Above. I asked for changes within the gait here, a lengthening of the stride at the slowest, longest possible, then back again to help Contigo build pushing power (thrust) and to develop more uphill balance, swing and roundness over his back. As soon as I got what a nice response from him, I rewarded him by letting him rest. I felt like this was enough to warm up his back. Then I rode. If I wasn't riding, I would have asked him to remain in the deep connected engaged stretch for a few minutes longer and possibly change directions too.
Above. This video is about building Contigo's interest in "The Zone". It's about interesting him to get there and stay there and how that has been my focus ever since starting this method of classical foundation training.
A horse with Kissing Spine and two former right hind suspensory injuries, (as well as a medially rotated front left shoulder), Contigo has had major restrictions and they have been daunting.
But all the hard work to loosen him up is coming together. I remember the first time Karen Loshbaugh (my main trainer from Art2Ride) said that my goal was to get Contigo to "lock into the contact with that deep reaching hind leg stride". And that comment along with other coaching tips she has offered, have helped me find ways to practice more correctly the classical foundation training method. Most recently I'm seeing payoff; Just last week, after months and months of trying what Karen asked, I saw him start out on the lunge silly and hollow but get in the engaged stretchy zone more quickly and more long and low than ever. And he stayed there for a little over a minute. Sounds like pennies to the dollar, but it's that kind of small stuff that adds up. I brought him to a halt after that minute just to reward him. I knew that minute was a good sign of good things to come! And good things did come: This week he's getting into The Zone fairly quickly again and offering nearly three to four minutes in the engaged stretchy zone with only a few hollow interruptions.
In this video, he enters the outer boundaries of The Zone at approx 3:00. Then by 4:00 he's in fairly deep in The Zone. Again there are a few interruptions where he hollows but he dives back in! In the very beginning, I asked for activity slowly (to let him settle in and lower his pole with only a little support from me) but then once he lowered his pole, I asked for a nice forward trot like Karen Loshbaugh asks me to get from him to develop some push.
Then I began asking for more haunches out and also a few slight slow down transitions to see if that push/ forward momentum and deeper reach hind leg can keep going but push the energy up more. He's a bit unrefined there in that slow down moment and several times comes to a halt/walk instead of just slowing down a bit. I'll work on my ques. Karen Loshbaugh teaches me that when he does it right it's called changes within the gait and it will develop the impulsion to get more uphill balance. Every time he does offer more haunches out his joints articulate more, he steps under his body more, and loosens up his back more.
I'm so grateful to see him continue to offer more of the correct movement to treat his Kissing Spine and help him get to the point where he can physically, comfortably, carry me again!
When we tracked left after this, he also offered approximately 4 minutes of present body awareness in The Zone. I love how he stretched his pole and jaw in this video and I see more of his nose poking long low and more forward than ever before. I love how he felt free to let his ears go forward. There's more progress to be made but It's the small things that build up. Next I want this movement for 4 minutes under saddle! The more we get out of the saddle the more we will get it under saddle.
I received a comment from a friend and associate trainer. She wrote:
"Oh my God! By minute 3, he is in the zone! I was literally laughing at how fun it was to see him unwind like a bottle top and just relax into it over those first few minutes.
I don’t know what other people call it, but I love that “rooching” he is doing when his jaw loosens up. It just looks like it feels soo good to him to be able to let his head to go down freely like that. The poll gives. The jaw gives. The brachiocephalic and sternocephalic muscles (underneck) are like “buttuh”. It’s beautiful. When he starts doing that is when I really see the middle of his back come to life.
Every time I see you use the whip to get his haunches out, just the tiniest bit more, I see it in the flexion of his hocks. He really swings when he steps under himself just that extra inch, as he nicely responds to your whip each time. It’s clear you have to ask him to get his haunches out regularly, but he responds each and every time you do.
Super nice job maintaining the weight of rein on the line.
He seems to love having that contact with the outside ring of the bit the way you have it too.
