Friday, November 30, 2012

Can Horses Reason?

The post title is a question, but I have heard this philosophy repeated numerous times as a statement:

"Horses cannot reason."

The first person that I heard make this statement was a local trainer who has been in the business about twice as long as I have been alive.  Disagreeing with an individual who has that much experience seems foolish, but this statement always bothers me.  I have noticed that people who work with this trainer repeat this statement almost like a mantra.  I think I understand the sentiment, but it strikes me as being too black and white.

Horses do not have the ability to think into the future like people do, but horses do understand consequences.  If I offer my horse as much food as he wants, he may eat himself sick or at least become obese.  He doesn't know that eating too much will hurt him later on.  I get that.  BUT if my horse steps on his lead rope while he is grazing, he knows that he must raise the foot on the lead rope when he feels the tug on his halter.  I know that some horses respond differently to this situation, but I never taught him to pick up his foot, at least not intentionally.  He has figured out that he can tether himself and free himself with his foot.

The trainer who makes the blunt assertion that horses cannot reason, would probably justify my horse's response as a "learned pattern", but it wasn't a pattern the first time it happened.

The same trainer likes to explain just about every behavior that horses exhibit as a result of "muscle memory".  Muscle memory and habits definitely go hand in hand, and these are definitely barriers when the muscle memory "installed" is not the one you want!


I still feel like this is not indicative of so many horses that I have observed.  For example, take the lesson horse who "realizes" that he can get a break during the lesson by stopping to poop and not actually pooping.  I have worked with some very smart lesson horses and the smartest ones figure this out.  The horse stops, plants his feet, and raises his tail, but nothing happens.  The group of volunteers, rider, and instructor wait politely as the horse feigns the call of nature.  I am not talking about a horse who is having some type of intestinal distress or physical problem.  I am talking about a real life faker.  I have seen it, more than once, and the worst offenders save a few gems for each "break", so that you will be even more reluctant to hurry them along.

(I know that many people do not allow their lesson horses to stop for the call of nature, but I gave up on this a long time ago.)

Part of reasoning is judgment.  Horses definitely cannot make judgments, right? 

Although there was that time, that I rode Harley in his old western saddle and he ran away from me the next time that I went to get him in the paddock (the saddle did not fit).  He has never done this before or since.  He also pinned his ears at the special shimmed pad that I bought for him when we were between saddles.  He loved that pad until I tried using it under his new (used) well-fitting, comfy saddle.  Was this just a response to pain/discomfort or was he passing judgment on gear that was not working for him?

Am I going too far?  I do not consider myself the equestrian equivalent of a hippie and I am absolutely not one of those people who buys into animal communicators or magic, unless you consider a really great dressage ride "magic", that is.

What is your answer to the question? 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Riding Reflection: Variety Day

Yesterday, I finally got to ride my horse again.  Between work, the holiday, the weather and after school commitments, I have only been able to ride him once a week for the past couple of weeks.  Of course, moving the clocks back does not help either.  We have arena lights, but once the sun goes down, the temperature drops pretty quickly and the horses tend to get fed earlier in anticipation of the setting sun.  Harley has learned over the years that he may still have to continue working, even if the rest of the barn is eating.  He doesn't like this, but he remains obedient and I usually get some very enthusiastic, expressive movement out of him.  Even though I could keep riding, I tend to cut the ride short anyway, because I do not want him too warm before dinner and I have to stay later and feed him myself if I keep riding.  Riding in the cold is one thing, standing around waiting for Harley to eat his food in the cold is entirely another.  What can you do?  That comes with the territory this time of year.

Warm and sunny, the weather was absolutely glorious yesterday.  I did not even need to wear my jacket!  I tacked Harley up and set out to walk around the arena and past the paddocks.  He looked longingly out into the woods, so I opted to warm up through the short trail-loop behind the farm.  He marched along with a pep in his step and I took in the colors.  Most of the scrub oak have lost their leaves so the trail was padded with a carpet of bright orange, yellow, and red.  It was so beautiful that I almost didn't recognize parts of the trail, which we have walked hundreds of times.

