May 2nd: The morning started off really early with a long list of things to do. Jeffra had arrived late the night before and we headed over to Quail Hollow Farm to start the day off with a session for Bree. Kirsten headed out and got Red so she could work him while Jeffra and I took care of Bree. Poor Bree was a mess. Her hips were out, and her spine was really crooked. Jeffra pulled her tail to release some things, and also had to put her 1st rib back into place. Her shoulders were uneven, to the degree that her right shoulder had no point on it when looking at her from the front. Her neck was also very out, and Jeffra did a number of different things to help her release that. She found that there was no flexion in her pastern on the right side, and that the joint was not allowing the hoof to move almost at all. She was able to really help her, and it was so nice to see Bree moving so much easier and with a much better expression on her face. As we finished up with her the farrier arrived and began to work on the horses so we didn’t even have to turn them out again.
From there we headed over to ERAF again to work Logan and Milagro. Logan was like a different horse, he didn’t throw a buck or any kind of attitude the entire time and took to the long reins like he’d been doing it forever. Milagro did very well in the long lines, too, working in a deep stretch much of the time and was not pulling out of the circle as badly as he had before. He was tracking nicely, too. From there we headed back to Renee’s for another lesson, this time with her on Rio, another gorgeous horse. As it happened the lesson was the same one that I was working on and to watch it from a different perspective was delightful. Kirsten worked on adjusting her position in the same way that she had mine: don’t let the guts spill out, soften the back, rise from the front of the hips, keep the shoulders forward and work the flex in the joints. Renee asked about posting to the canter, and Kirsten explained that it is just like posting to the trot, but you rise for a stride and sit for a stride and that it is a really nice way to ride because it helps keep the weight off the horse’s back.
Renee was commenting that one of the horse’s that Kirsten was going to work with through the summer had a really bad morning, he wouldn’t drink out of a regular water bucket, so she put a larger tub in the stall and the dumped that over. He also didn’t want to be caught in the stall (her stalls are double sized, so the horse has plenty of room to move around) and so he was still left in his stall. Instead of riding Ziggy, Kirsten decided to work with Doc on some learning frame of mind work in the round pen to get him started and hopefully so he is more trusting of people and more confident in himself. Doc never really did relax, but he began to follow Kirsten’s movements much better. He still liked to lag behind and when she would encourage him forward he would often shoot past her and end up walking sideways ahead of her until she could convince him to get back into the right position. As she started to work, Ziggy started hollering from the barn since his buddy Doc was out of the barn. Kirsten told me that I could go get Ziggy and do some learning frame of mind work to get his feet moving and help him not worry about other things that were going on. I came inside to get him and he began to settle down quickly as we got outside. I worked around the round pen for a little while walking backwards and then headed into the arena area. I was really pleased with how quickly Ziggy started to look to me for information as we worked. It didn’t take long before I turned and began to hand walk him rather than struggle to walk backwards through the uneven sand. It took him a minute to figure out that I wanted the same exact thing from beside him that I expected from in front of him but he quickly settled in. We even began to do figure 8’s with him responding nicely to me even with me on the outside of the turn. After we worked for a while I switched to hand walking on the off side, which took him a minute to get used to again, and then he settled right back in. We worked for quite a while before coming over to watch Doc’s progress as he very slowly made some changes.
She finished up there, and we headed over to another farm in the area to work with a little gray Paso gelding named Talley that was having some problems that were remarkably similar to Bonnie’s issues. Patty was a friend of the owners and was riding him one day and he decided to ignore the brakes, which unnerved her quite a bit. Kirsten had given them the task of walking 10 steps and then halting to the count of 10, and Talley took quite a bit of offense to that exercise. So this lesson was all about using the long lines to build in the brakes from the ground. We got there a little early, so Kirsten got set up in his paddock which was a comfortable size and had several obstacles to work around which is good for long lining. By the time Patty got there Talley was through his little mini meltdown and he was going quietly for Kirsten on the long lines though still hard to stop. Kirsten explained the principles to Patty so she would understand that the objective was to build a new pattern for Talley so that when he was confused or upset he would stop rather than keep plowing forward faster and faster and ignore the rider. Kirsten began explaining these things to Patty as Patty walked next to her while Kirsten worked the lines. Talley began responding with less effort, and was waiting for longer rather than simply pausing and walking off. Kirsten handed the lines over to Patty and it took her a while to sort things out to understand the mechanics of the long lines. Having reins that are 25 feet long is a bit disconcerting to people, and often a struggle to figure out how to handle all the line and not treat it like a lead rope, but treat them like reins. Once Patty began to make that connection, things started to flow. Talley was offering to stop and stand still and wait when Patty lost the connection with the reins, and he was waiting patiently until she asked him to go again, often looking over his shoulder at the two of them with a quizzical expression. As Kirsten put it this was building in the golden set of brakes that will help to give Talley confidence when he is ridden and a greater willingness to look to the rider for direction.
