The next morning we arrived early to the arena - an hour and a half early. Donna and Trail Rider and C were going to spend the morning on a trail ride in Santa Fe via Bishop's Lodge and she had to leave early. This meant I had to unload everything I needed for the day in case they didn't get back in time for me to saddle up.
Needless to say, I was thrilled, particularly given that I had a dinner the night before. Have I mentioned that I'm not a morning person?
Anyway, I arrived early, unloaded my tack and hauled it over to the arena. It was plenty cold and both sessions would be held indoors.
I didn't bother picking up anything warm to drink because they had coffee and hot water for tea the day before. So I figured I'd just warm up there.
I helped by watering down the arena, then waited for the hot water to arrive.
It didn't. Turns out their coffee maker had broken and it took two more purchases before the hot water arrived. At 11.
Have I mentioned how fond I am of the cold? Especially when you get cold to your core?
I endeavored to focus and wipe away my childish (sleepy, freezing, crabby) irritation. The morning session was great. I was looking forward to seeing the progress K made with her quarter horse.
K had been doing well with her QH, a handsome sorrel gelding. They worked cattle, did some barrel racing, all kinds of things. But their work together unraveled after she entered him in a match race.
I know nothing about match races, but the horse that entered the arena the first day was a hot mess. I thought MY horse fought the bit. K's hands were full and busy trying to keep her gelding from touching the sky with his nose. (I have some photos of them, but they are MIA. Will post them soon.)
The first day Mark worked on quieting both horse and rider. K was sending so many signals to her horse (who was already out of sorts) that it was making things worse. Mark had her simplifiy. No leg cues. Only one cue - take up slack on the reins and keep the head in place. Slowly, slowly the gelding calmed down. Soon he was dropping his head. The nervous energy drained away and you could almost see their connection rebuilding right before your eyes. Her hands grew quiet. She was a good rider, you could tell, but they had gone down a road of arguing.
It reminded me of the misunderstandings we have at work - someone will have an odd interpretation of someone else's motive, then they react, thinking that person is trying to get around them. That ticks off the first person, whose motives were sincere, but now they are insulted. Pretty soon the entire thing is melting into a mess.
Until someone points out that they both want the same thing - to get along and get the job done.
On this day they began working on collection. The QH had an underdeveloped hindquarter and wasn't using his body well. That made everything he did more difficult. Slowly they worked on collection - first five paces, then seven, then nine. After each set of paces Mark would say "now" and she would give slack on the reins. Quickly the sorrel was catching on. Watching them work was beautiful, a glimpse of dressage. By the third day in saddle they galloped the barrel pattern, collected.
And this from the horse that was touching the sky with his nose.
The next time I came up I said I needed to work on steering. Smokey has the ability to run through his bit, his head turned in, and canter or trot in the opposite direction. Imagine turning your horse to the left, and, with his head still facing left, he actually moves to the right (or straight).
This problem stemmed from all that flexing. The flexing I've seen on countless horsemanship videos (I'm talking to you, Clinton Anderson). Basically Smokey had learned he could move with his neck flexed and now he had hyper flexion in that joint. Fixing it would be a challenge. What I needed to do was activate the next joint down the neck.
The key was to lift the rein on that side (the side where I was turning) so his head would tilt, activating that joint. Then he'd connect his head through his hip and make the turn.
Mark set me up in a sort of cloverleaf (which I never quite got, but that wasn't the real point) and we worked on turns. After half a dozen I started to get the feel of the lift. We did them at a trot - which is where I learned "the rule."
"Do you know the rule?" he asked me as I struggled with my not turning horse.
"Um, the golden rule? The local authority rule?" I said, attempting to be amusing before I ended up in a fence.
"There's one rule. Don't run into me."
"It's the rule."
I laughed. I got it. I focused my intent and slowly we got it together. I lifted the rein a bit more, Smokey turned. We are turning. Cue (rein only - no leg). No turn? Then lift, his head tilts, we turn.
Slowly it came together at the trot.
"So," I asked when we stopped for a moment. "Can I really fix this in him? Can he rebuild this connection or is the hyperflexion permanent."
"You can rebuild it. But it'll take work."
We trotted off to the other end of the arena to get to work.