Once we returned to the farm, we entered the arena and continued our warm up around barrels, cones, and poles, which are ever-present in our ring for lessons.  Sometimes all the "stuff" in the ring annoys me, especially when poles and things are placed inconveniently (like along the track), but on this day nothing was going to dampen my mood.  Harley smoothly changed bend as I guided him through figure eights and changes of direction around the arena "junk".  Before long, I asked him to trot and was delighted that his first transition was crisp and fluid.  Sometimes that first trot is a little choppy.

After trotting some large figures and diagonals on a longer rein, I picked up a little more contact.  As long as my legs ask for more energy as I pick up the reins, Harley changes his balance and assumes "dressage-horse-mode".  I remember my original dressage trainer teaching me to always use a little leg with the hand to keep everything in balance.  A decade later, I still think that this was sound advice.

We tackled the barrels and cones again, this time riding figure-eights in trot.  I lifted the inside rein with each change of direction and watched Harley's crest flip from one bend to the other.  I pushed my elbows forward a little and kept my balance back, practicing the exercise from our last lesson, then I brought my elbows closer to my body again.  This exercise makes me and my horse more responsible in carrying ourselves, which makes it much easier to move together.

After a break, we tackled the trot poles.  I had moved them farther apart, becuase they are almost always set too close together for my horse.  At 15.1 hands, Harley is not a huge mover by any stretch of the imagination, but he seems to need the poles set farther than any of the lesson horses.  Even the draft horses require a shorter pole distance.  I have always found this surprising.

Harley enjoys pole work, which he expresses by speeding up.  I love the improved impulsion, but I have to remind him the first three times or so that his job will be easier if he slows down and just lengthens his stride.  Once he organized himself and put his enthusiasm to more effective use, he powered over the poles with a lovely flow of energy over his back.  I could see and feel his withers come up and his strides even had some hang-time.  We practiced a few circles in each direction, and then rode some figure-eights with the three trot poles at the center of the eight.  Wow, that got his tempo squared away!  Harley was floating and he was having fun.

Finally, it was time to canter and this made Harley even happier.  Since we had not ridden all week, he was full of spring.  He cantered from the trot.  He cantered from the walk.  He transitioned down to a balanced trot and stretched into my hand.  I rested back, pushed my elbows forward and whispered for him to canter again.  Off he went, and if felt like heaven.  I felt my legs hanging down his sides and my torso tall above his back all at the same time.  His neck stretched forward in front of me and I could see his inside shoulder coming up and then reaching forward.  It all felt incredible easy.  That is what I want in my riding horse.  I want it to feel easy.  Trust me, I know that it doesn't start that way; Harley's back used to be so tight that I couldn't even sit on him in the canter, but that was almost six years ago.  For that hour in the saddle, easy is my goal.  I work hard the rest of the week and we have worked hard together for six years to get here.

How did we finish our perfect ride?  We revisited the short trail, this time leading the way for two grandchildren riding their respective Grandmother's horses.  The Grandmas led each horse and Harley led the group.  We stopped often, so the kids could do various activities on the trail, but Harley did not mind.  He likes going out with other horses and would frequently snake his long neck around to peek at his gang in tow.  We scouted out some deer and walked in parallel with them as the kids whistled to tell the deer that we were not trying to sneak up on them.  Prey animals seem to appreciate this.  The deer trotted away, halfheartedly showing their white tails, and then turning back to watch the parade as we made our way back to the barn.

A summer picture: Now the trail is covered with the colors of fall.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Memoirs: A Therapy Horse for a Horse Girl

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have decided that it is time to publish this memoir; I wrote this story almost one year ago.  For those of you who appreciate a disclaimer, this story includes personal loss, but also friendship, love, and gratitude.  I hope that you remember the special people and animals in your life during this week of Thanksgiving.