We finished up there and headed back to Michelle’s to work with Max and Razzie again. The horses were standing at the fence watching us as we came in, and Razzie ran around the clump of trees but then decided that he did want to work, and came right over to allow me to put on the bridle. Both horses had improved, though Max kept wanting to get his tongue over the bit. Every time I looked over Kirsten was stopping to help him fix it. Max was not pulling out as badly as the first day we worked on the long lines, and was tracking up nicely. His impulsion was still low, but it was more comfortable than the first day. All in all it was an uneventful hour, which is desirable! When we finished up Kirsten wrapped up her lines and unbridled Max faster than I finished with Razzie, and had started walking up to the barn to give them a treat and left Razzie and I in the field. I pulled the bridle off before I finished coiling the lines in case he might want to follow Max, but instead he stood with me while I finished wrapping up my lines. I gave him a pat and turned to go up to the barn and he stuck with me and followed me all the way in. It is a good feeling to know that the horse has chosen to connect with you and stay with you.
We made a quick stop at the house for some snacks before heading back over to Quail Hollow to work Hercules and Condessa for only an hour this time. The farrier trimmed Hercules that morning, and he was moving much better as a result. He was able to track up square for several steps at a time. His muscles were moving the same as they had before, but the tracking was greatly improved and he was not diving out of the circle quite as often. He ended up pooping five times in the hour, which is only one less time than he pooped in our first two hour session! Most of the piles were small, but it was obvious that he was beginning to find movement. It was their dinner time so I put Herc into his stall and went back to clean up the arena while Kirsten rinsed down Condessa to get the sweat off of her.
Back home we got Prima tacked up and Kirsten let me start out without her being warmed up first. I noticed right after I settled into the saddle and headed for our circle that she was high on the left, and so I started working on getting that fixed. We started tracking to the right as was our norm, and she soon flipped back to her normal pattern. I worked to balance her at the walk before moving up into the trot and canter. Things felt much more stable and comfortable despite the fact that I was pretty sore by this time. I was able to constantly adjust and experiment to find whatever combination of things it took for her to stretch. Her feedback is so pure that you know completely when you get it right so you can really look for those moments to know exactly what they feel like and work to replicate them over and over. We worked on cantering again, and everything was beginning to feel closer to normal and not so grossly awkward.
We switched directions and began going left, which is her stronger side, which means that she is prone to flipping the ball back and forth rather than simply being stuck on one side. As I worked into the faster gaits I was having problems steering her and getting her out on the circle. I finally connected that clear rein contact is required on both sides in order to maintain balance when the ball flips back and forth. When a horse is stuck to one side, the head has to be tipped in the direction the ball is stuck, and the other rein is simply used to help guide the horse outward on the circle so that the horse goes more “straight” even while having their head tipped to one side. That rein is often rather loose, so there isn’t much clear contact in it, if there is too much contact then the rein bent to the inside becomes confusing. But when the horse is flipping, even rein contact is needed because the corrections are much subtler, so a shift of the weight and possibly a slight tip of the nose is all that is needed to move the ball back to center. Once I picked up a lot more contact in the outside rein at the canter she was moving beautifully and able to stay on the right track.
Roger began to harrow the yard at this point, and Prima and I kept working around the tree. Jasper got excited and began to run with Prima and I on the circle for a lap and then go chase the mower for a lap. We were laughing at his antics as Prima and I worked. Roger finished up with the yard area, and so Prima and I would expand our circle to include the other clump of trees to allow Roger to make a loop around the working tree, and then we could come back through and do a few laps at the canter before letting Roger go back around. Kirsten had me use Roger’s tracks as a guide so that I could really work on staying to the outside of the circle. Prima was really able to hold the canter much longer and I was able to stay better organized and balanced better. On one turn around the circle I looked over to where Roger was coming along behind the house and Jasper had pooped RIGHT in front of the tractor, and then danced off playing, much to Roger’s chagrin. I laughed so hard that Prima and I couldn’t get organized and I had to take another lap before I picked up the canter again.
We slowed to cool her down at the trot and finding her balance became that much easier. She was able to get really close to posture 3 for several steps at a time, and was not flinging her head back up into posture 1 between the good spots. The shifts became more subtle which is a good place to be. Keeping myself supported by the skeleton and working from the joints with the motion really helped me to find better organization to stay balanced. By this time Prima and I both were hot and sweaty and covered in black dust. I left Kirsten to hose her down while I went to get into the shower to hose myself off! I had to get myself organized to get packed quickly for an early start to the next morning back to Baltimore.