This afternoon, both Dawn and Maisie got some work. I groomed Dawn (yes, she and Maisie were both muddy again today), and then put the surcingle on. She wasn't concerned about the surcingle itself, but when I tightened the girth, she started shuffling her feet - this is something she does when I saddle her and she is a bit worried. I took her off the cross ties - Scout and Joe were galloping and playing in the arena at the time which had her a bit concerned and excited - and led her back to her stall to eat some hay and have dinner. She would from time to time turn her head and look at the surcingle as if to ask "what is this"? but didn't get too fussed.
Then I groomed Maisie (her mud was a bit wet but not too wet for me to clean her up) and saddled her and left her in her stall to eat dinner, and brought Dawn out. I attached the lines to her fuzzy-nose halter, running them through the lower surcingle rings. We marched out - she was very forward today - she's not been moving forward all that well when ground-driving but she was more up and responsive today - and did some loops in the field behind the barn, and around the parking lot and up and down a short segment of trail. Then, as we were coming around the barn, she spied Sugar in the distance coming down the trail, and spooked a little, and turned and got herself a bit wrapped up in the lines. One line was around a back ankle, and she was a little concerned and anxious and was kicking a bit and fussing about the lines, so I took her halter, and undid the lines. Clearly, there was a little hole in our training.
We went back to the barn, I got a lead and clipped it to her halter and then took one of the long lines and worked with her to become more comfortable with lines around her legs. I kept her with a loose lead in one hand and then looped the long line around a hind leg - first at the pastern, then at the cannon bone below the hock, and then above the hock. Each time, I would pull and ask her to move forward in response to the pressure. She fussed once, but quickly got the idea that moving forward would solve the pressure problem - and she got a few treats for it as well. Very quickly, she was leading by each hind leg with the long line in any position.
Then I wanted to end with her working with the lines attached again and not worrying about it, so I hooked her up again and we drove around the barn and parking lot some more - she was fine and I was even getting some softening at the walk. Her backing is still sticky - she tends to brace and then go behind the vertical, so we did a bit more work in hand on this. She's doing very well, and we successfully surmounted a small worry - lines around the legs - together, which will build our confidence together.
That took longer than I planned, but it took the time it took and that was good. Then I brought Maisie out, wearing her Dr. Cook's bitless, for a trail ride - it was starting to get dark and was very calm and beautiful. I've decided that the Dr. Cook's will likely be our bridle of choice for most trail riding, and I'll continue to use the Rockin' S snaffle - she goes very well in this - for arena work where more precision is required. There are also other bitless options for us to explore at some point in the future. Maisie was very forward and willing as we went out.
Now, recently the pattern on our trail rides has been a pleasant, forward ride away from the barn, followed by an increasingly agitated, nervous, spooky ride back to the barn. Today, just by chance (but perhaps not after all) I was practicing a form of meditation I've been learning about as we went about our trail riding business. I've been reading a book called Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. The book is mostly about meditation (Buddhist insight meditation - mindfulness), but there's a chapter at the end about loving-kindness meditation. This meditation is similar to the types of prayers and thoughts that are used in many religious/spiritual traditions to focus loving thoughts on other people, and in the case of Buddhism, other sentient beings of all types.
The practice involves focussing thoughts of loving kindness on all we encounter - even our adversaries - here is the version where adversaries are the focus - but the practice applies to all - friends, adversaries, persons we do not know, and even animals and other living beings:
May my adversaries be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them, may no difficulty come to them, may no pain come to them. May they always meet with success [meaning success in overcoming spiritual obstacles].It's basically sending a blessing to each and every one around you. Anyway, I was doing this as Maisie and I rode along the trail. I was focussing on sending a blessing to the people living in each house we passed on our trail ride - and I know many of the people in those houses but not all. Maisie's job was to carry me smoothly along, without rushing, on a loose rein, and to allow me enough time as we passed each house to do the blessing - even if that meant she needed to slow down or stop. We did every house, and also practiced our loving kindness to two dogs that ran out - Maisie moved over to the side of the trail closest to the dogs instead of away from them - really spooky, no? When a squirrel ran through the brush and up a tree, slightly spooking Maisie, we practiced our loving kindness on the squirrel. Often when she spooks, she doesn't settle well, but that didn't happen today - she calmed right down. We did every house along our way.
Now the really weird, spooky thing, was that as we went along, Maisie became more and more relaxed - instead of more and more tense as has been the pattern recently. Her head lowered, and we were on a completely loose rein. She slowed whenever I asked her to - sometimes without any rein aid at all. She even looked over to the houses when we stopped for a moment. I also worked on releasing the tension in my body - particularly my legs and seat - as we went along. It was by far the most relaxed ride we've had in months. At the end, as we were close to the barn, we stopped and communed with the goat and did our loving kindness blessing to it as well. Maisie stood there and gently snuff-a-whuffed at the goat until I asked her to move towards the barn. It was truly lovely, and something we will do again, probably many times.