In my last post I was talking about how I learned how connected is everything we do with horses. That was brought home to me on Monday. While there is discrete learning of specific skills that can be taught in isolation, you can't isolate the learning to respect and trust.
Let me explain.
Sunday night we had a warm spell and a LOT of rain. Monday morning dawned clear, warm and, most importantly, the snow and ice was washed away. It seemed that the start had aligned because no only was the weather nice I had a day off.
I brought Irish in the barn while I worked with Carmen. There was a fair amount of mud in the small paddock and I didn't want him to throw a tizzy and either hurt himself or pull a shoe.
Carmen was as good as gold in the cross ties while I groomed and tacked her up. I got myself ready and we headed up to the ring. I was well aware that I had not ridden or even lunged her for 10 days (January 1). A few times she got a bit in front of me and I moved her back each time. In the ring we walked the entire perimeter. I focussed on staying calm, clear and consistent. I expected her to walk beside me and tune to me not what was going on outside.
After we walked the full ring I moved her out to lunge. Overtime she shifted her attention to the outside I asked her to tune into me. I let her move out in her gaits but not be wild. I felt very calm and centered and made sure that I kept that feeling. I wasn't looking to tire her out- I was looking for her to be ready to tune into me without me having to do all the work. After going up and down the ring I asked her to whoa and she stopped and looked at me intently.
Okay then let's go.
I brought her up to the mounting block. She stood still while I got on, got my seat organized and picked up the reins. Only after I asked her to walk off did she move. She walked off and I tried to get a feeling of where her mind was. I asked her to loop and change direction several times so that she was tuned to me and not outside. Every time I felt her shift her attention I asked her to flex to the inside with her jaw and ribs. Each time she did I made sure to praise her. When I felt her tense up I made sure that my thighs, seat, arms and shoulders were relaxed. I kept contact but I did my best to be quiet with it.
I asked for her to trot and I met her usual balkiness at going forward. I kept my thighs soft and made sure my seat followed while I asked. I kept the trot sitting because her rhythm was so off that posting made it worse. I switched direction and kept asking. Finally she gave me a real trot. We trotted for half a circle and I asked for a walk. I didn't want her to think that it was all up to her to decide when we trotted and for how long. As always, once I get her forward it stays that way. I'm hoping that we can work this initial resistance so it disappears forever.
All of sudden I felt a sudden and sharp shift in her attention. I looked at there was a cat hunting in the next field. I could feel her getting ready to freak out. I softened my seat and asked her to flex. I trotted her away from the cat and asked her to whoa. At that point I let her look at the cat. I then picked up the reins and we went back to work. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: And trot on
Carmen: okay. wait. WE'RE HEADING TOWARDS THE LION!
Me: no, we're trotting
Carmen: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LION???!
Me: nope. we're circling, time to bend.
Me: and bend,
Me: good girl
Carmen: I am good. except that cat is worrying me.
Me: Of course you are.
Carmen: look at us go. I can leg yield
Me: yes the cat it's over there. We're here, leg yielding. Awesomely.
And after a while the cat was no big deal. There was no spook, no arguing, just questions and answers and working together.
I finished with some walk-halt-walks that were without any snatching of the rein. She was smooth in her halt, stayed in contact and then walked into it. For the first time ever.
I dismounted and rubber her forehead while she closed her eyes.
What made this a good ride was not my skill in riding. It was all the work I did the day before in the barn and the work I did in the ring before I mounted.
If I wasn't aware of how it's all connected, I certainly was now. Not that I don't think riding is important. It is.
But it's not the only road to Rome.