August 24 was our weekly lesson with our instructor. At one point I asked the instructor, “What is going on here!” (Zelador wasn’t exactly “with me”.) My instructor said, “You two aren’t on the same wave-length.” A bit later in the lesson things were much better. Zelador and I were more in sync. As I was untacking him I thought about “togetherness” and remembered working in-hand. I’d introduced it to the two Lusitanos many years ago. Back then they were pretty good at listening to me, not perfect, but acceptable. (Of course it’d be OH so NICE is they were a wee bit shorter!) We’ve had years of liberty work in the intervening years. Who knows, perhaps they’ve matured?! If there’s anything that helps the horse and handler connect, in-hand is IT. So…

August 25, I started working Zelador daily in-hand before each ride and for a few minutes after each ride. He’s really doing well. The rides are better, too. Zelador starts out in-hand trying to be in control, but after a few walk/halt transitions he quickly begins to listen. I’m doing the work in-hand with the bridle on the horse and I use a light-weight whip to extend the length of my arm, indicating hind-end placement when necessary.

August 30 I started working Zeloso in-hand every day because it was obvious that he wanted me to play with him. He was exquisite. He never moved a hoof until I asked him to and when I asked he said, “exactly how high should I lift it and where should I place it…precisely?” Bill rode Zeloso later each day after the work in-hand and every time he reported that Zeloso was very good!

September 1 our instructor was here and I showed him what I’ve been doing in-hand. I started with Zelador, then got in the saddle. Within a few steps I stopped and said, “I wanted to talk to you about the walk Zelador’s been doing since I revisited working in-hand. I feel like I’m sitting on a big cat. The feel in the reins is spongy. I felt this over 25 years ago when I rode a Grand Prix dressage horse for a few minutes.” My instructor explained that what I’m experiencing is the power of the hind end coming up, over the horse’s back (the horse’s stomach muscles are engaged and his back is up), to the mouth and circling back to the hind end.

I’ve heard about this many times, but was never really sure that I was creating it. Now I can recreate the “cat” and can feel the circular power from the hind end. The really neat thing is: I’m able to redirect Zelador at any time. A little flexion here, a little there, a lateral step one way, then the other and the entire time the circle keeps on rotating through my seat and hands. My instructor said the feeling he gets is that the horse is like a cat stalking a mouse.

I figure this cat-like feeling came from the work in-hand in great part because it demanded that I have consistent contact on the outside rein. The contact isn’t “strong”, it’s steady. Without it I wouldn’t be able to help Zelador maintain the position for the exercises we’re working on.

What I`ve been doing is:
-shoulder-in to renvers
-turn on the forehand
-turn on the haunches
-leg yield from the quarter-line to the wall
-travers For this I’m between the horse and the wall. I’m working on being able to cue the horse when he’s between me and the wall. Both boys are very perceptive and I don’t think it will take very long to help them understand what I’d like for them to do.
-turn on the haunches into a half pass
-rein back
-Spanish Walk

Soon I’ll start a slow trot, then onto a canter.

After my lesson September first I showed my instructor how Zeloso is in-hand, then my instructor rode him. I was getting another horse ready during the ride and when Zeloso was brought back to the barn I asked how the ride went. The response was the same as Bill’s, “Very good!”

Currently all the in-hand work is with the bridle on. I’m hoping I can get to the point where the horse is totally at liberty for all of these movements. I’m thinking that the liberty work in-hand will include me placing a hand on the horse’s face, between the eyes and the nostrils, to help with setting up the movement. I’ll probably also need a long wand to help position the hind end. I think this liberty-in-hand just might happen because the boys are excellent at reading my body position and my thoughts AND listening to my words. I’ve noticed that when I stand up nice and tall, shoulders back, stomach not sagging, rib cage lifted slightly ( my body “engaged”) the horses mimic me.

September 2 a good friend came to watch the horses. She instantly commented on how beautiful Zelador’s body became when he performed his circular steps under saddle. She enjoyed his work in-hand and I said, “I’ll fetch Zeloso and you can see how he’s doing.” She LOVED his work in-hand. I’ll put together a short video of the boys soon.