Mountain Lion! & Lesson with 3* Lillan Roquet

So first, must start out with the fact that there was a MOUNTAIN LION in Aspen's pen yesterday! Thankfully my very brave, and probably half crazy friend, Kirsten scared it away and most likely saved Aspen from danger! Had a great warm up for my lesson with Lillan today. Just played with some simple things on my 12' line and then for the second time asked her to draw backward toward me from Zone 5 at Liberty - even had her following my slight changes of direction (think weaving backwards). Then I wanted to ask her to start to do a liberty spin - something we're just learning and I got a little out of position for it and instead in a sideways position of which she offered 45' feet of sideways! I realized it was my mistake for the spin and so encouraged her idea of sideways and off she went - stopping at 45' (which we've played with OL the last two sessions) and gave me a great question face, "is that what you wanted?"! Also did a brief Freestyle warm up, just basic HQ yields (steering like a boat) for circles and F8's at the walk. For my lesson with Lillan I wanted to focus on Lateral Maneuvers for my Finesse. My first exercise was to walk (and when that was good, trot) big F8's, asking her in soft touch to maintain an even bit height (level with her heart, poll slightly above the withers), and flex appropriately to be straight on the circle. I was to keep in mind that my outside leg should be creating the largest space for her ribs to flex into, I should see her nose and eyelashes, and she should be yielding away from my inside leg. We got some really nice circles, blowing out, and eventual yawning. I was surprised to learn that what I thought was a good stretch and head height was often too low! I knew nose below the knees was not ideal and could feel her reach down to peanut roll, but it was great to have Lillan there saying "too high, too low - sweet spot!". I could really see how controlling the power source and steering through HQ yields set this exercise up for success. It really allowed me to use my reins for shaping rather than micromanaging and control. So glad we had a chance to work on that before this lesson! A few things Aspen tried to do was pop her shoulder out and drift in which case I needed more outside rein, or lean on my leg and not yield (needed stronger phases with my leg/spur), or to motorcycle around the turns - which meant that she wasn't bending through her ribs but instead just diving into the turn or new bend without being upright and flexed through her whole body. This suppling exercise will be very beneficial in loosening her ribs for any other lateral maneuver and for helping politely encourage her to find the sweet spot and maintain even bit height. Next we played with Shoulder In - weighting the outside stirrup*, moving it slightly forward, and turning my shoulders off the rail as if I was on a 20m circle. To exaggerate to teach we thought of putting the tail on the rail. This exercise was surprisingly easy compared to last summer. It wasn't perfect but there was SO much LESS tension in Aspen because I had sorted out a lot of emotional issues with my legs in the HQ yields and had spent some time loosening up her ribs. After that we worked on Haunches In - weight the inside stirrup, turn my hips but keep the shoulders straight. This is harder for horses as it asks them to step in towards the bend for the first time and I could tell Aspen was struggling through her tight ribs. It wound up being a little more of a sideways for her than a Haunches In - but it was good for beginning steps. We also did these on a circle, for S-In it was to step into the outside stirrup and let her drift out, her shoulders leading in on the circle but her body going in a straight line. The next for H-In was basically a bulls eye pattern but with the idea of her tail meeting the center first. Ideally in 4 - 7 sessions I should be able to move Aspen's HQ and FQ independently of each other and be working towards consistent bit height (what L4 is looking for in Finesse). It was great to hear Lillan say how much more mentally, physically, and emotionally connected Aspen was compared to last time and that she was ready to move forward and do these things. She also commented that my leg was looking good! Finally! So nice to hear that since I've been working on my blasted legs for what seems like an eternity! :) The thing that made me the happiest today was that this is the FIRST Finesse session I've had with Aspen where we didn't have any tension, bracing, tail swishing, or icky ears! Felt so nice! We are finally where we need to be to accomplish some lateral maneuvers! Level 4 - here we come! :) *The weighted stirrup helps create the bend and direction of travel.