I haven't been super on-the-ball with this lately. Oops! I've had a few rides since, and they've all definitely been better than my last doom-and-gloom post.
I've been out to work with the pony at least once or twice since, and she was much better. I'm continuing to do the hand-walking on the trails before lunging and riding her, and it really does get us both in a better headspace. Last time I did this, I even took her out on the road. Although it has basically no traffic, it was still somewhere new to check out. She was more "up" and doing her anxious snorty thing a little, but not anywhere near as bad as a few weeks before. She decided she didn't like a culvert at the side of the road and gave that a wide berth, but was otherwise cooperative. I do really wish she'd stop crowding me when she's anxious, but she's getting better. I keep giving her a good few jabs with my elbow when she does it, and she's a bit more respectful.
The last time I rode her, the bugs were SO BAD. She wouldn't stand still for tacking up or mounting and was miserable. I can't blame her at all, poor kid. There's now some bug spray available, so I'll be better equipped to deal with that next time! I rode her walk-trot, with another rider in the ring, and she was a good girl despite all the bugs. It's been at least two or three weeks now since I've ridden her, though, as she's been on loan to some clients for their private use. When she's in company with her best buddy horse friend, she's so cooperative she's actually safe for small kids. It's quite the change. I'm going to keep working on the separation anxiety angle with her, because that does seem to be her most significant problem.
It does seem to be getting better, though! Has a long way to go, of course, but it's come down a lot. I went up for a lesson a week and a half ago at the private barn, and rode the other horse. The pony had to go and wait in her stall alone during this time, and my coach said "She's probably going to have a fit in there the whole time." But, other than being a bit antsy at first, we only heard ONE neigh the whole lesson, and she seemed to settle fine on her own. Not bad!!!
Speaking of that lesson, on the horse, it was good to get my butt kicked again, haha! I did walk, posting trot, and canter, both seated and two point. I rode in the arena, but also out of it! The place has big sliding doors, so the arena doubles as a shelter for turnout. I trotted and cantered the horse out of the ring, along the fence line down a little hill, a big circle around the round bale, and a MOTIVATED two-point canter up the little hill and back into the ring!
It all went pretty smoothly, although I did let her drop out of canter a few times when I shouldn't have. It wasn't her though -- it was very much me. Although everything was fine, I'm not feeling incredibly confident right now after all the time off from instruction. I didn't feel up to full strength in my legs and back and core, but apparently I actually looked really good! I've somehow managed to improve my position, especially my lower leg position, since I last had regular lessons in early January. I think part of it was having those four jumping lessons in North Bay. What the coach said really clicked with me, about getting my lower leg down and back, and using the backs of my thighs as a supportive extension of my seat.
So, apparently I looked a lot better than I felt like I looked! I'm still rounding my back a lot when I'm in two point, and I have a LOT of trouble convincing myself that it's okay to not have my butt tucked under in readiness to influence in the saddle. Still riding defensively. I also need to work on my core strength because even when I CAN convince myself to straighten my back, I can't maintain it for more than a few seconds. Oh well, a year and a bit ago I couldn't even stay in two point at ALL, sooooo.
It was also my first outing in my new tall boots!! Woooo! They were a bit slippery at first but they were great after about ten minutes. I didn't even really notice them, which is pretty ideal for a first ride in a pair of boots that haven't been broken in. I think they might be a touch too big, but nothing that an insole or a thicker pair of socks won't remedy.
The mare and the pony have been up at the private place for a couple of weeks now, so last night I went and rode a horse I never have before. This boy was my coach's personal horse, but he's proven to be too mentally fried from a very intense life of competition to handle the mental strain of more advanced dressage any more. He used to be capable of grand prix movements, but he's since made it clear he's DONE. Her idea is to get other riders on him who will get him to relax into less taxing work, so he can maybe decompress and learn to like having a job again.
He was a total gentleman to brush and tack up, but when I got him out to the ring he would NOT stand still for me to get his reins and throatlatch arranged for lunging. He just kept spinning and spinning and spinning around me in a tiny tight circle while I held on to him. Ugh. So I just let him spin and spin and spin and spin around me while I held onto him. Probably looked pretty comical. But I eventually got him ready. I had the lunge whip in my hand but I obviously didn't need it as he took off right away, tearing around me unprompted at a rushed canter and tripping in the deep footing. Sigh. "Just lunge him first." Hahahaha. I can see why! He was pulling and the bit actually slid THROUGH his mouth, so I had to carefully reel him in (still cantering until the circle was TINY, mind you) and redo the setup so the line was through the bit ring and over the poll. Then everything was fine.
I let him run around both ways until he was willing to slow to a walk on his own. He still seemed UP, but I was like, "Welllllp, this might be as good as it gets." I'd heard he could be a bt of a dinkus about the mounting block, but he wasn't that bad, at least this time. I had to chase him with it a bit like I do with Syd, but he was still easier to get on than the pony!
Once I was up, twenty minutes of walk commenced, with him trying to jig and me closing my knees and yanking on his face. There was a lot of hold one rein, pulse the other, hold one rein, pulse the other. My stirrups were about two holes too long, which didn't help the situation. I just pretended I was riding stirrupless and thought about using the backs of my thighs to hold and balance me.
This was definitely my most "hot horse" experience in ages. He seemed like he was never going to settle, and had those radar ears pointing straight up and forward, which as one of my friends put it, "usually precede my butt landing in the dirt." I remembered the advice to actually keep a soft hand and leg ON on a horse being hot, so I tried different variations of that. I also tried to keep him thinking by leg yielding, which he did beautifully one direction, but took as a cue to go faster the other way. Whoops. At one point he seemed SLIGHTLY better so I asked for trot and got a canter stride instead. Brought him back immediately and halted.
I did a lot of walk-halt walk-halt and eventually I didn't have to use EVERYTHING I had to halt him. I'm not sure what the exact moment was, but his head started to come down, and he started to round and relax a bit. I did do a little trot (awkward with my miles-too-long stirrups and his big movement!!) and he settled in some more.
By the end, my coach came out and we were chatting, and he was just walking calmly with his head down, on a loose rein. Like a totally different horse. Apparently this was actually his first time being ridden in that ring, at least the first time this season, so his nervousness made a bit more sense. Despite that hot beginning of the ride, I'd ride him again. He's VERY sensitive, which can of course be good and bad, but I think if I'm just very thoughtful and careful about how I ride him, it could be quite lovely to work with a horse who has so much knowledge, despite his attitude issues.
Fun fact: I used my bridle on him. The one I last used on Razz over twenty years ago. I conditioned it with Leather CPR before I went out there, and it looked PERFECT and brand new. It was actually a bit big on him, which is funny, because he's considerably larger than her. Just has a dainty head, I guess!