Pie and I did some serious arena work yesterday and today. I put him in the Mylar ported snaffle - it looks like this (although the one I was using didn't have the slots for the reins and headstall - I prefer no slots but they're hard to find):
I find this bit is a very good training bit, especially for horses with large tongues (which Pie certainly has - even the dentist commented on it). We worked yesterday and today in the arena on softening work - remember that, although head position is part of the picture, it isn't the most important part - it's the engagement of the hindquarters and lifting of the back through engagement of the core - the feel - that's really important.
Pie did really well with this - we're pretty close to consistent softening work at the walk - after progressing through 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 soft steps with releases and relaxation in between. Yesterday, I wasn't satisfied with his forward - he tends to be on the slow side - so today for the first time I rode him while carrying a dressage whip - I would have preferred a short crop but could only find a dressage whip to borrow - I haven't had a horse that needed me to use a crop in a very long time so don't own one.
Now you might think I would use the crop/whip on him when he didn't move forward from my leg - I never want to increase my cues above the level I ultimately want them to be, otherwise I'm just training him to respond only to a stronger cue - but that's not what I use it for. I just use the crop/whip as a secondary cue to make a noise - by hitting the saddle or my chaps - to reinforce the primary cue, which is my leg at as close to a zero (on a scale of 1 to 10) as I can make it. I was also fortunate that Pie was completely unafraid of the dressage whip - some horses, unfortunately (including my sweet Noble) are afraid of crops or whips because they've been punished/hit with them - completely poisoning the cue.
So when Pie didn't immediately respond to a soft leg cue, for a forward walk or a forward trot, I immediately whacked my saddle with the whip and he responded. Worked like a charm. Pretty soon I may be able to eliminate using the secondary cue completely - he'll have learned that the soft leg cue means forward, now.
We did a lot of very good softening work - walk is almost consistent and trot is progressing well. Today we got to 5 soft steps, with good impulsion and lifting from the core, at the trot in both directions.
Then, as a nice break, we went on a short trail ride - we were out about 30 minutes by ourselves. At one point when we were walking along the boundary of the mares' pasture, Dawn came galloping up, and proceeded to pee for Pie (she's still in heat - how long can this last?). Then she went "squee . . .!" and galloped back across the pasture to her herd of mares. Pie turned to watch her go, but then just calmly continued down the trail. Good Pie! We greeted various people, dogs and children - lots of people were out due to the nice weather - and then Pie went back to the barn for dinner. Pie will get a well-deserved day off tomorrow.
Tomorrow Drifter's supposed to be here in the afternoon . . . more on that tomorrow.