I became a NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) certified therapeutic riding instructor in May 2007.  This was a national certification which took me about a year and a half to complete.  There were two online courses with cumulative tests, a three-day workshop, a minimum of 25 fieldwork hours, a riding test, and a lesson test which included submitted lesson plans and teaching a pair of therapeutic students in front of two evaluators.  I found the certification experience to be both challenging and exciting.  I take a great deal of pride in this accomplishment.

In 2011, NARHA was changed to PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International), which means that I am now internationally certified.  Wow.  I cannot help feeling a little unworthy!  The organization went global, because there were so many countries interested in joining NARHA. 

There were several reasons why I was inspired to pursue this certification and many of them had to do with the amazing people whom I met when I began volunteering at a local therapeutic riding farm.  I had always felt that horses were inherently therapeutic and that my desire to be around them so much was, in many ways, my own personal therapy.

Teen angst getting you down?  Try horses.
Need to build confidence and feel good about yourself?  Try horses.
Want the motivation to work hard at school or work?  Try horses.
Seriously.  This is no secret.
Horses are amazing creatures and this is not even the tip of the iceberg.

Pursuing a certification that allowed me to work with horses professionally and share in these wonderful animals with my students was a natural progression.  I had always wanted a career with horses, but never had the means to "go pro".  NARHA was my way of making it happen.  Of course, when I watched horses touch the lives of others over and over again, I received much more in return than I ever bargained for and much more than just a part-time job with horses.

This story is about my therapeutic horse.  I did not know that I needed one.  Or at least, I was not about to admit that I did.  I was physically and mentally able, but emotionally damaged.  I lost my only sister in March of 2004, just a few days after her 21st birthday.  I married my husband in September of the same year and we moved to our new home together.  I was eternally grateful for his support in this difficult time, but I was not suffering from a fixable problem.  The loss of a sibling is something that one must learn to live with and believe me, more than eight years later, it is never far from my mind. 

By January of 2005, I started looking for a place to ride.  I was about to enter graduate school and did not have money for a horse or even lessons, but you know how it is.  I needed horses.  I temporarily picked up a free lease at a nearby farm, which was an experience worthy of its own story, and then discovered the local therapeutic riding stable.  My riding experience was immediately noted and I became an official exercise rider for the program.  I could not believe my good fortune.  I was allowed to ride any horse in the barn, any day or time that I wanted as long as they were not in a lesson, and completely for free.  This in and of itself was an amazing gift and I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Despite my enthusiasm and gratitude, my first ride on a therapeutic horse was disappointing.  I was given a dull, brown, 20 year-old quarter horse with a muddied blaze and an uncomfortable, all-purpose saddle.  I was also handed a crop with no questions asked.  The horse was in good condition and solid at 15.1 hands, but my butt had been spoiled by warmblood mares and expensive dressage saddles.  My last ride before I was married and moved away was on Harry, the beautiful Haflinger stallion.  Now I was riding an extremely unexciting, untalented, lazy quarter horse that looked more like a mutt than a quarter horse.  I tried to banish my prejudgments and enjoy the ride, because any horse is better than no horse, but my positive attitude started to waver as soon as I swung my leg over and legged on my new mount. 

Or maybe it would be more accurate to write "mounts".  I literally felt like I was riding two horses.  One in front of me and one behind me.  I was suspended in a sling between them and they did not always feel like they were traveling in the same direction.  I knew enough not to try and force this horse on the bit, but I did try to give him some guidance toward straightness.  In the back of my mind, I imagined riding half-pass on my trainer's Hanoverian mare and I silently worried that those days were gone forever.

When I moved on to canter, I was happy to see that the brown horse
a) could canter,
b) could pick up the correct lead, and
c) felt less like two horses.

