I had a long talk with Chemaine, my dressage trainer over on the coast, about how best to approach riding Izzy. No matter how much I suck at something, she has a knack for pointing it out without making it sound like a fatal flaw. The issue this time was how Izzy was freezing up due to my tenseness.
Chemaine explained that many horses, especially the green beans, really need the rider's seat/pelvis/hips to move so their own backs and pelvis can move. She delicately pointed out that I tend to hold a certain amount of tension in my seat which can restrict that movement. Speedy is such a rock start that he zooms right along despite my shortcomings.
She had me think about walking on my own two feet, which I did as we talked. When we walk, our hips sway from side to side. The bigger our stride, the bigger the sway, and conversely, the smaller our stride, well you get the idea.
The second thing she asked me to think about was releasing my leg. I ride Speedy with a lot of leg because he leans on my leg. But then, maybe he leans on my leg because I use a lot of leg. Ooooohhhhh. Chemaine pointed out that a young horse like Izzy, who is already quite sensitive to the leg, will freak out if the rider's seat won't move while the rider's legs are screaming GO! He'll have nowhere to go but up.
She suggested I try to ride Speedy with these ideas in mind so that I can memorize the feeling so that I'll be more relaxed when I ride Izzy. So, keeping all of this in mind, I saddled Speedy up and head out for some hip swaying, loose leg riding. And you know what, it was one of the best rides I've ever had. I could hear Speedy slurping on his bit, something he never does, and he didn't lean on my inside leg.
We started out just walking. I quickly realized that I do brace my lower body which locks my pelvis and doesn't allow any movement. As soon as I let it go, I could feel my hips rocking up and down, side to side. I started calling out the movement of my hips in time to Speedy's stride ... up, up, up.
I played around with loosening my pelvis and then imagined that I was taking a shorter stride, but I wasn't able to influence Speedy's stride length. Either he has learned to turn out my bumblings, or I didn't have it quite right. At least he did have a freer walking stride, and even if I didn't think I was influencing it, I probably was.
I also got my leg off. Instead of constantly squeezing, I gave him several taps when I felt his belly lean into my leg: bump, bump ... leg off. If he hadn't moved away, I bumped harder: BUMP, BUMP ... leg off. And when that didn't work: I used the spur: BUMP, BUMP ... leg off. For most of our ride, he was quick to get off my leg once I quit squeezing him.
I also got very assertive with head down, FOCUS on me. Speedy's really good, but there are days when he wants to keep popping his nose up to giraffe around at everything that seems of interest. Izzy finds EVERYTHING distracting. To help myself practice keeping Izzy's attention, I rode Speedy like he was a baby: head down, long rein.
It helped that the neighbor was firing up his motorcycles and quads and warming them up around the yard. That doesn't scare Speedy, but it was very distracting for him. I simply relaxed my pelvis, kept my leg off, and gave gentle (sometimes not so gentle) right/left tugs on the bit. As soon as he dropped his head, I quieted my hands. My goal was to sponge the reins before he could pop his head back up.
I discovered that with a longer rein, I tend to use even more leg to guide him. I resisted that feeling and instead gave small flutters, or bumps, when he fell into the circle, or I tapped him with my outside leg when he drifted too far out. Eventually, I did shorten my reins for more serious work, but I kept my legs freer and focused on adjusting his tempo with my posting rather than my legs.
Speedy wears his heart on his sleeve so it's easy to see when he's thinking. He had quite the funny expression when we finished. He looked a little shellshocked, sort of like he wasn't sure what had just hit him. I definitely learned some things about my own riding that I am going to be working hard to change. Let's hope it helps both of my boys!