Monday, March 28, 2016

The Danger of the Cult Mentality

During the past few months, I've "joined" a couple of private Facebook groups as part of a purchased package of materials for two different horse training programs. I'm not going to name the programs in this post because it isn't my intention to create a negative association with them.  Both programs are focused on gymnastic-type exercises for creating better equine athletes for any discipline and they both have many positive aspects.  Rest assured that I will write about them later as sort of a review of the programs once I've either completed them or learned enough that I think I can make a logical evaluation.

Today's post, though, is about the cult mentality that I've seen demonstrated in these programs.  By cult mentality, I mean an almost rabid commitment to and proselytization of the techniques and values espoused by a given program (or religion or diet or political party) to the point that anyone who questions the program or any of its components is criticized in a non-constructive way (e.g. called ignorant or stupid or otherwise insulted).  I've certainly been guilty of this behavior too, so I'm not really judging.  But the behavior is so damaging to the learning process that I think it is worthy of discussing.

I'll give some examples of what I'm talking about.  In one program, shortly after I joined the Facebook group, one of the members posted a short video she had made that she thought demonstrated the difference between two different exercises.  It was an animation of a horse, and she pointed out that either her software or her skill level didn't allow her to show the horse bending through its back for one of the exercises, but that otherwise, she was pretty happy with it.  Now, she wasn't an instructor, she was new to the program, and trying to create a visual aid for herself and she wanted to share it in case it was helpful to others.  She initially got some positive feedback on it, but by the next day, she posted that she'd been asked to remove the video because it did not reflect the horse bending through its back and was therefore a misrepresentation of the exercise (and by implication, of course, the program, because God forbid a student get in the way of branding).  I'm not sure if it was the founder of the program or one of the certified instructors who asked her to remove it, but either way, it created a bad taste in my mouth right off the bat.

And here's why.  People who are learning make mistakes.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that if a person never made a mistake, he or she wouldn't learn much at all.  In the above case, though, it wasn't even a mistake.  It was an honest effort by an engaged student to learn and share with others.  Which is the whole damn point of these FB groups.  Even if the member hadn't initially acknowledged the inadequacy of the video to show the bending through the back (which, by the way, isn't even that much in the first place - it's more of an optical illusion than true bend), it shouldn't have mattered.  She should have gotten absolutely nothing but positive encouragement and a gentle, kind note about the missing bend.  I have absolutely no idea how this woman felt about the whole process, but my guess is it made her feel pretty bad and probably deflated her sense of enthusiasm for the program.  It certainly deflated mine, and I wasn't even the poster.

But the cult mentality couldn't let the imperfection go.  The cult mentality was stronger than the instructor/founder's desire to help people learn and go on to help their horses.  And that cult mentality may very well have ruined the poster's desire to learn anymore and probably negatively affected the desire of more than one other member.  Now no one wants to play around with a learning tool or aid and post it to the FB page, because it might be wrong somehow.  In fact, probably more than one person is going to think twice about even asking a question, because they might be criticized unfairly or even have their question removed if it isn't good enough.

In another case, I posted a picture of myself and Nimo as an introduction to the group.  I used the picture Becky Pearman took of Nimo and I at our first endurance ride at Fort Valley.  We were trotting down the mountain, probably a mile or two from the end of the first loop (I swear that I never saw the photographer!), and I was having the time of my life.  Nimo was trotting so perfectly and we were synced and it was awesome.