I took advantage of his improved forwardness, and asked him to lengthen his stride.  I was surprised to discover that the brown horse had a nice, rocking canter.  Was it my imagination, or was this old fellow lifting his back?  The director of the program was watching my first ride and became worried that the brown horse was taking off (I guess few people cantered him past an ambling lope), so she rather abruptly asked me to slow him down.  The immediacy of her request triggered my dressage lesson reflexes and I engaged my core and half-halted without thinking about who I was riding.  The brown horse, whom I clearly had not given enough credit, shortened his canter and then transitioned to a slow, collected lope for the remainder of the long side.  I did not think this a big deal, but the feat earned me immediate status as a "good rider" and some kind of barn fame, as people would meet me and ask,

"Are you the one riding Skippy?"

That was his name: Skippy.  Apparently, many people avoided exercising him, because he had the strong will of a lazy horse, the gumption to turn buckaroo if a bee was in his bonnet, and the uncanny ability to run completely sideways on the trail.  That last one was seriously impressive.  I have never seen anything like it before or since.  Skippy was also notoriously rigid and stiff, like a board.  He never really felt that way to me though.  My years of dressage training has served me well.  I knew how to encourage with my inside leg while opening the inside rein and supporting with the outside rein.  When I did this, Skippy obediently wrapped his body around my inside leg.  Before long, we were riding three loop serpentines at the trot and canter with admirable changes of bend and a frame that was almost worthy of a dressage horse.  As he learned to reach from his shoulders and shift his weight off his forehand, his weird sideways running on the trail even melted away.  Suddenly, Skippy was on everyone's dance card.  Who says you cannot teach an old horse new tricks?  I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to do so.

I received positive feedback from his handlers and sometimes I passed up a ride to lead him in the therapeutic lessons.  Despite the hard time that he could give his able-bodied exercise riders, Skippy was always gentle and slow for his therapeutic students.  His gentleness was now accompanied by a greater motivation to move forward (This is even important for therapeutic horses!) and independent riders were able to ride him with less assistance.  There was even talk that "Skippy was less nippy."  All good news for a therapeutic riding horse and very rewarding for his unofficial trainer.  I was humbled by how many people took the time to express their gratitude for my work with Skippy.  Here, I thought that I was just riding him, because I wanted to ride.  I was ashamed when I remembered how unimpressed I had been with him on our first encounter.  I would admit to no one, that I once thought Skippy was anything less than a truly special horse.  His dull, brown coat had taken on a glossy, chocolate sheen.  Skippy was my chocolate horse, no longer just a brown horse, and now I had to wait in line to ride him, but I did not mind.  Every great ride that someone else had on him, felt like a personal accomplishment, and when I passed him in the aisle, I stroked his neck and looked into his big soft eye.

Skippy, the chocolate horse
"Are you being a good boy today, Skippy?"

He would nose my hand or blink at me, staring right into me, as if to say, "I am, Friend."  Working horses do not always have a special person the way pet horses do.  I know physically that Skippy benefited from the training time we shared together, but emotionally, I think that he just needed a new person, someone who did not know him or his wily ways, someone who also needed a friend in him.  Did I help Skippy, or was he just doing his job of therapy horse by helping me?  I guess that I will never really know and honestly, the truth would not change the outcome.  Skippy made me feel better and he gave me a job to do.  Skippy was a therapeutic horse who needed fixing and I was horse girl who needed the silent comfort and companionship that only an animal can offer.

Unfortunately, my time was Skippy was very limited.  He passed away in the summer of 2005, but like a good friend, he allowed me to say good-bye first.  It was a Tuesday, one of our usual riding days, and he was lying in his paddock when I arrived at the barn.  Although not in noticeable distress or pain, he was unable to stand and could only prop himself up with his front legs.  I hugged his neck and cried into his mane.  I thanked him for the many hours we had spent together.  I did not want him to go, but on some level, I realized that this was part of his lesson.  Skippy showed me that I was strong enough to love and lose and keep on going to love again.  He also showed me a whole new aspect of the relationship between horse and man.  Riding and working with him was so worthwhile even if he was far from a dressage star, but our partnership was not just about training.  In many ways, he taught me how to just sit on a horse again.  Just me and the horse.  Simple and happy.  He went to sleep with my fingers running through his chocolate mane.

