When you have time on your hands, you think. Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes it's bad. It's bad for my husband because I have come up with quite a long to-do list. :-)
Obviously, I have been thinking about Gem. LA has been riding him once a week while I recover. I am actually grateful that she is "training" him while I am unable to ride. Initially, I thought she would be working on his loping cue or just giving him a really good workout. But, she informed me last week that she has been working on his lateral movements. Crap, and here I thought that she would be making it easy for me to lope him by the time I was able to ride again! Hmm, what's the big deal with lateral movements any way? Why does LA always try to get me to correct Gem when he bends inside? How can bending be so important?? I decided to investigate.
After doing a little reading, I now understand why LA gets on our case at lesson when Gem bends the wrong way!! Although LA would try to explain, I didn't really appreciate how important these movements are to having balance and suppleness. From what I understand, lateral movements encourage better responsiveness to riding aids and more efficient movement of the horse's legs to improve impulsion and, of course, balance. Now, for a newbie like myself, I don't fully understand the concept or advantages yet. Heck, I am just at the point where I feel comfortable in the saddle! However, having personally experienced back and neck pain, I can understand how improving your suppleness and moving or bending your body the right way can have a positive impact on your well-being (I am looking forward to more suppleness soon!). I suspect that learning lateral movements properly would have the same positive result for Gem.
Another positive outcome from learning lateral movements is muscle tone. Hmmm, muscle tone....not something that I am intimately familiar with. :-) You may remember that when Gem first came into my life a year ago, he was "over-conditioned"; he was not being ridden regularly and was kept in his own paddock. He was round. Over the last year, he has dropped weight - his food has not been reduced, but he is being ridden 2-3 times a week and now has pasture buddies to run around with. As his winter coat started to shed out, I could see how much he had slimmed down. LA did a show-and-tell for me and pointed out on Gem's body why he is at a good weight now and not to be concerned that I could now feel his ribs. What she did say, however, was that now that he has lost the fat, he needs to build muscle. Gem had his annual examination a couple of weeks ago and my vet agrees with LA.
I have been replaying past lessons in my mind, where Gem was having a particularly bad go of bending correctly; either he sticks his rib cage inside or he swings his back end out of the bend. Was it because he played too hard that day and was stiff? Was he being lazy or is he just not that supple yet? Was he rusty on the concept? Perhaps it is all of the above plus the fact that I am not asking correctly. I can sense that Gem knows what he supposed to do and there are times when he is spot on and the ride is amazing. But more often then not, this isn't the case.
So I have been thinking a lot about when I get back in the saddle (again with the thinking!). It will take me some time to get re-acquainted and I am prepared for not really getting back up to speed until late summer at least. As I thought more about this, I realized that Gem would be starting all over again, too. Now that I know more about lateral movements, loping is secondary to me - what I really want is for Gem to be supple and balanced and building muscle. In fact, lateral movements is sort of like learning to ballroom dance, don't you think? There's rhythm, you have to have flexibility and balance, be able to communicate through subtle touch and you have to trust your partner. I really want Gem and I to be able to dance together.
I spoke to LA and she has agreed to continuing riding him once a week over the summer so that he continues to learn his laterals and gets a proper work out. It was a hard realization for me to admit to myself that I am not experienced enough or physically able and that I need additional help. But, as I learn and get into better shape, so will Gem. Win, win. Tango, anyone?
What was I thinking....?