Today's ride saw a few breakthrough "aha" moments. Yesterday I blogged about my cues needing to be lighter and lighter for my horse to really be happy. After rolling around Pat & Linda's helpful hints on motivating introverts and how they can be offended by how loudly we ask for something, it dawned on me that perhaps some of the behaviours I see in my horse under saddle are because I'm asking too loudly for what I want.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not up on top of my horse yelling, at least I don't think I am - but it's what he thinks of what I'm doing that really matters.
Many things that we expect horses to do (calmly) involve squeezes of a sort: walk through gates, load in the trailer, walk underneath an overhang, oh yes...and go quietly while I sit on you with my legs wrapped around you too. Yep, this one is a BIG squeeze game. I've known a few horses in my time that the more leg you gave them, the faster they would seem to squirt forward. I didn't have a label for it back then (this was 15 years ago and wayyyy before I know who Pat Parelli was) but you just knew they were uncomfortable with it and more sensitive was probably how I would describe it. Stick with me here for a moment....
While riding today I was walking around on my horse while talking to my instructor about my theory of how loudly I'm asking Jayden to canter off and how that might be why he seems to want to lift up his head and overbend his head and neck to the right (when going to the right) which bows out his outside shoulder. In summary, I think he's giving me feedback on HOW I'm asking. So perhaps what should be a Phase 1 request is actually is being interpreted as a Phase 2 or 3 and the result is that his feet slow down rather than going forward.
We thought on this for a moment and then decided to experiment with it. I focused on sitting up a bit straighter but relaxing all the pressure in my whole leg, well both legs. I use my voice a lot with this horse and my tone plays a huge part in his relaxation levels. In preparation for his transition I asked hin with my voice to canter, barely asked with my leg while playing very gently with the rein - the result was a much better transition. There were less steps needed to get collection.
While cantering we practice circles if he becomes anxious or quick underneath which pulls his brain back into gear and allows us to compose ourselves. Today I noticed that when he would pick up speed rather than coming more round, through his back and collected, if I relaxed my leg to drape around him we might not need to do the smaller circle to achieve balance and collection.
When I drapped my leg, I noticed that he eased up, didn't grind the bit AT ALL and suddenly we had collection - mental, physical and emotional collection.
My theory for this horse proved correct...although he has gotten better with his issues with squeeze game, it's the mastery of my own body and fluidity that will help him inch that dot for claustrophobia more to the mild side.