Thank you, Skippy.  You were one special therapy horse.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rider Confessions

Sometimes, I get angry.

Truthfully, this should post should be called "Horse Handler Confessions", but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

I found myself very frustrated and angry the other night after teaching lessons.  I was angry with a horse.  Rest assured, this horse was not Harley.  It was the black Percheron horse, which we use for lessons.

I know intellectually that there is no point to getting angry at a horse.  If I pick the situation apart, I guess that I am really angry at all the people who have touched this horse since he began his training.  This horse is very nice under saddle.  My gripe is with his ground manners.

Although my interactions with this horse were pretty minimal on this particular evening, every interaction that I had with him annoyed me to the point where I wanted nothing to do with him by the time he finished his dinner and had to be turned out for the night.  Problem number one arose, when I attempted to bridle this horse for a lesson.  The fact that I have to use the word "attempted" makes my blood start to boil.  I have bridled many, many horses over the years including tall horses and draft horses alike.  I have bridled horses that put their heads on the ground and make things easy for you (I love you, Harley.) and horses who throw their heads up and refuse to open their mouths.  I have never failed to bridle an unwilling horse until the other night.  Every time that I try to bridle this horse, he tries to walk away and this instance was no different.  I had the reins around his neck and I was ready, so he did not walk away, but he did sweep his big head and neck away from me.  Twice.  Once he realized that he was not going to be able to walk away he put his head as high as he possibly could.  I was able to bit him, but I was too short to put the crown over his ears.  I just could not reach.  The barn manager finally had to help me by encouraging him to put his head down, which he would do for a second and then jerk it back up again.  Needless to say this put us behind for the scheduled lesson I was about to teach.

The riding lesson itself went fine, but once the lesson was over, I had to hold the horse while the client was leaving.  A small child unexpectedly stopped right in front of this big horse, so I asked him to halt and he continued walking forward.  I asked again and he ignored me.  I had to resort to pinching the underside of his neck to get his attention and then MAKING him back up by pushing on the bit and his chest.  This is the complete opposite of how I like to work with horses, but this horse's attention to his handler was so poor and the situation was such that I could not allow him to walk forward and make a mistake.  I was admittedly angry at this point, but outside of pinching the horse, I did not act on my feelings.  I walked him back to the barn and decided to remove his bridle in his stall, so that he could not walk away from me.

And I failed again.

Unknown to me, the horse had grain in his bucket and walked away as I was trying to unbridle him.  Thankfully, I stopped him before he got his nose in the bucket and rewarded himself.  I promptly removed him from the stall and marched him back into the aisle.  I realized that I would have to ask for help again to remove his bridle.  I turned around and suddenly became aware that there was a crowd of people in the barn.  Everyone from staff to clients.  I decided to wait for a moment until the group dispersed so that I could untack the horse without so much commotion and people...ehem... underfoot.  I was standing at the horse's shoulder, directly next to him.  Not in front of him.  I was holding the reins under his chin.  He was adequately restrained in every way except that his attention span and body awareness are zero.

Do you know what this horse did?  He stepped on my right foot.

I very, very rarely get stepped on by a horse.  The few times when I have been stepped on in the past twenty-five years, the horse (any horse) realized that they were beginning to squash me and immediately lightened the load on my foot to basically nothing.  I have been working with, riding, and handling all sorts of horses in that time frame.  All different ages and breeds, males and females.  I am quick, which helps me avoid a possible foot-squashing situation, and most horses that I work with do not want to step on me and make every effort not to hurt me if they ACCIDENTALLY do.

