Calabar and me, getting ready to learn a few things.
I have had some formal training and lessons. I have also held on for dear life as my horse chased a mechanical cow or galloped up a trail, smiling the whole time. There is a balance in between, I think, and it amazes me sometimes how much I don't know about riding. We're talking basic fundamentals, really. Do this, expect this movement. Do that, expect some other movement. What?
Calabar may know even less than I do, and has not always been willing to learn. Control the situation, yes; learn, no. But something has happened along our journey. He is trying to learn (most days, anyway), now, even when he is entirely unsure what it is I'm asking.
This all crystallized a little more at another clinic today with Ellen Eckstein.
We had another mildly rocky start--including Calabar nearly pulling himself loose from the trailer when Lena got out of sight--but what we all learned was so worth it. Even the bout of breakfast-impeding nerves I fought before even leaving the house.
I'll cover the fact that our horses are totally herd-bound later, but let's just say we worked through Calabar nearly getting loose, then leaping above the ground before settling down, all while Lena Rey called to him during most of her lesson.
Steve and Lena had a great lesson, working on position for both of them. Lena is allowed to have her big, beautiful head up as she canters as it gives her the ability to balance herself and drive with her hind end. I'm sure there was more, but I was busy with the brown horse and missed most of it--including some bucking, apparently. All I saw was the beautifully balanced canter at the end and a happy horse and rider. There are pictures, but they are being edited by a far more talented photographer than I and will be posted later.
Then it was Bar's and my turn. He had settled way down from his antics and was standing mildly at the side of the ring waiting to see what was next.
What was next was Jess learning to tell Calabar what to do with his body. My goal was to learn how to ride his trot. It turns out we both had lots of things to learn. It's not that I just had to learn to ride his trot, I had to learn to teach him how to trot. He trots off his front end, propelling me out of his saddle with every step. It's kind of a post, but not really, and is rather impossible to ride--let alone ride well. We won't even talk about sitting it.
Of course, I didn't know that was what the problem was. I thought it was all me and my inability to become one with the jackhammer trot.
Ellen helped me see that perhaps there was another path we could travel, this horse and me.
Bridging the reins in one hand, directing with both inside and outside rein--WITHOUT over(t) steering. Now switch directions. Then we tossed in a Dressage whip to get a little more life out of my horse. (WHAT?!)
I know. I had the same fears. If I smack him, how long will it take me to hit the ground? It turns out... he needed smacking. Really? This horse was just bouncing straight up in the air and dancing, why would he need an extra push? Oh. Because he has no idea what to do with those hind legs. And no idea how to turn from behind. And I have no idea how to tell him to do these things. Or I didn't.
I do now. And it didn't even take more than one good smack. Maybe two. And many, many tiny circles in both directions. "Stop neck reining," said Ellen--more than once, I might add. Apparently, muscling a horse through a turn is not the most effective technique. I've had instructors tell me to use the outside rein to counter balance, but Ellen said, "Don't cross it over his withers." OH! That's what that meant. Hear the little bell going off in my head? Yeah, I heard it too. Quite a bit.
Of course, I also had to learn how to use a Dressage whip properly first. This was not as easy as it may sound. There is switching of hands required so said appliance is always in the inside hand. There is the angle in the hand so there is actual contact instead of just waving. At least until waving suffices.
Waving was not enough initially. It may be later. I believe Ellen's exact words were, "You need to be more definite." No, I did not cry out, "BUT WHAT IF I DIE??!" though I did maybe think it briefly.
All the while, even when he was confused about what I wanted, Calabar tried and he tried really hard. Even when he got frustrated, he hung in there with me and kept working on figuring out what I wanted. That little piece tells me how far we've really come together, and that is a gift beyond measure.
There is more to learn, always. With horses, with life. Coming come away from a lesson with clearer objectives and a path to achieve that next step is so valuable. Coming away and feeling like you can actually achieve that next step is golden.
It's like I got Calabar all over again, wrapped up in a big red bow--WITH an instruction manual! How cool is that?
Pretty cool, I have to say.