I left the halter on underneath the bridle for our groundwork:
My daughter, who at that point had started doing her own training using the methods of Mark Rashid, had succeeded in working with Lily so she would go, and soften, in a simple KK snaffle, instead of the double twisted wire bit with tight figure 8 noseband our prior trainer espoused - which by the way had done nothing to slow Lily down or make her more manageable. Even though she would intensely focus in the jumper ring, she was almost impossible to ride successfully in the warm-up ring (even when she had deceptively been standing tied to the trailer asleep with one hind leg cocked). She also would not "lunge down" - no amount of work on the lunge line would tire her out, and once she began to develop heaves, extended lunging wasn't a possibility anyway. So the final year my daughter competed on her the routine would be to take her to an area where we could lunge, lunge only as long as needed to warm up her muscles, then my daughter would get on and go straight into the jumper ring.
We retired her from competition, which raised certain challenges since she disliked arena work (not involving jumping) and demonstrated an (explosively) strong aversion to trails. Lily is our alpha mare, and she is intelligent, strong-minded, alert and reactive. Due to her agility, speed and power, she has the ability to do a split-second bolt and amazing bucks. After her retirement, we didn't do much work with her. My older daughter was in college, my younger daughter had her own mare (Dawn) to work with, and I had three horses of my own to take care of (plus the whole barn in the mornings).
I think that working with alpha mares like Lily requires a certain way of thinking. Alphas are usually intelligent, sensitive and alert, reactive and used to being respected. An alpha that is mishandled can easily become sullen and resentful, or dangerously explosive. If you think about it from the horse's point of view, I can hear an alpha mare say to herself, while giving the human a skeptical look: "Wait a minute - here comes this human, who's demanding that I respect her, when she's not sure of what she wants, is inconsistent, gets upset easily, gives me no respect and doesn't listen to a thing I try to say to her - why should I respect her or do what she wants?" I think you have to prove yourself to alpha mares - not by dominating them (although I think it's very important to set limits for acceptable behavior, particularly on the ground) but by communicating with them in a way that enables a two-way conversation. Alpha mares care a lot about fairness - if you tell them that biting isn't acceptable, they will understand that - but if you're inconsistent or insensitive they'll write you off.
I also think that, if we want our horses to respect us, we need to respect them - an alpha mare should be respected for her intelligence, resourcefulness, responsiveness and knowledge. I think it's always important to listen to what the mare says to us. I know that for Lily, at least, getting bored is an issue - she likes a challenge and to have new and interesting things to do - I think that is why she liked jumpers so much. Lily would not be a good horse to do endless repetitions of an exercise, or to do the same groundwork with every day.
So yesterday I decided to try working some more with Lily. My Maisie is waiting for the farrier to come, so I'm not riding her for a few days. So yesterday afternoon after feeding all the horses (I do this every Sunday afternoon), I brought Lily down to the barn, groomed her and saddled her up. I used my dressage saddle, as it's the only one I have that fits her - I sold my close contact that fit her a while ago as my daughter didn't like it. We had to do a little approach and release work on bridling, as she hadn't been bridled or worked with in over 6 months. My objective was to do a little ground work with her and if all went well, to ride a bit.
Here's Lily, ready to go - the ears were flickering back and forth and she wasn't as unhappy about the whole thing as she looks in the picture - I just caught the moment when the ears flicked back:
There was some wind, and a number of distractions - people were working in the community garden and there was a fairly loud party going on across the pond behind the arena.
The first challenge was to come up with some quiet groundwork exercises that would also be interesting for her and hold her attention despite the distractions. For our first exercise, I constructed a circular lunging pattern with ground poles as the radii of the circle. I asked her to walk with me as I did this and dragged the poles from various corners of the arena. She was nervous at first about the dragging poles, but stayed right with me and calmed down as we were working - I just told her that I assumed she would walk quietly with me and she did. She walked through this lunging pattern with attention and precision in both directions.
Then a fellow boarder helped me with setting out a maze pattern. Mazes like this help horses and handlers to develop attention to each other and the ability to make lots of adjustments of position and balance. You have to think about it one step at a time. We started out with the poles at a reasonable spacing - a challenge but not an unreasonable one. Here's the maze (with Lily's nose in the picture):
As we worked, I moved the poles closer together to make the maze more challenging. After I led her through this a few times - Lily was really listening to me at each step and made careful adjustments to her position and balance at each turn - and after I made it tighter and we did it again a few more times, Lily delicately reached over and plucked the forearm of my sweater with her teeth. It wasn't aggressive, it was just her saying: "OK, we've done this and it's starting to get boring, can we do something else?"
I said OK, so we moved towards the mounting block, and then did a little softening and backing in hand using the bridle, and we also did a few turns on the forehand just using one rein. She was alert, but had been attentive and responsive, so I decided a small ride was in order. She knows how to stand at the mounting block without being constrained. It took her a moment of circling the mounting block to offer to halt. Once she was standing still, I kept my reins completely loose and did a few tests to be sure that she was OK with the whole thing - I leaned over the saddle, and then put one foot in the stirrup and put my weight on my foot. All OK, so I swung my other leg over and sat. She stood completely still, on a loose rein. I adjusted my stirrups, and, keeping my energy low, off we walked. We did a few circles, walked over some poles and then did the maze (in its tighter configuration) a few times in both directions.
She was softening well at the walk, and was willing to do everything I asked. It was fun to ride her again - she's incredibly sensitive and responsive, and feeling all that power under you is an amazing experience. We called it a day, and I put her away.