I think this horse stepped on me on purpose.  I was right next to him and he moved his foot sideways and planted it on my little toe.  My toe did not break, but it hurt and it was not easy to move him off of my foot.

My anger was threw the roof at this point, but I still did not act.

I wanted to smack that horse, so badly.  But I did not.

I got some help.  We untacked him.  He ate his dinner.  I let someone else turn him out, because I could not stand to interact with him one more time that night.

I love, love, love horses.  I love my horse so much.  But this horse made me so angry and frustrated.  This horse needs some serious work and I know how to do ground work to improve obedience, but this horse annoyed me so much that I do not want to spend time with him to help him improve.

I do not like to admit that a horse can make me angry and I do not think that many horses have over the years.  But this one got me.  At least I feel a little better having written about it.

Has a horse ever made you angry?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Photo Reflection: Walking

This is a very busy time of year for me.  The first marking period is ending and the grades will be due very soon.  My students are finishing and turning in their final projects and completing their tests, which means that I have been bombarded with paperwork.  I am burning my red pen at both ends, which doesn't leave much time for blogging.  I am also off to teach therapeutic lessons after school today and it is cold outside.  Have a mentioned that I am not a fan of cold weather?  We actually had snow yesterday, but it has completely melted as of now.  The New Jersey coast and New York have really gotten more than their fair share of inclement weather recently.  I hope things calm down soon.  My husband and I bought an infrared space heater in preparation for losing power during the colder months.  No AC in July was the pits, but freezing under blankets almost sounds worse.  Yesterday's early snow was not a good sign for what may be to come this winter.

In lieu of one of my lengthy posts, I decided to post a photo that I really like from October.  This shot was from the very beginning of our warm up, which is part of the reason that I like it.  We have barely even begun to ride and Harley is soft in the bridle, starting to engage from behind, and listening.  I like the bend through his body and the fullness of his back behind and his neck in front of the saddle.  If only I had a photo from five years ago for comparison.  He looked much more like a llama, back then, even if he was a cute llama.

I am happy with my position in this photo, too.  My leg position and upper body look correct.  I am really down in that saddle and my elbows have bend, but my wrists are still soft.  I think that I am correctly lifting up in the corners of Harley's mouth with the bit in this photo.  He has nodded forward like his nose is "resting in a basket".  Aside from a little encouragement to move forward in the warm up, I am not doing much of anything except sitting as well as I can and holding the reins.  I like it when my horse rewards me for keeping it simple.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November Lesson Reflection with Video

Yesterday, Harley and I had a riding lesson.  Our progress was reviewed, we learned some new exercises, and we experienced some really wonderful moments of self carriage and softness between us.  I wrote a rather long and detailed post to record what I learned and to share with you.  There are two short video clips at the end.

Improvements since our last lesson:
Harley's neck muscles and posture
His straightness and forwardness
His willingness to seek the bit on his own
I am finding the center of my horse more quickly
My legs are staying forward more consistently
My seat is closer to my horse and I am staying upright more consistently
My arm and hand position have improved

Things to continue working on:
Strengthening Harley's hindend
Stretching the base of his crest just in front of the withers
Allowing Harley to make the connection for me
Keeping a bend in my elbows and an upward feel to my forearms and hands
Keeping my shoulders down and loose even when I raise my forearms
Encouraging mobility and flexibility in Harley's ribcage by keeping my leg muscles loose and mobile

My teacher prescribed some interesting exercises in this lesson.  She could see the effects of our work since the last lesson.  She also liked my image of Harley's hindlegs stepping forward through my stomach, which has, no doubt, helped my posture in the saddle.  The typical way of beginning a lesson is she tells me to ride and then sees the next thing that she wants to work on with us.  This usually takes all of thirty seconds and this lesson was no different.  Even though I have been working diligently to keep my forearms light and up, there is still a downward tendency in my inside hand, particularly the left side.  This downward tendency goes "hand-in-hand" with collapsing left, my natural inclination.  One of my teacher's strategies is to exaggerate the postural correction, so that the rider's body must abandon the original habit and recalibrate.  I like this technique very much and find it to be quite effective.

