I got to ride Mia twice this week, but, since Debbie wrenched her back badly, I didn't get a riding lesson. So I worked on things in my position that Debbie had been getting after me about, mostly making sure that my lower leg did not go too far back. Debbie DOES NOT like seeing the whole girth when I am riding, she wants my lower leg right at the girth. Of course Debbie is right. My wandering lower leg is a big part of the reason that the horses stopped wanting to keep contact with my hands. Without the solid foundation of a secure lower leg I had no hope of keeping my hands steady. My front to back balance has gotten steadily worse this summer, and somehow it felt right to me to move my lower leg back, and it feels not so good keeping my lower leg at the girth. With MS I often cannot trust what my body is "telling" me. However I CAN trust what the horses are telling me! They were telling me that I had to work on my position while riding.
So both days I started out in two point at a decent walk. Sinking my weight into my heels, cocking my ankles and keeping the inside of the ball of my foot against the inside branch of the stirrup (I hate Fillis stirrups!) Keeping my knee pointed and as far down as it would go. Gripping just with my upper calf only when I needed it. Checking periodically to make sure I could see the tip of my boots, and making sure that I immediately looked up again! Pressing out with my solar plexus so my shoulders got into the right place. Moving with the horse and breathing. After three times around the ring, mostly in two-point, I asked for contact, and on both days Mia willingly gave it to me.
Wednesday we mostly worked on moving out at the walk, going back to the regular walk, then moving out again, both on the rail and winding around the jumps. One of the most effective training techniques in the Forward Seat system is stabilizing the horse in three different speeds of each gait. Since it is summer I've been working on this mostly at the walk. Usually I have been concentrating on the regular walk and the more extended walk, asking with my legs for longer strides (while giving with my hands) and asking with my hands for shorter strides (while keeping my legs quiet.) I hadn't worked much on the slow walk since Mia's preferred gait was a slow, shuffling walk. Mia has started to give me generous regular walks this summer and I figured it was safe to start asking for a slow walk, and I've done so a few times during the last month. Friday I also asked for a slow walk several times.
The first time I asked her to slow her walk, my signal must have been a little bit too strong. Mia went into Ramener, bringing her head and neck up a little bit at flexing at the poll. I immediately softened my contact even further and after the next step she went back into her regular slow walk. When I asked for a slow walk again I made sure that my finger aids were REALLY light, and Mia slowed her gait without going into Ramener. How light? It felt like I was trying to stroke a butterfly on its back.
(Side note--Ramener is when the horse brings his head up, with the poll the highest point of the neck, and flexes his jaw. It is a step toward full collection where the horse also lowers his croup and raises his forehand between his shoulders.)
Back in my youth I would have been THRILLED to get Ramener on my horse. My first horse, Hat Tricks, wisely did not give it to me much in the first decade, and after that only if I was really, really good (ie. not most of the time.) Yes, Hat Tricks was wise, if he had given me Ramener willingly and often I would have gotten drunk on this new proof of my equestrian powress, and I would have been nagging Hat Tricks to give it to me constantly, since, after all it would be "proof" that we were getting somewhere. I would have ended up with a restive, mouth gaping, head slinging horse because my hands were never good enough to DEMAND Ramener. Because of Hat Tricks's wisdom all of my horses were spared me torturing their mouths trying to get something I was not good enough to get.
So while it was really pretty to see Mia's neck in Ramener I will not be asking for this again, in fact I am going to do everything I can so I do not repeat this. Why? Because Mia is still too weak physically to do Ramener any longer that a second or two at a time, and also because Mia has arthritis in one hock and may have some arthritis in her back. I have no business trying to get her into collection, which is the eventual natural consequence of Ramener properly done. I will content myself with Mia gently chewing on the bit, the jaw flexion, in response to correctly applied LIGHT aids by my hands, when she wants to and at whichever head carriage she wants.
As I, an amateur, ride and train horses, if I work hard on my position and security in the saddle, and make sure that my contact and all my hand aids are LIGHT, the horse sometimes reward me by giving me something I've only read about in advanced dressage books. Since, as an amateur, I can take as long as I need to in training, the proper response is to not ruin the perfect moment that the horse gives me, and to accept it as a free gift and not something I can demand whenever I feel like having it. Because I react in this way, the horses I ride often surprise me, the horses feel free to express themselves in whichever way they desire, and sometimes they give me a response that is so far beyong my normal riding ability that it feels miraculous. The rest of the time they go around the ring with relaxed tongues and lower jaws, promptly obeying the lightest of hand aids (usually.) The horses are happy, I'm happy, and really, can it get any better than this?
Have a great ride.