In the previous Riding Reflection, I wrote about Redisovering Impulsion and riding from my bellybutton as work transferred from an awesome groundwork lesson. In the lesson, we experimented with leg yielding from my position on the ground, my energy and my intent. The next time that I rode, I decided to try using my center to initiate sideways motion from my horse.
First, we tried the experiment in walk. I asked Harley to give me sufficient energy and impulsion so that he felt "with me". I also tried to be "with him" by providing my own energy and keeping a feel of importance in my body. With this mutual attention, we walked down the quarter line. I made a point to make sure that my bellybutton was facing straight ahead, then I deliberately turned my bellybutton toward the fence. Harley took a couple diagonal steps, forwards and sideways. I praised him and straightened my bellybutton again. He stopped leg yielding and walked straight ahead. This was surprisingly easy, but only because of the preparation before this ride.
We repeated the activity in the other direction, with similar results. I tried walking a staircase. Two steps sideways, four steps forwards, two sideways, etc. Harley was not losing his hindend or over-bending. He was remaining balanced, listening for the change from my center, and staying relaxed in the bridle. I tried a couple zigzags. A couple steps to the left, straight, a couple steps to the right, and so on. We had tried those before, but they were tricky to do without losing impulsion or over-bending. Lightness and impulsion were the first to go. The zag after the zig was tough and I always felt like I needed too much leg when we changed direction. By using my center, the movement came much more easily. I felt Harley arranging his balance over his feet. I still used my inside leg to support the direction, but my center initiated the sideways and this seemed to make a big difference, especially when we straightened and then leg yielded the other way. If it felt like I needed to use my legs to keep him going, I tapped gently with the whip.
Next, we moved into trot and after a warm-up with some transitions, we tried to go sideways from my center. I was careful to post on the inside diagonal, so as not to give leg aids that conflicted with my bellybutton. I tried to use as little leg as possible and initiate the movement from my center. These results did not come as readily as in walk. I remembered that the dance would not work without sufficient impulsion, so I asked Harley for some more. It took a couple tries to get the right combination of energy and direction, but when we did find it, Harley felt very light on his feet.
During one of our better sideways attempts in trot, I realized once again that my teacher was very clever. By turning my bellybutton to initiate the leg yield, I was rotating to the outside rendering it impossible to collapse to the same side as my directional leg. I had to laugh a little. Oh look! I am rotating out again!
We tried the zigzag in rising trot, but this got complicated. I tried keeping the same posting diagonal, but found that I was ineffectually using more leg again. I changed my posting diagonal between changes of direction and this worked much better, but I felt like there was too much noise in the most difficult part of the pattern. After a break, I went to sitting trot and then it all came together. With my seat in the saddle, Harley could feel my change in center very easily. Much less leg was required to support the sideways movement, so he found it easier to maintain his impulsion. The best was when I shifted my center and I felt him collect his hindquarters and bring them into the direction of the movement. My center was telling him to half-pass. I like the way you think, Harley.