So my prescribed activity, was to bend my elbows so that my hands were tapping my sternum; she wanted my hands moving.  This means that I had to let the reins slide almost to the buckle.  She called this "praying mantis".  This position kept my upper arm parallel to my sides and helped my shoulders stay down.  Since I was totally unable to "make" any contact with the rein, Harley had the opportunity to initiate the connection.  In this position, it was also basically impossible for me to tighten across my shoulder blades when Harley did pick up the bit.  This was the recipe for recalibrating my riding habits.

So while riding around with this rather silly arm position, I also had to stay in the middle of my horse and keep him traveling straight around the circle.  No rein aids allowed!  I figured out how to shift my weight and ask Harley to follow my center of gravity around the circle.  I ride like this, to some extent, all the time, but the experience is amplified when you are prevented from using the reins for guidance.  Remarkably, I felt Harley straighten and rebalance himself very effectively using this technique.  He also tuned into his hind end in some startling ways.  All the rein supports had been removed and this was very challenging for me to ride at times.  When he shifted back and powered off of his hind feet, it felt really unsettling, even a little out of control at first.  I was pushed and tipped off center many times.  It is difficult to have been a rider for so long and just allow this to happen, especially when I know that I could hold everything together if I made the contact instead.  Thankfully, before too long, we found our rhythm and our balance.  Harley demonstrated some genuine self-carriage.  No half-halts, driving, or holding required.  Years ago, I would not have thought that possible without more boundaries and control from me.  It was so cool.

Once Harley picked up the connection, I was allowed to let my forearms lower toward his mouth, but I had to be very careful not to let my shoulders tighten.  The next exercise was in two parts.  "Part 1" was to push my hands forward toward his mouth.  I had to try to keep some bend in my elbows and not lean forward with my arms.  To compensate, my teacher told me to lean back.  This directive kept me straight in the saddle and allowed me to support my horse with my posture as I offered for him to follow the bit forward.  This was really tough at first and moreso to the left.  Everything is easier going to the right, which interestingly, is Harley's less bendy side.

Once I was able to push my hands forward without surrendering my position, I kept my outside rein for tempo control and "stirred" my inside hand toward his nose.  This was "Part 2".  Again, this was more challenging to the left and Harley seemed to be working against me by rooting forward abruptly.  This was frustrating for me, because I felt like it was preventing me from offering him the rein.  My teacher said that he does this when he feels my shoulders tighten.  If my shoulders stay soft then he is less likely to push against them.  There was no need for him to force his nose forward, because I was inviting his nose forward by moving my hands toward the bit and moving the inside rein in a circle toward his nose.  I wish that I could tell him that!  Eventually, he became steadier, but that habit is going to take a long time to dissolve.  Putting more responsibility on him to make the connection with me and carry himself should help.

By the end of the lesson, we had changed directions a few times in big loopy figure eights.  I was completely absorbed in my position, when my teacher brought to my attention the softness we had achieved.  Every muscle in my body and every muscle in his body felt quiet and without tension.  I looked at his neck (which means I had not been staring at it already, yay!) and he was very clearly stretching the base of his neck in a beautiful "bloom".  I could feel our center beneath us.  I could feel my shoulders soft.  I want that again!  I want to ride like that all the time!  And now I have some insights and exercises to get us a little bit closer to that magic.

My teacher took these video clips and very kindly sent them to me.  It was late so the lighting is not great, but you can get a little taste of what my lessons with her are like.  These clips are of the "stirring" exercise going to the left.  You can see us both struggle between figuring out the exercise and experiencing its effects.  The exercise looks simple, but it was very challenging!