Dawn and I had an outstanding ride this morning. Even though Dawn is no longer as physically capable as my two boys, and even though she's got her limits - she hates riding around other horses and I don't choose to ride her on the trail (although at this point in our journey she might well be OK) - she's still one of my most important masters in the art and practice of horsemanship. By this I mean that she's my teacher, and often shows me the way to a new understanding of how to more effectively work together with a horse, any horse.
Today she and I worked on using our core. My position, the horse's position, our ability to move together and to communicate through thought and energy comes from our core. I'm using "our core" in the singular because that's what we were working on today - connecting my core to her core so that they were one thing, together. This is much more a matter of thought than it is of physical action, although to achieve it I have to be moving with the horse without any blocks or braces.
I'll describe what we did and see if it makes any sense to you. As we were riding, I would mentally "lock in" to her core - it's a bit like me sinking into her and her rising up into me - so that we became one unit. Then to achieve what I wanted us to do together, we used our core to feel what the hind legs were doing and change that if necessary. Our objective for today was to activate the hind legs to get more engagement and lift at the trot, with our core engaged so the the trot would as a result be soft and round. As we were working, we took breaks, still trotting, where the trot wasn't quite as engaged or elevated - this work was strenuous for her. We also took a number of loose-rein walk breaks.
With our cores connected, all it took to change the engagement and elevation of the trot was to change the feel of our energy flowing to the hind legs. Transitions to and from trot came from our energy. We also did some shortening and lengthening of trot just by changing the feel of our hind legs.
Dawn responded beautifully to my attempts - she's an exceptionally fine teacher, although I believe all horses can be if we're prepared to listen. She and I did some of the most beautiful, engaged, round, soft trot work we've ever done together. We only worked for about 20 minutes of trotting, which was enough considering how strenuously we were working. The proof was in the freshly dragged arena dirt - there were entire series of hoofprints where we'd been using our core to activate the hind legs, with no toe dragging by the hind feet at all.
A big thanks to a wonderful mare for doing so much, so often, to improve my horsemanship!