I've been thinking about some things Jean at Horses of Follywoods has talking about, which made me realize that I've been starting up my riding this spring without a plan. If I don't have a plan, how am I supposed to get anywhere with Maisie, and if I don't know what I want and how I'd like to get there (subject to course corrections, of course), how in the world can I clearly ask her to do it if I don't have a clear idea of what "it" is? Having a plan before you start riding was one of the first things I learned from Mark Rashid, but I seem to have lost track of that - I just started riding Maisie this spring thinking that we'd do some conditioning, but didn't really have a plan.
For example, this morning when I turned the mares out, I had a plan. The mares are in one of our far-away pastures, so I've been letting them into an intermediate pasture (less walking for me), and when I bring out my last horses, walking down to the gate of the far pasture and letting them through. They know what I'm doing, and as I start to walk down to the far gate, they build up steam behind me, and by the time I open the far gate we have the thundering herd that gallops through the gate and up the hill into the far pasture at an alarming speed. Today, when I went out, as I walked through the pasture, every time the mares started to trot behind me, I stopped. They stopped and grazed. Then I kept going. Repeat. When I got to the gate, the mares were walking behind me. I let them settle and opened the gate. A couple trotted through, most walked, and they started grazing inside the gate instead of galloping into the distance. Much better.
So I had a plan, and put it into action, and it did what I intended. With Maisie, my objective is to have her do a consistent medium trot without getting heavy, and to carry herself at this pace with minimal (1 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least and 10 being the most) pressure on her mouth. (My earlier post talks a bit about the idea that you usually don't want to use a stronger aid than you want to end up with.) At this point, due to her lack of fitness, I'm not really looking for much softening or engagement at the trot. I know how to get a consistent speed - every time she thinks about speeding up (better if I catch it before she actually speeds up), we do circles, as small as necessary until she adopts a correct pace, and then go on. Then repeat as necessary in both directions until she gets the idea. I can't really do this on the trail or even on the grass - the area to work in isn't large or level enough - I need the arena. We should be able to drag it sometime in the next day or so. So I have a plan, which is better than what I was doing (or not doing) before.