Gail & Nimo

Nimo is wearing a hackamore in the picture, but I'm not sure how easy it is to tell.  I guess if you know endurance and you know hackamores, you might pick it up.  Or if you really looked at the picture, maybe it is clear.  And maybe you as my readers are better able to tell me how obvious it is.  No one made any comment about the hackamore under the picture.  In fact, everyone was very welcoming and I was hopeful that this group (different from the one above) would remain that way.  Until the next day.  Someone (perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not) posted a question about how to respond to people who ask if they can continue to use a hackamore with the training program.  There was a flurry of sometimes a bit nasty comments that made me feel pretty demoralized.  I want to point out that none of the comments mentioned my picture, so it was certainly possible that it had nothing to do with it and was simply coincidence.  But that didn't matter to me.  All that I saw was that there were a bunch of hackamore haters who thought that I was ignorant, didn't understand how a bit was supposed to work, and didn't understand equine facial anatomy to the point that I would put something on my horse's face that would deliberately hurt him (because one commenter pointed out with a know-it-all attitude that any idiot should know that hackamores in general cause pain to the horse). 

The funny thing is that I've seen pretty much the same comments directed by hackamore users at bit users.  I hope that I have refrained from that type of activity on this blog, and if I haven't, you have my sincerest apology.  I have made a conscious choice to use a hackamore on my horse.  I do have concerns that some or maybe all bits can cause pain to a horse, but my initial choice was made before I felt that way.  I made it solely because I wanted Nimo to have the best opportunity to eat and drink on the trail, and I believe that the hackamore made a huge difference for him.  It was only later that I came to realize the real potential (not reality for everyone, OK?) that bits have to cause pain to a horse's mouth IF MISUSED.  However, I still put a bit back into Nimo's mouth to see what would happen about a year after I'd been using the hackamore, and after 9 years of accepting the bit without a complaint (I never even trained him to put the bit in his mouth, he just always accepted it from the very first day), Nimo refused to put a bit in his mouth.  I did insist and rode him in it anyway, but all connection was gone, and it was miserable for both of us.  So I have put the bits away for now because it is Nimo's choice, not mine.  And I'll be honest, I will not tolerate belittling my horse's choice.  He works really hard for me day after day and mile after mile, and he gets a say in what he wears and how we communicate.  Any method or program that claims to respect the horse must give the horse the opportunity to say no and communicate preferences.

So back to the FB situation with the hackamore.  In this case, the founder of the method did respond.  He simply said that using a bit would provide more refinement in the communication with the horse.  Thankfully, he was not derogative or nasty, and that is the only reason I didn't immediately ask for my money back and drop the course.  (And I will say that I don't think he is wrong - I have definitely wished once or twice for the independent side action of a my old Myler bit, but if I can't figure out how to do the exercises with a hackamore, that is my failing, not Nimo's, not the hackamore's, and not the program's, although it sure would be nice to get some feedback and tips from someone else who has used a hackamore in the program.)  Anyway, I point out this situation because it really created a negative space for me and shut down my learning.  The only reason I continued was because the founder did not express the same zealous hatred of the hackamore that some of his students did.  And because I think what he has to teach is quite compelling.  But now, instead of being enthusiastic like I was at the beginning, I have to actively work to continue learning, and I admit to not just a little anxiety over what will happen when I post my first month's video of our progress.  There won't be any way to hide my use of the hackamore and I will have to mentally prepare for the expected focus on the hackamore instead of all the other aspects of our work.

I'm sure that the cult mentality isn't limited to these two groups.  I'm sure it is present in pretty much all training programs out there.  But it is something that we all should be actively working to shut down.  I think it's great if you find a method that really works for you and your horse.  That's pretty much the Holy Grail for any committed horse person, so if you find it, that is certainly cause for celebration.  I also think it's great if you want to tell other people about it, particularly if you can logically describe why it worked for you.  The rest of us can only benefit from hearing about someone else's positive experience.

What isn't so helpful is when enthusiasm for a method or technique or program turns into supreme criticism of other methods or perhaps a technique that doesn't quite fit the program.  For example, one of the two programs above insists that you use a cavesson (which is funny to me because the other program insists that you use a bit and both programs are really trying to accomplish exactly the same thing).  I've actually done the cavesson exercises in a regular halter with Nimo and I did find that using a cavesson gave slightly better results, but if I had to, I think I could do everything with a cavesson or a hackamore OR A BIT!!!  As for the other program that insists a bit must be used, I've been able to make pretty good progress with the hackamore.  I figured out how to communicate with Nimo for one of the two things that I wasn't sure how to do at first, and I have confidence we'll figure the second one out with a little more practice.

