with his mouth in rather odd positions, and it reminded me of Julius in slow motion. The stretching was really helping him to loosen up ever so slowly. He started out so stiff and hard, but eventually I began to see tiny wiggles, more like small vibrations in areas of his shoulders and hindquarters. They were so faint that I could only see them when he came around the circle on a certain side in the light. He also pooped a lot. In our two hour session he pooped six times total, and ended up peeing twice! Making all the changes in his body was making him feel strange, and he was often stopping as if to poop, but nothing would happen. He stopped several times before he actually peed, and would begin to park out but wouldn’t actually do anything, and would look around at his side and look at me with a bit of a quizzical look on his face. The changes in his muscles were making him feel strange, and apparently affecting his body function as well.
His primary pattern was to pull outward on the circle, so the hand with the inside rein was continually getting a workout. He needed to be tipped out on the circle in order to begin to find stability in his hind end. We worked, changing direction every 30 minutes as Kirsten watched the clock for us. The pattern was always the same, regardless of the direction, he would pull outward rather hard as we worked along. As his muscles slowly began to loosen they finally started rippling and jiggling the way that they are supposed to. I noticed on one of the turns as he worked with his right side to me that he had a line that almost looked like a scar across his shoulder. I asked Kirsten about it and from the other end of the arena she said that he had no scar or anything. When we finally finished up, I showed it to her and she said it is called a ‘pain line’ for some reason. It is the result of increased blood flow to an area, below the line was a bit puffy, which is where the blood was moving again, and the area above was still flat where circulation had not yet returned. It was interesting to watch the changes in him over such a long slow period of time, and realize that he had to have the work that long and slow in order to make the change. He simply would not be able to accomplish those changes at a faster speed. The contrast against the work that I did with Razzie the day before where he needed the faster work in order to loosen up first was very stark. The trick is knowing how to make the right choice to reach the same end goal for each of the horses with very different paths to get to that goal.
We put away Candessa and Hercules after a good hosing and got Bree and Red out of the pasture for their work. Thankfully they only needed hour long sessions! Bree was having a problem with her right hind which was causing her left front to go lame from the over compensation. Kirsten explained that if Bree was worked to the left at all she would appear totally lame on that front foot, so I was to only allow her to work to the right for the hour. We set out, and I was grateful that she was not pulling near so hard outside the circle as Hercules had, so it was not as much of a struggle to handle her and keep her balanced. She was still tipping outside the circle in order to stay somewhat balanced, and I noticed right away that she was tracking with her hindquarters pretty drastically to the inside of where her front feet were tracking. Watching her left front and back feet showed that her back foot was tracking anywhere from a complete step inside where her front foot stepped to six or eight inches to the inside of her front step. It was also noticeable that her right hock was very stiff. She was not able to flex her leg upward in order step forward, so her leg sort of dragged forward, instead of stepping fluidly. She made progress over the course of the hour, but she was still struggling. She has an appointment with Jeffra coming up on Sunday, so hopefully Jeffra will be able to help. I also noticed that she had a pain line on her shoulder but it was not as pronounced as Hercules had been.
We finished up there and headed home to take a bit of a break before working Prima. We tacked her up and Kirsten rode first to get Prima nice and warmed up. I studied Kirsten as she rode and worked Prima through her paces. She did not let Prima ‘get away’ with being out of balance. Her corrections were immediate, and timing was perfect so that as Prima lost her balance Kirsten was already actively doing things to get her back into balance. Her feel of knowing what happened before what happens happens was perfect. Watching her post and seeing exactly what she was doing and her positioning helped me to gain a better understanding of where my body should be. She finished warming her up and I climbed on and began to try to put things together again, seeking that same feeling and locking it in. As Kirsten guided me I began to notice other things about the position that got the right answer from Prima. I was able to connect the feeling of my lower leg, and the feeling of my thigh together in the position to gain a better feel for when it was “right.” Kirsten encouraged me to experiment with the trot and so I began to work with Prima to ask her to trot. It took a lot of work for me to bring my energy up and help her to find the faster gait. She didn’t completely believe that I really wanted to trot, and it took some convincing from me, and then more convincing to persuade her that I was balanced enough to stay in the trot. Trying to juggle the horse’s gait and keep them moving when you are experimenting with the positioning trying to get it right only makes it that much more challenging. Prima and I went through the scenario of her trotting, me getting unbalanced, she slowing down, which pitched me forward, and me saying no, no, don’t slow down, and her speeding up again which pitched me back and then her eye roll and quip of “see, I knew you weren’t in balance!” Slowly as I experimented those moments became fewer, and I began to connect the pieces and get the feeling locked in at the faster gait. I discovered that if I focused on keeping my feet feeling flat and wide that my leg ended up in a better position, and did not come out of the position as often. That resulted in the right answer because Prima was able to stay in the trot more consistently and I was able to help her find the stretch through that process. I am sure I was not as effective at shifting my weight, but the fact that my legs remained more stable due to focusing on my feet meant that the rest of my body was much closer to being in the correct position and so she was able to give me the stretch into position 2A.
We finally wrapped up as the light was fading and Prima got a hose off after we took her tack off. Kirsten had been working in the palms cleaning them out of the dead fronds from the winter cold snaps, and since there was just enough light left she put me to work digging a hole to transplant a few of her Bougainvillaea bushes to help fill in across the front of her fence line. They are nasty plants with thorns that have a bit of a poison in them that likes to cause quite an irritation if you get poked (which is almost impossible not to do). Once the hole was ready she set me on another palm and I worked to clean out a lot of the dead fronds. It just looked like it could breathe when I was finished, which made me feel better. By that time it was just about dark, and so Kirsten and I headed inside. Roger and Gabby had arrived from the store with supplies for dinner and got to work making burgers and salad while Kirsten and I headed off to find the shower to remove the layer of black dirt that we were covered in from the ride and gardening. It felt so good to wash off the ick and as a result dinner didn’t get eaten until 10:00. And boy did it taste good!
How is it that a new problem can help overcome an old problem? Ironically, the solution for many problems we face with horses, often lies in cultivating the opposite problem; one that is uncharacteristic or not normal for the horse. The process of finding balance...