I went for a short ride yesterday. The sky threatened to rain again and it felt like too much effort to change into my high boots, so I just rode for a bit in my paddocks boots, sans chaps. I had to keep the ride short, because the paddock boots kept catching on the saddle flap (Yes, I am that short!) and girth buckles. I also goosed Harley a couple times with edge of the boot, sending him flying into the air in a canter depart. I can see why the judge on Sunday thought he was a mare at first. He is very particular and has no qualms about making his particulars well known. Luckily for him, I like mares.
He warmed up in a slow tempo, lifting the base of his neck like I've been trying to encourage him to, and stretching into barely-there contact. We rode circles and diagonals, feeling him shift his balance into each figure like he was on autopilot. Occasionally I had to remind him to let his neck go, but overall he was doing it himself. These are those times when I can put both reins in one hand and just enjoy my horse's motion, like therapy for my legs and joints, tired from standing all day at work.
We worked a few trot to walk to trot transitions. My focus was on the softness in his neck and back. Keep it, Harley. This required that I do as little as possible. Leaning back was the absolute worst. I must stay over his balance for him to keep his neck long. Even with zero rein pressure, he will hollow with lightning speed if I fall behind the motion or sit back too much in a downward transition. It is as if he tries to collect by throwing everything in reverse, sacrificing the posture which we have cultivated so carefully and for so long. So I strive for this feeling of always being above him, almost staying a fraction of a second ahead of him, because if I wait for him to carry me along, it is too late.
A spring develops in his trot and I pick up the reins more. We canter and now he is really rolling. I sit still and feel his shoulders come up to me and fall away. I am the statue and he is traveling under me. He feels straight and light in the reins. At the top of each stride I rise a little bit out of the saddle, encouraging him to meet me there. My legs are active as my seat says "canter up here" and for many strides he does.
We return to the trot. I feel him shift back without hollowing before the transition. My cue is my voice only. Everything else is still. Here arrives the most wonderful trot. He is moving at a nice clip, but in balance. His neck is long; the muscle in front of his withers is full. He feels so straight and fluid, like running water. All I must do is curve the channel and he flows onto a circle. I shift my weight into the outside stirrup in the turn to encourage him to remain vertical. He powers down the long side, but not into my hands. He must be enjoying this as much as me. I revel that my horse is connected to me with a feel that is really just the weight of the reins. I find myself getting greedy to stay on top of the wave for a little longer, but my paddock boots, sans chaps, are coming untied. Reluctantly, I ask him to walk. He snorts with what I hope is satisfaction.