But I'm not sure everyone would have been so diligent about continuing to work through the negative feelings as I was.  And that isn't meant to be a criticism of anyone who would have chosen to walk away from either of the situations I described.  In fact, it is quite common in learning situations (think back to when you were in school or learning a new job) to become less effective or even completely shut down when you are not respected.  And being hyper-critical of someone's deviant technique or tack or clothing or body or whatever is flat out disrespectful.  And for people like me, giving the criticism in a passive-agressive way (which is what I suspect in the second example I gave) is even worse.  In that case, the person is so disrespectful that he or she can't say what they want to say to my face, they have to go behind my back.  But even if it isn't intended as a back-door criticism, it still has the same effect, which is to make someone feel bad and discourage learning.

We should never stop questioning when it comes to our own learning and it is my hope that someday educators (and their students) will realize the harm that comes from the cult mentality, even if it is the students and not the teacher who express it.  Whether it is what we eat or how we raise our kids or how we train our horses, we should always feel comfortable asking the hard questions and be able to make our own mistakes and follow our own path.  Any program that does not have that learning environment still needs work.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Conditioning at Thompson WMA

I first rode at Thompson Wildlife Management Area about four months ago (has it really been that long?!).  While the trail we did was fairly short (only 6 miles), it really packed a punch because it was 3 miles of climbing followed by 3 miles of descending.  The trail was in great shape, there were only a few hikers, Nimo seemed to like the trail, and my conclusion was that it would make a great place to go for repeated conditioning workouts.  In my head I made plans to get there at least once a month to gradually increase our speed and also to explore the side trails a bit more.

Unfortunately, despite two previous plans to get there, life intervened (or possibly I just didn't have great motivation because both of those weekends ended up having kind of crappy weather), and I haven't been back until this past Sunday.  I went by myself on purpose, even though I knew at least 3 people that I could have asked to meet me there.  It wasn't so much that I didn't want to ride with those three people, it was more that I really needed a ride by myself.  I mostly ride with other people now, which is great.  I enjoy the company and I also like knowing that if something bad happens, there will be someone else there who can help or at least call 911.  But, the weather was going to be crappy (again) and I was having one of those periods of time when between constant near-panic at work and all the talking that my daughter is doing now, I just kind of wanted to not have to talk or think about human interaction for several hours.  And with the gray, dreary weather, it was a kind of day meant for solitude, if that makes sense.

I wanted to get to the park early because there isn't that much parking for horse trailers, and I just assumed all other endurance riders in the area would want to be getting their climbing workouts in.  The time change threw a bit of a wrinkle in my plans, and I ended up getting on the road about 45 minutes later than planned.  As it turned out, though, I was the only horseback rider at the park (apparently other people have better things to do on drizzly days?), so parking was no big deal.  But the last three miles of the drive to the park reminded me about why I maybe lost some motivation to ride at the park earlier.  The road has a lot of twists and turns plus steep up and downs (including one climb that apparently offends my transmission) and there are SO MANY POTHOLES.  OMG, the potholes.  It was a nightmare to drive on them.  And the entrance to the park is unmarked in the middle of a steep descent, with a sharp, steep turn.  Awesome.  It's almost like the State of Virginia doesn't actually want people to ride there...

Anyway, we made it safe and sound and despite a light rain starting to fall by the time I unloaded Nimo, I was committed to a lovely ride.  I got Nimo saddled and we headed up the mountain.  Our first challenge was to get past the lake that was being used by quite a few fisherman.  The trail threads between the steep side of the mountain and the steep drop-off into the lake, so Nimo envisions death and destruction everywhere.  He did make it through without me having to get off and lead him, although there was a lot of snorting and huffing to indicate his feelings about his lack of safety.