The end of your video looks EXACTLY like the end of our sessions! Kisses and love all around. Bless you for letting me see this. I love how you smile when working with your horse. Pure joy. That’s the way I am too! Hugs to you." --
Above. One of my favorite sessions with Contigo ever. Just the most alive and happy energy. He was silly at first (and I believe a handler has to just let them do what they feel they need to do as long as you know it's not harmful to their body and it turns out he had to go to the bathroom, too) but I enjoyed watching him go from silly to a very good engaged stretch without much effort. He stretched easily, he engaged easily, he had this wonderful amount of friskiness to him and he seemed to just throw himself into his stretchy work with an expressing of pleasure I haven't quite seen to this degree. At eighteen I know he's got his restrictions and like any one of us who is a bit older I know he's got his ouchiness in different parts of his body. But he really just went into his engaged stretch with an ease I haven't seen like this. The day before he almost did the same thing. This lunge was the precursor for a really beautiful ride where he stretched his neck the furthest, the most low and the most forward with his nose I've ever seen. Just a great day! He will get a walk on the trail tomorrow and lots of Comfort Touch as a reward, followed by two more days off before we start up next weeks training. Love my Contigo as he distances himself from his crippling past and his diagnosis of Kissing Spine almost two years ago.
Above. This video implements Karen Loshbaugh's last lesson on the video below where she told me that there was one thing she wanted me to tweak going forward: as soon as I get enough forward activity pushing his energy up through his back in a relaxed and consistent (locked/steady into the contact) way, then ease up just a smidgen (slow him down) to convert the forward energy into upward bouncy impulsion -- thus to create more engagement with more lift in Contigo's back.
Karen messaged me shortly after viewing this video and confirmed I had gotten him there! Here's what she wrote:
"Yes, yes, yes!!! Love the way you are keeping a consistent contact with the lunge line and using the size of your circle to get him to engage more. You are recognizing when there isn’t enough impulsion to the gait and lovely down and out throughout almost all of it. I would’ve corrected his counter canter going to the left though, just have him trot and pick up the correct lead. You can see his hips/lower back start to swing more, getting that area loose if very important to him and what you are doing now is going to help tremendously! He is keeping a good cadence and again, lovely stretch. If you can do this without side reins/chambon go for it but I think that the fact you used them for awhile was good. I couldn’t be happier with what you are getting from him and also there is a wonderful rapport that you have with him, a sense of harmony...beautiful👍👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻💥 ❤️ Really don’t have much to say...you got it all going on!"
This could not have developed without Contigo relaxing as much as he is now in his work which he didn't do very well until very recently. But I've been working extremely hard on building a big "dough ball of comfort" around him before, during and after every strength building session (in his stall and in the arena) which I'm learning how to do from Leah Taylor of Clever Riding. Now I think he looks like he's enjoying himself in his newly outfitted 18 year old body that has a lot more suppleness and strength. Can't believe I might be getting this all figured out. Love to Contigo who deserves it. Today is one year nine months since starting Art2Ride and five months since working with co-founder Karen Loshbaugh on a regular basis.
Above. This most recent video of Contigo shows a lunge session before a short ride. He's almost getting the correct engagement and connection from behind and over his back. He's very very close. Tracking left he has a good connection at the end. Tracking right he struggles a bit with letting go of his pole and jaw so I need to support him to supple there more so he can connect. After speaking with Karen Loshbaugh, my classical foundation trainer, I need to help him get there by asking for more push up through his back then to slow him down just a little to see if the energy created by connection (and the stepping under and raised back) begins to assist in the lifting of his front end. In the mounted part, Karen loves how I'm supporting him to keep his nose out in front of him but she needs me to support him more in softening his pole and jaw so he can have a bigger "let go" and swing through his body more and stretch deeper and find the relaxation and strength to work in that deeper stretch. He felt the best he's ever felt in any ride I've ever had with him in all my life. There was a huge shift in his trust of me and his willingness to go more freely forward. His try, after all these years, is humbling. All heart and soul and might.
