It's all about topline development and teaching me how to ride without depending on my hands. Sure, I lolly gag around with loops in my reins during warm up, but I'm pretty quick to take up a feel once we're working. And then I start mucking around with where his nose is and fidgeting with his neck. Before you know it, my hands have minds of their own and are running amok, causing my horse to brace or curl to get away from them. Now I have to figure out how to get him to stretch his neck out, carry his head, and go forward without me holding him there with a bit. And he has to figure out how to go around without me holding and setting his head and neck. You should have seen the smoke coming out of our ears.
Trainer A set up the infamous Circle of Death, but this time, the poles were raised unevenly. Ahahahaha, FML. Oh, and I had to do it with as long a frame as I could manage. No hands. He couldn't pop up at the withers or curl, he had to stretch that cute nose out, hold his neck at wither height, and stretch out to meet the poles. When he started jumping them, I was told to sit the trot. I'm quite proud I can now sit the trot while doing raised trot poles on a circle. Not pretty, but I can do it. It told Theo we weren't jumping since I don't sit over fences. He grunted, he stressed, he ran out of the circle once, he desperately looked for my hands, and then he settled to the work. It took a couple reps before he started to trot around in a steady rhythm, picking himself up over the raised poles without jerking his neck and withers up.
After getting Theo stretching and reaching over his back in the circle at the trot, we reset for a bigger circle with just four ground poles. Cantering time! But still, no hands. I had to keep the rhythm and sit him down to the poles without using my hands. Oh, and keep him from popping his head or dropping too low. I was going around, riding my tush off, when Trainer A suddenly started getting excited.
"Are you using your leg?"
"Are you keeping that canter with just your seat?"
"Oh my god, Catie, you're doing it! You're doing it completely off of your seat!"
I'm super intelligent when working that hard. At the time, I was too busy managing all of the pieces to figure out I was doing something new and exciting. Or talk. Sitting Theo down for poles at the canter is never easy, but doing it without my hands? So hard. But at some point, we got it together. I wasn't keeping him going forward with my legs at all. I was using my lower legs to manage the circle, but the canter was coming from my seat. My poor, aching hips and abs and butt muscles. When I finally, truly let go of his mouth, I didn't have a choice but to figure out how to use my other aids. And after months of educated rides, Theo was finally listening enough to turn and canter off of shifts of weight.
It wasn't until Trainer A called out what I was doing that I noticed the muscles between the points of my hips were aching. Evidently that's the part of my body I use to maintain a canter without using my legs. It's also when I noticed that I wasn't kicking, nagging, or reminding Theo to canter. At all. We were just cantering around with my lower leg still aside from managing the size of the circle. That was awesome. For about 45 seconds, we were using the aids correctly.
And now? I may work from the couch today because my office is upstairs and stairs are no good. Neither is standing up. Or anything that uses core strength. This sucks.
So now I know how I'm going to be spending July. Long, low, stretched out, and off of my hands. Because when I pick him up again in August, I should have a much better idea of how to manage him off of my seat and not the bit. Or I'll crash into some walls. One or the other.