On this day, my teacher brought a new (to me) teaching accessory: a stretchy, tan bandage. It was exactly the kind of bandage that a person might use to wrap a sprained ankle. Extra props were in order for selecting a cost effective instructional aid and for making me scratch my head as to what was coming next.
Disclaimer: Don't try this at home. Harley was nonchalant about the exercise that follows, but I am sure that not all horses would respond in quite the same fashion. Always use a healthy dose of caution and keep safety first!
The first phase of the exercise was to place the bandage over the bridge of Harley's nose, securing it underneath spare leather from his bridle. I held the ends of the bandage like reins. This was reminiscent of a bit-less-bridle or hackamore, but with one distinct difference: the bandage felt very fragile. The fabric is probably stronger than it feels, but there is so much elasticity that it feels like you are holding nothing. I kept the reins attached to Harley's bridle in my hands, but with a lot of slack in them. Then I asked Harley to walk on.
The sensation of my horse pushing against the elastic bandage was positively delightful. It made me laugh. I could feel every little movement of his face and neck. My teacher offered this exercise so that Harley might be encouraged to reach and stretch into the elasticity of the bandage. Surprisingly, he did and almost immediately. I used my legs to keep him moving forward and to direct him around the ring. Once or twice we got a little mixed up with our signals, but for the most part it was smooth sailing.
Even though this activity was meant for the horse, I found it really interesting, too. With nothing to hold or brace against, it felt like my shoulders were part of the elastic. I could feel them moving with Harley's nose. Each of my shoulder blades felt independent. It was really cool and so silly that it made me laugh out loud! This was a great exercise for me, because I tend to hold tension in my shoulders, although I must say that those days are melting away. This activity just added to my awareness.
On a whim, my teacher decided to try moving the bandage up to Harley's forehead. This time she secured it through the browband on his bridle, which was a good idea because I dropped it more than once. Again, this was something that did not bother Harley, but might upset another horse. The new position of the bandage had an interesting effect. Harley starting pressing his forehead into the elasticity of the bandage since it was higher up. Can you imagine what that would do for his neck? He stretched his topline and advanced his poll forward. What a lovely ride that was! And guess what, there is video:
In the last segment of the video, I dropped one side of the bandage by accident. Harley hesitated and then continued on with a lovely posture. Shortly there after, I let the other side of the bandage go and just held the reins at whatever length they were already at. My teacher marveled at the freedom in his shoulders. You can see it especially in this final segment of the video when Harley is in the frame of the camera, that is. Harley demonstrated self-carriage and a winning attitude as the bandage dangled next to his face. He is one cool dude!
I was excited to share this lesson, because it was so out of the ordinary. I do not practice these exercises without my teacher present and she is so eclectic, that I imagine we may do something completely different next time. I have enjoyed my rides on Harley since then and I think that we both have a better understanding of the type of elastic connection that can be possible between us.
What unusual exercise have you practiced with your horse?