Right Hind, Right Front, Left Hind, Left Front... over and over, while visualising and remembering how my horse felt both in the walk and when asking for the stop. Feel down to the feet. Being particular is intense work for the brain! So after a mini mental workout I gave in to sleep, ready for day 3.
Day 3 -I think you can see the change in me in the picture above. Tuff and I came through those arena gates loud, proud, ready to learn and completely focused. I seized the opportunity from Buck through the fog of my own crisis, and my boy gave me his all in return.
We revisited the exercises from the following two days. During which it was interesting to witness the progression with each horse and within each partnership. For me, what was evident was the change between Tuff and I. Not a change in which we were different to each other, more of an organic growth, where my horse was almost relieved when I expected more from him, as the clarity in the task and inevitably in the release, gave him great comfort. He felt like a winner, I felt like a semi-competent horseman and above all we felt like a team. He got softer, and lighter. I became more particular with my body, more considered in the feel that I was offering him. I began to really train myself to guide with my legs and use my whole body to operate my horse. My hands were less tools of necessity and more for refinement.
The exercise I'd like to talk about that is really a linchpin for all of this is the short serpentine.
This exercise predominantly is looking for the horse to use all four corners of itself while reaching even. This is achieved by asking the horse to walk forward while being laterally bended at 90 degrees, with ears level, poll higher than the withers. Imagine if you will, out on a trail, riding around a small bush.. (or sage brush if in USA).
So when taking the horse either right or left, you still need to consider where those feet are, and get in time with the front leg you are taking in that direction, so that it is not a random swinging of the horse around. To do that would be the equivalent of tripping the horse up. Knocking them off balance in that way would soon equal a horse that doesn't want to move. You allow a straight step or two before taking the horse in the other direction. This allows you to get timed up with the other front leg before asking for the movement. Do not make the mistake of taking a lot of steps in between the change of direction and allowing your horse to travel 10 ft. All you will achieve is taking the brace out, then putting it back in with too many steps, taking it out again, putting it back in again.... you see where I'm going with this. It will equal a long time before you achieve what you've set out to, which is a horse without brace, moving all four corners even. Now Buck talks about 'legs only' with the long serpentine, but the short serpentine should never be legs only. Buck also recommends the short serpentine if you ever find yourself on a horse that feels like it's going to blow. Get on that short serpentine until you feel a change. Buck told us a lovely story about his daughter being sceptical about the need to teach the short serpentine when she was younger. She now teaches the colt start classes at MSU and has all of her participants do this exercise!
Tuff felt initially stiffer with the short serpentine during the third day, but we soon worked out the brace and heaviness and took it to a good place. The picture below shows us in full swing.
I am still digesting all of the information Buck shared with us in those three days. They passed far too quickly and after the changes made in three days, I cannot imagine what we would all look like after a week under his tutelage.
I will be forever grateful to Tina Griffen, Buck and Mary Brannaman, and all the support team for making Aintree the wonderful event it was. Also the support of my husband Matt who took care of our little family while I was galavanting.
Buck gave me something back that I was missing. His gentleness of spirit and kindness is a gift. Thank you Buck.
Finally I have to thank the one and only Mr T. Tuff gave me his huge heart and soul during those 3 days. He is a wonderful partner, teacher and completely my soul mate, I will treasure the memories we made at Aintree forever.
So what's next in my horsemanship? Well in the words of Coldplay, "I'd rather be a comma than a full stop". I will continue my journey of improvement, not only for myself but for both my horses. I will continue my blog (with more exercises from the clinic), teaching, riding and shooting for the moon. This level of horsemanship, refinement, and connection is definitely worth chasing.
I will leave you with a song....
Mr T and I will see you on the flip side xxxxx