Once the lake was behind us, we started climbing and climbing.  And I kind of reconsidered my plan to basically go up the mountain, come down the mountain, and then turn around and repeat.  I knew we'd hit a side trail at some point on the way up the mountain and I found myself wondering where it went.  The lady I rode with the first time had pointed it out, but said she'd never had the guts to go on the trail so she didn't know where it went or how long it was.  (I'm sure you can see where this is going...)  I have to admit the idea of repeating the climb that seemed so logical before was becoming less appealing.  Plus, Nimo was acting like he was on death's door and I started to worry that his fitness level was not where I thought it was.

I think he probably just needed some time to recalibrate to riding on his own as well as doing some of the steeper climbing and maybe even just warm up.  After about 2 miles, he started to walk out better and seemed to be enjoying the climb.  We just walked it because of the drizzle making the trail seem a bit slick to me.  Nimo had front hoof boots on, which seem to be so useless on any kind of slick surface, so I didn't want to risk a fall.

Once we got to the top of the mountain, we turned around and I debated the wisdom of doing some trotting on the way down.  One reason I love this trail is because it offers a chance to practice trotting the same steep downhill descent of the first loop on the OD ride and I would be sad to not get a chance to practice.  But see above concern about rain, slick trail, and hoof boots.  As it turned out, Nimo made the decision for me.  After about 200 feet, he just picked up the trot and kept going.  He seemed to be well-balanced and stable, so I let him go.  We slowed down for a couple of hikers and a couple of short, rocky sections, but otherwise, Nimo trotted pretty steadily for the first mile down the mountain.  Cool.

Then, we hit the turn to go on the side trail.  My internal debate settled on taking it.  The worst that could happen was that it went nowhere and we had to return to my plan to climb the mountain twice.  I convinced Nimo to deviate from his ambitious trot down the mountain.  He tried to tell me that he was in the zone, but I explained it was either this or go back up the mountain, and he decided to try this new trail out.  It quickly became clear that this side trail was not used or maintained as much as the main one.  The short, brushy trees had overgrown the trail in many sections.  Surprisingly, this did not appear to bother Nimo, and it wasn't long before he picked up a trot again.  On his own.  On a new trail.  By himself.  I'm not sure if I can convey the significance of that.  Nimo does not trot on trails he has never been on unless I insist (or we are at an endurance ride when he becomes a dragon).  Nimo does not like to trot on heavily wooded trails, period.  So for him to volunteer to trot in that situation was huge for him and shows a real leap in his confidence.

After awhile, though, we were just hitting too many obstacles to do much trotting.  I kind of wondered if we hadn't accidentally stumbled on an Extreme Trail course.  There were several partially fallen trees blocking the trail, with not a lot of room to go under and a lot of dense brush to try to get through if we went around.  Nimo is luckily quite happy to dive into the brush and basically force his way through (which is not something I would probably want to do with a different type of horse, but Nimo has really dense, long hair on his legs, which offers quite a bit of protection), so we made it for quite a ways before we hit a real challenge.

A partially fallen tree was too low for us to get under it with me riding, except for a tricky little section just on the outside of the trail.  I decided that since Nimo had been doing so well, we'd give it a try, and I sent up a silent prayer for the survival of the skin on my back.  However, as we were negotiating the section off the trail, Nimo got really tangled in some vines.  Instead of panicking, though, he just stopped.  And he waited while I assessed the situation and realized I needed to get off to help untangle him.  So I hopped off into said tangle of vines, which awesomely included the lovely sticker vines that WILL NOT LET GO of your clothing once they have made the tiniest bit of contact.  Once I got myself untangled and off to the side, I figured out how to get Nimo out and he thankfully responded very well to my cues to move sideways and backwards until he was free of the vines and out from under the tree.

