Getting Back to Basics

December 19, 2012

I have been under the weather for the past week, but I had a lesson scheduled for Sunday, so I toughed it out.

My friend Laura came out to my barn and she worked with me and both ponies.  I rode Simon and she worked with Milli.

She has a natural horseman approach, and did a lot of ground work with Milli, teaching her to step off with the correct foot, and to move back, and less on her forehand.  It was really interesting to see how quickly Milli caught on and improved.

Laura pointed out how she was licking her lips and chewing a lot, which are signs that she was processing and thinking.  Laura would pause on occasion to let Milli digest what she was being asked to do.  She also explained what she was doing, and the reasons.  One thing I found interesting was that most horses tend to have a shorter stride on their left hand side.  Since we lead from that side, they tend to have to shorten that step to keep from stepping on us.  She demonstrated and it was very easy to see what she meant.

Next she did some small lunging type of work with Milli, mainly to see where her balance was.  Which was one of the things I had stated needed to be worked on.  Milli could hardly keep her feet under her at a canter, showing her lack of balance.
Next Laura hopped on Milli, still using the rope halter, and did some walk/trot circles and movements.  Here it was even more evident to me, the spectator, how quickly Milli was catching on.  Upon mounting, Milli immediately put her head down, ready to plow ahead.  Laura explained she was saying “I am ready for you to pull on me”.  In just a few quick minutes she had Milli moving in circles, much lighter, as well as standing in a nice leisurely halt.

The pony is really smart and eager to learn.  I was amazed at how quickly she caught on and how agreeable she was.  Milli is an unflappable pony and has an outstanding work ethic.

Meanwhile Laura went over some basics with me, having me ask for turns and circles from Simon while using my legs and body properly.  It was a very basic riding skill that most beginners learn, but having it refreshed in my head, and then put into immediate practice was key.  Simon responded straightaway and we moved on to the next skill, “the doors”.

Laura explained that I want to picture a door in all four directions of my horse, front, back, right and left.  I also want to imagine a second set of doors placed between each of those, in the corners.  I always want a door open.  Then we went over the basic body position for using each door.  Position of the seat, releasing of the legs, softening of the hands, etc, all accompanied by a deep breath.  Then I practiced those transitions, stop, forward, stop, forward, and then stop, right, and stop, left.  Again, very basic, but put into practice with visual explanations for better absorption.  Simon continued to respond like a champ, and I felt successful.

I have not have a proper lesson in probably two decades, and I have recently acknowledged that some of my basics have become weak.  These basic riding skills should be automatic and practiced without thought, like picking up the correct posting diagonal without thinking, feeling or looking.  It becomes an involuntary action.  But some of my leg and seat queues, are not as programmed as they should be, and need refreshing.

I also needed a direction to go in with Milli.  I knew she needed to be better balanced, and to be less on her forehand.  But I needed a jump start on how to achieve those two goals.  And now I have somewhere to start.  I think she needs to be built back up, starting in the walk/trot, and building the balance and impulsion there, before she is worked into a proper canter or started into real games riding.  I would like to build her w/t and then work on her games turns at the w/t before we put too much work into her canter.  I think building the skill and know how at the slower gates, will make it easier for her to work toward those skills at a canter and then a gallop.

So Milli is going to be a longer term project, and an excellent opportunity for me to develop stronger horsemanship skills, while she learns as well.  I am really looking forward to this experience and opportunity.  Having a rock solid pony in Simon, where I can work on my riding skills, as well as romp around carefree, while I work with such a smart eager to please Milli, will give me an outstanding equestrian experience.

Unfortunately, I am still going to need a new games pony for the spring.  So I am continuing to shop for one.

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