Today's lesson with Lurena reinforced what I've been learning throughout this entire time of intentional education: simply, the rider must dictate and maintain the proper balance by keeping the seat "flat" onto the saddle; requiring the horse to travel in self carriage by quick half halts up (even "shaking the horse off of the rein"); and never dwelling on the rein but continuously cycling through the quick-half-halts-followed-by-completely-giving-one-rein-the-other-rein-or-both-reins maneuver.
Some epiphanies, in no particular order:
- When the rider thinks and feels things are getting easier, i.e. the horse is traveling lighter and in self carriage with seemingly very little assistance from the rider, this means the horse is actually working much harder and engaging new muscle groups, and more frequent rest periods or changing the exercise to a different gate is in order. The muscles used to articulate the joints and carry the horse in a more uphill, "sitting" posture must be developed systematically over time and when the horse does engage those muscles in a nice way she should be allowed rest breaks. Avoid the temptation to say "oh this is so nice and easy" and ride 'round and 'round while the horse is actually working much much harder; rather respite this hard work with a tangible reward.
- When mistakes occur (and they will), the rider must remain in balance and insist that even the mistakes are done in balance and light in the hand. Follow the exercise through to completion: completion being when you've achieved a balanced and light in the hand approximation of what you set out to do and only after the mistakes have been corrected or addressed and the horse is traveling in balanced self carriage, through the aids and light in the hand. Only then allow the horse a break or rest period that they have rightly earned.
- If you want to give the horse a "light day" or an "easy" ride, work for less time (say ten or fifteen minutes) of high quality rather than allowing the horse to go around for any amount of time on the forehand or in an otherwise incorrect frame. The horse never has to guess if this is a day she can travel 'round with her snout up or if this is a day she'll actually have to be on the bit. Consistency is what makes it "easy" for the horse.
- Trail rides can be a great way to encourage a very good free walk. However insist that the horse travels in a relaxed way: that the head is out in front swinging from the shoulders as a part of the overall swinging back. Never allow the horse to travel with her head up, thus tightening the back and neck. If she pricks up her ears and shoots the head upward to gaze around, quietly insist with the rein that she keeps her head out in front of her body to swing with the back in a high quality free walk. She doesn't have to march around on the bit, but even when on the buckle she should have her head slightly lower and in front of her body to encourage a good free walk.