Because no good stump was immediately in sight, we set off walking down the trail in search of a good mounting block.  Nature was happy to provide one in a short distance but we had to walk through a really rocky creek bed to get to it.  But why would you do that, you ask?  Ahhh...because the rocky creek bed WAS the trail and there was no getting around it.  Nimo had some concerns, but he decided he'd stuck with me so far, he might as well keep going.  When we got to a fallen log (aka mounting block), Nimo patiently balanced on big, pointy rocks while I climbed back on and we set off in search of more adventure.

View of the creek bed/trail - for some reason, it doesn't look nearly as challenging as it did when we first saw it.
The trail got a little better after that, and I definitely spotted some hoof prints and a manure pile, so I knew we weren't the first crazy idiots in recent memory to go through this trail (although I speculated that the other horse was much smaller...)

My fear that the trail would end quickly became unfounded.  I had hoped to ride out on this side trail for an hour before turning around (1 hour at 3 mph going and coming would give me a full 6 miles, so no doubling back up the mountain would be necessary).  After 45 minutes, it looked like we still had room to go.  Plus, we came across a couple who obviously hiked out to have lunch, so I figured they probably walked at least 15 minutes before settling on a place to eat.

We did get to a new side trail, but I decided to let that go this time, fearing my poor sense of direction would get us lost.  Then, we crossed the Appalachian Trail again (so, so bitter that horses aren't allowed...), and finally we got to the end of the trail at almost exactly an hour out.  It ended at a parking lot, so it was clear we could go no further.  I gave Nimo some carrots and we turned around.

A tree that obviously fell a long time ago.  I was concerned about getting over it, because it was quite large, but we did find a trail around it that had only a minor chance of impaling me or snagging my stirrup.
Nimo wanted to do some more trotting, so we did.  By this time, there was definitely a light rain.  It had been sort of on and off during the ride, but I sensed a new commitment in the sound and I expected that we might get really wet.  Luckily, I had packed a lightweight poncho for just that reason, but I thought I'd give Nimo a chance to move out down the trail  to see if we could beat the rain.

And move out he did.  This horse became a machine.  He trotted through overgrown sections of trail like they weren't even there.  Meanwhile, I was riding as defensively as I ever have on this horse.  Because the trees were overgrown, I was constantly weaving and bobbing and dodging potential decapitation, strangulation, and impalement as well as trying to keep my stirrups from catching on branches.  At one point, I just tucked my head into my chest and used my helmet to bust through the branches while Nimo happily trotted on.

Finally, when we got back to the creek bed, I insisted that Nimo walk, even though he tried to tell me it was fine for him to trot.  (soft tissue injury, anyone?)  After that, we mostly walked the rest of the way back to the main trail because we had to renegotiate all those fallen trees.  But this time Nimo was completely prepared.  He never even slowed down for a single one of them.  He even ducked under the ones we'd gone around before (luckily coming from the downhill side has more room or I would still be dangling off of one of them).  Even the tricky tree that had all the vines didn't slow him down.  He remembered exactly how to get under it and did it without snagging a single vine.

Which is why I thought it would be totally fine to stop and take a picture of the old metal house that marks the spot where the side trail separates from the main trail.  Nimo does not like this house, but I figured he would stand for 2 seconds while I took a picture.  That would have been wrong.  Because despite being rock solid out on that crazy trail, he was convinced the house was haunted (maybe it is, for all I know), and the second I took the picture, he spooked from behind like a bear reached out and touched his hind end.  But did I fall off?  No, I did not.  I kept both feet in the stirrups, managed to hold onto my whip and both reins in one hand, and clutched my iPhone with my other hand, all while somehow managing to get my nutcase of a horse slowed down in less than 2 seconds.  Whew...

Picture of the "haunted house" out on the trail
And then we were back into "civilization" on the main trail.

