The lesson today went super! During my warm up which was walking on a long rein and aiming for straightness in a slight shoulder fore, I noticed that this week it was the left shoulder that was pushing out. Last week was the right shoulder, so its always something new to work on!
We did a new exercise that Karin learned from a cowboy. Its her western shoulder trick. While walking a 10 meter circle, lift your inside hand up to release the inside shoulder then push it out with your leg. Once he releases, go back to being straight on the circle and repeat a few times in both directions. This really worked! She said it was a way to isolate just the shoulder and get it working for you without him being able to evade with his hips or brace with his jaw or poll. I found that to be a very useful trick in the corners to keep him relaxed in the jaw without pushing though the inside shoulder. So, once we established what lifting the rein meant, I could use it to a slighter degree as we went around the rail in trot or canter work.
We really worked a lot on controlling the shoulder today. Working on being straight is much harder than I had ever imagined! Boomer does great to the left and is pretty straight and easy, staying well connected to the outside rein. To the right, he really tends to just fall in with his haunches. Instead of trying to push his haunches out, I have to correct the shoulders and his haunches will follow. So, I have to keep the slight inside bend, use my inside seat bone to push his shoulder out, my outside rein to keep him on the rail- but not to much outside rein or he swings his hip in, and come firmer with my inside leg if he tries to leave the rail and drift his whole body in. Not sure if it is harder to ride or write!
I did have a few aha! moments today. I need to keep in mind how sensitive he is and sort of play around with the kind of contact and aids he likes. I noticed this while I was trying to move the right shoulder out while tracking right. When I use my whole leg he tends to resist and push his hip against me. So, I sat deeper and used my thigh and hip and he was much more responsive. That might have been the first time I discovered my seat bones. I ride like a hunter equitation rider, so I am generally up off my seat bones. Up until now, this has worked fine for me to be slightly tipped forward and avoiding weighting my seat bones. However, Boomer needs my support there. Karin pointed out that he used to blow through my right leg with his shoulder on turns and circles and now his hip is swinging into my outside leg, perhaps he is almost seeking contact with my seat bone- but it isn't there to support him so he ends up crooked. I think this was the first time I ever rode him off of my seat and I was really impressed. Going right down the long side that has a mirror I was able to see exactly how he was tracking up and how my hips/seat were changing his position. Imagine that he has a light in the middle of his chest and I have a light in the middle of my chest (work with me here). The best I can describe is that my aim was to have his headlight maybe 10* to the right of the straight line and my headlight 10* to the left of the straight line and we ended up with his legs tracking up and a very nice, slight inside bend at his poll. So, I was really almost pushing my hips where I wanted him to go, not where he was headed. In the canter, this felt a little like I was going against him with my seat, but he ended up straight.
The canter work was awesome. I was able to get him going with the same amount of straightness we had at the walk and trot. He felt much more free and balanced. He actually slowed himself down and I was able to move his shoulders over. I can't really describe how great it felt except that I was smiling the whole time! We worked on the canter a lot and Boomer did start to get 'longer' as he got a little tired. To the left, it was an easy fix. We went on a 20 meter circle and I worked on collecting his strides using my legs and core. It was fun. To the right it was a little more difficult because he was reverting back to wanting to race around when he felt he was losing his balance.
At the end we let him trot and stretch his neck down. I guess this is the 'stretchy circle', sort of a funny name, but I'm sure it is the best description/translation possible! He seemed to really enjoy that and got the idea very quickly. We also worked on the free walk along the diagonal, which is a marching, forward walk on a long rein. That also went really well. Karin really likes his walk and I was really working with my hips to get him to really stride forward.
What a fun lesson! We really progressed a lot and I feel like I am riding a real horse. Not a baby, green, silly horse. A real horse who responds like he is supposed to and does what I ask! He is also a really cool horse in that he is so honest. If I ask for something wrong, I get the wrong results. I have to really learn to be subtle and precise in order to get the response I want.
I did have one realization today that was bittersweet. Boomer has really been muscling up. People are noticing. They say he has gained weight or looks taller. I am seeing more muscle at the base of his neck, behind his withers, in his hindquarters, and recently in his loins. Of course, I am thrilled. He looks different and carries himself differently. However, I'm not the only one noticing, my saddle noticed too. It is starting to pinch his shoulders right at the points. I thought I felt it last week, but today I am sure. I did notice in just the last few rides that he has been swishing his tail. I can't say if it is because I am making him work harder and he is 'talking back' or if it is because his shoulders are being pinched. I can't afford a new saddle. I don't want to get rid of my current saddle because of the sentimental value. I can borrow one of Karin's saddles for lessons, but I don't know. I am hesitant to buy a new, wider saddle for fear that he will change back or keep changing or whatever. What if the muscle isn't real and its actually fat from the rich spring pasture and he is going to change back and what if, what if, what if?!??