Monday, July 4, 2011 |

7-4-11: Maia got the feel of a turn!!

The feel of a movement

Maia gave me a GREAT 4th of July present—the feel of a turn! Meaning, in feel/release, we talk a lot about the “feel of a horse” and “the horse feeling of you” and the “feel of the movement.” Those all have a lot more depth than may meet the eye. Let’s take the latter. If the horse has the “feel of the movement,” it means he not only understands the job, but has been shown it through release so that there is no brace at all in his body. He has completely engaged in what he is doing both mentally/emotionally as well as physically (a good, athletic posture, root of the neck up, etc). In its barest form, when the horse has the “feel of a movement,” he is in total self carriage both mentally/emotionally as well as physically within the movement.

Maia clearly did NOT have the feel of a turn when we got here. She thought left meant right and vice versa. I’ve mentioned that before, but she was constantly falling out, popping her outside shoulder, pulling on the inside rein, counterbending, and trying to turn the other way. Now, that’s quite a laundry list and she wouldn’t always do them all simultaneously, but they’d all happen quite a bit. I was constantly reminding her what her job was. So, clearly, she was in self-carriage neither physically nor mentally.

The spiral through release—on the lunge and under saddle

Now, it’s no secret that I am still definitely struggling in applying feel/release. My default at every moment seems to be pressure/release, but it is slowly getting better. One of the things we can do with relatively consistent success is the spiral in and out, both on the lunge and under saddle.

The spiral, as I’m doing it, has a few elements:

1. The hind leg connected to the feel of the inside rein
2. Leg releases in and out
3. Rein releases in and out

I’ve been associating the feel of her inside hind reaching forward with giving her more float in the line, then advancing that by having her put the float back in the line by engaging and/or bringing up her inside hind when she feels the float coming out of the line. This means her first response to a leading rein or lunge line is to get
engaged over her topline with a deeper bend.

I had her spiral in by sliding the outside rein and releasing inside hind with my inside heel, then spiral out by lifting/slide releasing the inside rein and releasing the inside shoulder with my toe. If I find her starting to counterbend and switch her “lead” at the trot (meaning, she’s balancing over her inside diagonal), I lift-release the inside rein and she bends right back.

I do the rein effects on the lunge in a similar way, except I don’t have an outside rein. I have her spiral out by lift-releasing the inside rein (or just releasing it) and releasing her off the space beside her inside shoulder. I have her spiral back in by releasing her inside hind and engaging more, sometimes taking a feel on the lunge line. She really starts to round up a LOT and gets beautifully bent—suspension, moving over her topline, it’s great.

Our wonderful day!! The feel of a turn!

Maia was doing quite well in her lunging spiral and I started riding around and practicing the spirals. There has been a big change in my riding when, the other day, I recognized what a lift release is—how to put a feel on the reins, particularly the inside one, without making her feel pressured. So that softened my riding a lot and made her happier.

Also, yesterday, I realized she did not have the feel of really engaging her inside hind on a release from my inside leg. So we did some intense work on that until she was really feeling it and stepping under. That also is key.

So I was trotting around to the left doing spirals and I started getting all my releases coordinated just right—the outside slide, the inside lift, the inside heel—and she was getting all of her responses coordinated as well—and she got the feel!!! She absolutely, utterly clicked into the bend, mentally/emotionally as well as physically. In fact, in typical Maia-fashion, she got so excited about it and so totally proud that that is ALL she would do. She just trotted this teeny tiny little circle with this engaged, collected, super round trot, root of the neck up, arched neck, and so totally bent. It’s actually a different bend feeling than I’ve ever felt from a horse—this was a bend. I felt that the root of her neck was not only way up, but it was to the outside, which makes sense, given that she was balancing over her outside diagonal. In fact, her entire neck physically looked different. I don’t know how, exactly—I’ll pay more attention next time—but I think it had to do with being a perfect C from her withers to her nose with the whole neck vertically (bottom to top) being flipped/angled to the inside? I’m not sure. It looked quite different… and perfect. :)

And the physical self carriage was like nothing I’ve ridden before. It wasn’t just that I could’ve dropped the reins and she would’ve kept it (they were loose to begin with), but that she absolutely loved the feel of it—she wasn’t doing it off a cue she was waiting for me to end, but just had the feel of the job and through the release found it addicting.

So I didn't really have a good picture -- and this was a happy day, so, smiley face! But it's also the 4th of July, so let's have a patriotic smiley face, shall we?

I’d stop her and let her glory in that :) and then we’d practice going right (she is more stiff, was getting the feel a little but not in the place of 100% like the other side) and then go left again and she’d get a little stiff and I’d give her one good release off my inside leg to engage her inside hind and she’d go, “ohohohoh, yes yes yes, I remember” and with the most thrilled body language leap into this teeny tiny circle again. I played with having her widen the circle a little but was totally fine with the teeny one, if that’s what makes her so thrilled for now. Actually, according to Mike Schaeffer’s “Right from the Start,” there is a certain size “natural circle” for each horse where they truly can bend and engage, and it’s usually a pretty small circle. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maia’s magic circle is even smaller, given that her conformation is already predisposing her to be collected and “on the spot,” as an Andalusian. So maybe we just found her natural circle!!!

So that was an absolute blast and I’m so thrilled and can’t wait to ride again.

I feel our relationship is getting better! She is coming alive, asking for help, participating, versus waiting for me to do everything to her. Above all, she is becoming a living, participating being and partner, looking for how she can take responsibility and help me out. This is so beautiful to see… so beautiful.