Nimo still felt very fresh, but we still had some steep descents to do and I wanted to make sure he had time to cool down during the last 2 miles, so we walked all the way back to the parking lot.  As a last hurrah, there were some fishermen who decided the absolute best place from which to fish was ON THE TRAIL next to the lake.  It was too much for poor Nimo to figure out how to avoid falling in the lake and walk by the fishermen in their brightly colored jackets, with their long poles and strings and chairs.  So I got off, chatted with the fishermen for a minute (they were very nice - I think they just didn't understand how scary the set up could be for a horse) and walked the last quarter mile to the trailer.

The rain was still light, but becoming a bit heavier, so I quickly got Nimo's tack off, fed him his mash, and hosed him off (more about my fantastic little device in a future post) to get any sweat off.  The temperature was in the mid-50s, so plenty warm for Nimo to be wet because he still has his full winter coat.  I did put a lightweight cooler on for the drive home to help dry him out.  Which turned out to be a wise choice because while it did rain heavily on the way back to the barn, it stopped by the time we got there, and Nimo was mostly dry.

The exit from the parking lot was my final obstacle of the day because I realized that there was very little gravel on it, and it was slick from the rain.  So, I got the truck going as fast as possible (I only had a short distance to get going), scared the living daylights out of the driver of the car coming down the mountain on the opposite side of the road (I swear I stayed in my lane, but I was moving a little fast), and managed to get out of the parking lot without sliding back in.  Then it was three fun-filled miles of up and down and twist and turn and OMG, the potholes! and then we were on the interstate for an easy drive the rest of the way back.

I think that this ride was a pretty big milestone for both of us.  Nimo's willingness to trot was really nice to see and it gives me some confidence that maybe he is actually enjoying our time out of the trail.  And I think this might be the first ride that we have done on our own that I truly enjoyed and had real fun on.  Our other solo conditioning rides have been done for the purpose of conditioning.  I do the ride and I logically think through what worked and what didn't and plan for the next time.  And while some rides have been better than others (I still remember one miserable ride in a hot, humid August being chased by horse flies and smacked by branches and how I just wanted to quit and never ever get back on a horse), I always spend a lot of time looking at my watch or my GPS and thinking about how my butt is sore or my ankles hurt or how I wish I didn't have to do so many miles.  This time there was none of that.  I did check my watch a couple of times because I didn't bring a GPS and time was the only way I could assess mileage, but it was very occasional.  I never once wished the ride could be over sooner and I just had the most fun.  I loved riding a new trail, experiencing the challenges out on the trail and having to figure out how to get around them, and most of all, I loved working with a willing horse.  This ride was worth every single miserable minute I have endured to get to this point.  I know that there will be other rides in my future that may not be fun because of weather or footing or equipment issues, but I think we may have turned a corner and I hope to never look back.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Bareback Milestone: Cantering!

I first started riding Nimo bareback a little over a year ago, thanks to the inspiration provided by Liz.  I had never had much of a desire to ride him bareback because his gaits, quite honestly, aren't really that comfortable, and just keeping myself together in the saddle is quite enough, thank you very much.  But, I decided that it really is something I should be able to do (plus Liz looked like she was having a ton of fun), and there are some benefits for me in terms of working on my balance and my aids.

My goal has been to ride bareback once a week, but I rarely am able to do it that often.  In fact, it has probably been weeks since the last time my bareback pad saw the light of day (and that might have been when my daughter used it to ride).  Unfortunately, I've had a rough couple of weeks between training classes for work and becoming infected with a debilitating plague that sucked my will to live.  Finally, by yesterday, I felt like I resembled a human being.  My original plan was to do a 12-mile conditioning ride, but it turned out that I had no clean clothes, my daughter's supply was getting low, and I was behind on a lot of the more mundane tasks of life after wandering around in a plague-induced stupor all week.  So I ended up heading out to the barn at around 5 pm for a bareback ride.