Above. Contigo was pretty high here but he handled himself wonderfully and still made a super effort. I like the change in the way he uses his body at :24 seconds until the end when tracking left. And when tracking right he's in and out of nicer moments but tracking right is harder for him because he's got 2 former right hind suspensory injuries and some arthritis in his lower right side of his neck. He's challenging but has come a long way and is settling in to his rehab. He improves daily, distancing himself from those painful days of traveling hollow and his Kissing Spines diagnosis back in January of 2016. I work with directly with Karen Loshbaugh of Art2Ride and Leah Taylor of Clever Riding. Leah taught me how to center my own energy and make it feel safe and joyful while helping me bring Contigo into present body awareness and a feeling of comfort and relaxation. Karen has taught me most of my "hand/leg/aides/contact/release" technique. This lunge session was taken about 2 weeks after working with Karen in her clinic in California in August where she helped us immensely in getting to the next steps of development. He still has a ways to go before getting "there" but he's far enough along that I am now riding Contigo several days a week to give him a new sense of the joy of partnership. At the clinic Karen said he felt like a horse trained by Art2Ride. What a compliment. Karen is a phenomenal coach: motivating, positive, generous, clear and articulate, instilling confidence in her students.
Above. This is by far Contigo's best active stretch tracking right in long, low, and forward. He's still got restrictions in his shoulders, pole and jaw and his back. And ontop of his kissing spines, he's got tightness in his right hind from two previous suspensory injuries. I've been asking him to release those restrictions in our WIH by helping him move that tight energy from back to front and out his jaw and my support is now showing up on the lunge where he's trusting it's ok to be active from back to front and open and close his jaw to get that release he needs. Before recently he would just lock that jaw. Tension can't leave his body if his jaw is locked so releasing it is my biggest priority for him now. My team of mentors and coaches remain my greatest asset, as does Contigo who I am still in awe of at how he continues to try and show an unyielding determination to put his crippling past (and his kissing spines) behind him. My lunge technique is focusing on activating the hind leg but supporting him also in the front end by helping him unlock his jaw and pole by taking more contact when he is locked and releasing it the moment he begins to soften and or chew and lower. He used to curl and lock, and now he's opening his throat latch and softening. This will improve the range of motion in his shoulder which is critical for him to be able to lift his front end and truly self carry. He's gaining enough strength now to track around the circle with excellent activity and impulsion while he puts his haunches slightly toward the outside of the track. He could be a bit more haunches out more consistently but he used to be haunches in all the time and he used to have little activity and reach from behind, so as have all his improvements, that will come over time with patience. I'm so proud to be part of his rehabilitation. After tracking right we lunged to the left and it was his best to date too. See video below.
Above. This is the last few minutes of Contigo's lunge tracking left. He was really resistant for the first ten. But this resistance then softening is not unlike him and he's getting to the softening phase with more quality each time. Love this boy. He got the day off the following day where he and I just strolled around the grassy pastures to enjoy time go slowly by.
Above. Here I'm preparing a trot lunge session by just walking Contigo on the lunge. The best quality moment is the last few minutes of the video when Contigo is tracking left and he's completely let go and has a complete wave running over his topline from hind end to jaw. The rest of the time, I'm working on developing that wave and rise over his back. All the way through, I'm focusing on an active, pushing hind leg stride to get him to push up through his back and a long reaching neck, low, long and forward (nose poking in front of vertical), however I take my time so that I can keep him relaxed and enjoying his session. Since it's ideal to have the nose inside the circle just a little with the haunches slightly outside the circle (shoulder fore), I am using my lunge whip at the middle of Contigo's barrel and his flank to encourage him to step forward but laterally too. The forward lateral strides from the inside hind leg really help him lift his back more. It's important that Contigo have vertical balance too which is where he's not leaning in on the circle or out on the circle with either shoulder. You can't have horizontal balance (stretch) until theres vertical balance because horses need relaxation to stretch and if they are vertically imbalanced it worries them as they travel, causing them to tighten and refrain from letting down into a stretch. I really like the hind leg push, relaxation and wave like quality I see in Contigo toward the end of each direction. After this I lunged him which is in the video below this one.
very old video one year ago:
Above. This video was taken over a year ago when Contigo was still fractious and disconnected. I was using a cavesson. There were moments during this lunge where I thought he was doing better and that's only because I was optimistic about the tiniest of improvements over previous videos. But here he's no where near connecting properly.