I had my first lesson on Knightwind yesterday. She is a little bay mare with quite a luxurious mane. And when I say “little,” I mean it. When I stand next to her, our legs are the same length. Now, I’m not a short person, so I was slightly concerned about the prospect of riding this tiny mare, upon whose back I literally look down on while grooming. But here’s the thing: when I got on, I didn’t feel like I was riding a short horse. She has a way of moving out well that makes her feel a lot bigger. At the walk, she really marches along decisively. I think we’re going to get along nicely.
In our lesson, we worked on finding the inside hind leg, and feeling when it was about to leave the ground, similar to the Brent Graef clinic earlier this summer. At the walk, Mr. K would say, “now” each time the inside hind was about to leave the ground, so I was able to concentrate on what it felt like. Then he had us call it out ourselves and once I got a little confidence, I could really feel it and know what Knightwind’s feet were doing. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. When you can feel that inside hind, you can focus on whether you want to get out of the way and allow the horse to stretch and go forward more, or you can get in it’s way by blocking it with your hip movement to slow down. It’s amazing how tiny movements can change your horse.
The idea of getting out of the way of the inside hind was the theme of the lesson tonight – both at the walk and the trot. Which leads me into:
A Brief History of Why We Post the Trot, According to Mr. K
When Mr. K asked if we knew why we post the trot, my answer was sort of a vaguely-formed thought about balance and corners. Kimmie wasn’t sure either, so Mr. K explained. We were probably all taught to post with the saying, “rise and fall with the leg on the wall,” right? Turns out that’s wrong. When the army used to ride horses, they would have to ride long distances in a day. So, they would post the trot to get out of the way of the hind leg, allowing it to stretch further and the horse to be more comfortable. Every 15 minutes or so, they would all switch diagonals, so that they would equally fatigue both hind legs instead of just one or the other. Amazing. And it totally makes sense.
So, off we went, posting the trot while focusing on the hind instead of the front legs. It’s not easy to do, especially when your muscle memory says one thing and your brain says another. But when I got in sync with Knightwind’s hind, I felt her speed up – just like and the walk. And that’s how I knew I was getting out of her way.
Not only is it super interesting to understand these mechanics and the history of why we ride like we do (says Mr. K: “everything is military”), but it opens new doors for communicating with the horse, controlling the feet and connecting with my horse’s thoughts. Understanding how my riding affects my horse’s movement will help me feel every movement and adjust speed within the gait using my body, and – eventually, after lots of practice – use only the tiniest of cues. All of this will only help me in the show ring, as that is really one huge test on how well you control your horse…without appearing to do so.
Now I have to think of a good rhyme to replace “rise and fall with the leg on the wall.” Here are the two I’ve come up with so far – let me know what you think:
“Keep your mind on the inside hind.”
“Always find the inside hind.”
At the end of the lesson, we cantered briefly. Full confession: I was not prepared for Knightwind’s canter (if you can call it that). At the smallest cue, she was off to the races. The first time, I was left way behind and lost a stirrup. The second time, I was more prepared; and it was a good thing, because she threw in some kind of leap and thought about bucking. Good thing we’d just worked on slowing down the walk, because she was pretty amped and didn’t want to walk quietly. Happily, I was able to use my hip to block her inside hind and slow her down. Boom. Lesson applied to a “real life” situation.
I had heard that Knightwind has had some issues with pain and stiffness in her hindquarters. She has had some acupressure work done and I think that is helping relieve some of the tightness and pain. Mr. K explained that with the canter, Knightwind may be expecting pain (or possibly may be very stiff) and she runs from that. As she has more acupressure work done and we help her build her muscles and confidence, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to help her canter more calmly and in control.
And on that note, here are some goals I’ve formulated for the next 10 weeks or so.
- Pick out each hoof while standing quietly.
- Ground tie quietly, without shuffling around.
- Walk straight lines.
- Bend around my leg and step laterally away at the walk and the trot.
- Get in the corners, especially at the trot.
- Canter calmly and with control.