The weather today wasn't all that promising - temperatures in the low 40sF with wind gusts to 30 mph - just lovely! But better than the past two days, so Dawn and I had a work session today. I wasn't too sure what she'd feel like with almost a week off and cold and windy conditions - wait, I knew almost exactly what she's feel like . . . That said, she is such a good girl - always trying and always wanting to please - that we were able to get some good and interesting work done despite the weather. (I'm trying to work up to my resolution to work with the horses every day it isn't actively precipitating and the wind chills are above 10F and there's not ice - stay tuned!)
We groomed and tacked - I used the dressage saddle but put some wash clothes between the riser pad and the saddle pad just behind her withers where the saddle tends to bridge - this also helped with the tendency of the saddle to nose down and slide forward - I was able to keep the girth a proper hand's width from her elbows. She was a bit snarky about saddling, but calmed down once she figured out it wasn't uncomfortable. She's still downhill - withers lower than butt - and that's a major saddle-fitting challenge.
We went outside and I started to mount from the big mounting block. Our p.m. barn lady had her truck parked nearby, and her dog was in the back seat barking - dark windows so Dawn couldn't see the dog - and the plastic cover on the truck bed was rippling and making noise in the high wind. My initial objective was for Dawn to come up to the block and stand still as I mounted - she knows how to do this but there was too much going on, so we moved to the arena and the small mounting block which was farther away from the truck/dog/bed cover. Our p.m. lady asked if it was OK for her to take the dog out and if Dawn would be OK and I said we'd work while she was doing that - good training opportunity.
So we worked for few minutes by the mounting block in the arena - she was also looking at the three fence posts and section of arena fence that had blown down in the windstorm yesterday. We started with her standing still (I don't hold her in place - she's on a loose rein) for me to put my foot up to the stirrup - then a break and a nice walk around when she did it, otherwise just circling the mounting block and repeat. Then on to my putting weight in the stirrup - nice walk around. Then standing in the stirrup - walk around. Then getting on, while she stood on a loose rein. Dawn knows how to do this - she was just very distracted by what was around her and the high wind and her high energy level. It was very good and she got a lot of praise.
She was bursting with energy, so we did a series of smallish circles and serpentines at the walk, focusing on softness and the best relaxation we could get - I wanted her to keep her head low and stretch down with softness which helps with relaxation. Then the horses were being brought in from pastures, so we did our just-standing-around exercise - a great thing to work on patience and relaxation. We stood for a while at various spots around the barn, in the high wind, while the horses were coming in, on a completely loose rein. If she started to want to move off, we just gently circled until she offered to stop and then we stood again. She eventually selected an area to the east of the barn - sheltered from the wind a bit - to stand and I agreed. She stood there like a statue on a loose rein as the wind blew and horses came in. She even blinked and shook her head a few times - good relaxation signs.
Then we walked back over to the scary truck bed cover, which was rippling and making odd noises in the wind. She was concerned, and we circled, each time a bit farther away. She didn't find a distance that was comfortable to stand - I was very please that she only wanted to move off quietly, not at speed - so I agreed that we should walk off back around the other end of the barn. I took her inside, untacked, put her halter on and put some treats in my pocket and we went back out.
Dawn has done some good foundational clicker training involving scary objects, which we used to our advantage today. I led her close to the truck - the bed cover was undulating and making strange rustling sounds - and clicked (I just use my tongue to click) and treated every time she took a step closer. Within minutes she was touching the rustling, rippling bed cover with her nose and even letting me rustle it with my hand - this is outstanding work for Dawn and I told her so. She seemed very pleased with herself as we returned to the barn. We will probably do another bit of work on this tomorrow, but it's a pleasure to see her self-confidence grow as she conquers these obstacles!
I was delighted with our work today - we didn't trot, but that didn't matter as we still got a lot of important work done.