I had no real agenda for my ride other than the usual stuff, like lateral work, bending and suppling exercises, working on really feeling my seat, and using the lightest aids possible.  I do the vast majority of my bareback rides at the walk and do a little trotting because it seems like something I should keep working on, even though it tends to be uncomfortable.  I usually have to do several minutes of trotting before I can get my hips to loosen up and open to the degree they need to for Nimo's really wide back and jackhammer trot.

So it was with some surprise when I realized I didn't need my typical acclimatization period to adjust to Nimo's trot.  While I wish I could say it was because I've done something awesome, after thinking about it, I'm pretty sure the answer is that the quality of Nimo's trot has actually improved quite a bit, so it just wasn't as difficult to sit as it usually is.

I decided to incorporate a little more trot work than we normally do and we had some really nice moments where Nimo was moving forward nicely, with a rounded frame and good contact, and I was able to engage my core very easily.  And that got me thinking, "What about doing some canter?"  At first, I decided that I would wait to canter for another couple of rides.  But then, I realized I was procrastinating and it was really time I sucked it up.  Nimo's canter is no longer the hideously unbalanced affair that it used to be.  His transitions into the canter are continuing to improve and they really aren't difficult to ride.  His canter can still be a bit "Friesian" in that it tends to move more up than forward, but it's a decent canter now.

Still, I argued with myself a bit about the potential for Nimo to crow hop if he felt uncomfortable if I got unbalanced and of course, by then, it was dark out, and Nimo can be a little spooky when I ride in a lighted arena at night.  Then, I reminded myself that it has been at least 3 months since the last time I fell off and close to a year since I last fell off and hit my head.  So really, if I fell off, there was no shame.  And, I had just purchased a new dressage helmet because my old once was several years old and due to be replaced (over 4 years without falling on my head in that particular helmet!).  But I happened to be wearing the old helmet because I had forgotten to bring the new one out to the barn.  So, if I fell and hit my head, I wouldn't have to wonder if I should keep the old helmet around, just in case.

I finally convinced myself that cantering was a legitimate choice and I should just try it.  I set Nimo up for an easy transition by trotting down the long side and asking for the canter as we approached the corner.  And voila! we were cantering!  Nimo did a nice transition and did not try to buck me off.  He was perfectly behaved, although I could feel him asking to go a little faster (umm, not yet, OK, buddy?).  We cantered for several strides, and I asked him to slow to a trot, which he did without hesitation.  I was pretty excited and I wanted to try again.  So I repeated the same sequence, and Nimo being who he is, figured it out, and I didn't even have to ask for the canter the second time.  Again, it was a nice transition and easy to ride.

So I got braver and switched directions.  Nimo has been struggling a bit with canter to the left.  His left shoulder has been feeling a bit stiff for a few weeks, and I've been meaning to do some body work on it as well as some ground work to see if I can loosen it up, but time got away from me.  Still, I figured I could at least try.  So I did.  And Nimo gave me his left lead canter immediately (maybe part of the left shoulder issue is the way I'm riding in the saddle?).  It was a very uphill transition and canter movement, so it felt more like riding a carousel horse on a merri-go-round, but honestly, it was ridiculously easy to sit.  I felt totally locked in to place and very secure.  (Dressage masters are now rolling over in their graves but sometimes it really is function over form...)  I tried it again with the same result, and then I decided to call it a night and walk Nimo out to cool him down.

I'm so excited about how great it felt to canter, and I'm kind of kicking myself for worrying about it so much.  Nimo did really well and I definitely got a feeling that I've never gotten in the saddle before (it's kind of making me want to explore a treeless saddle...).  And I think the benefits of our work carried over into our lesson today.  Nimo's left shoulder still needs work, but overall, he was rounder and softer and to the right, he feels really amazingly fluid now.  And I felt like my seat was more secure.  Plus, we did more canter work in the lesson than we've ever done before, and we're laying the ground work for flying changes (they are still a long way off, but it's fun to think about).

So, once again, thanks for the inspiration, Liz, although if I ever fall off and hurt myself, I'm making you come visit me in the hospital!:)