Today the weather was pretty nice - it made it into the 40sF - first time in a long time - and it was sunny and the wind wasn't too bad. I'll take it in March (well, almost April, but we'll ignore that). I was determined to work with all three horses, and managed to do it - and there were even a couple of firsts - keep reading. I wasn't too sure about whether I'd be able to manage it - I woke up in the night with some back pain (probably due to everything I did the day before) and spent the morning icing it (I've got a great gel ice pack) and taking Advil. By lunchtime I felt enough improved to stick to my plan.
First up was Dawn. Since she'd been so relaxed yesterday, my plan was to saddle and bridle her up and get on for a quick ride - our first since the fall. So that's what we did. I tied her in the outdoor arena and quickly saddled her (using the Mattes pad with two inserts in the front pockets and one in the back pockets - she's built downhill, which is a real challenge for saddle fitting). Then we mounted up - she comes to the block and stands just as she learned to last year. Once on, we did a few minutes of figure work at the walk using our cones, and also some serpentines. She was really good, although it was clear she was having some trouble with the bit - it's a Mylar single-jointed snaffle that she's worn for years and has never had a problem with before. Those of you who have been reading for a while may remember that she had a serious injury to her tongue back in early December - this may be the problem. We've got our dentist coming the first week of May, and we'll have him take a look. I may try her in a bitless option for our next ride. Good Dawn!
Then came Drifter. We had a nice long work session after the other horses were turned out to pasture - we're easing up on the grass. This is hard on him - he sees the others go out and can't join them. My main plan with him was to try another bit - he didn't like the Rockin' S snaffle - and to continue our mounting block work and get on if we got far enough in the work that he would stand still for mounting on a loose rein. First we did some free lungeing until he could settle and concentrate. Then we groomed while he was ground-tied. (We've got more tying work in our future but that wasn't part of today's work plan.) I saddled and bridled up - as I suspected, the Kieffer dressage saddle fits him perfectly with no additional padding, and he seemed much happier with the KK full-cheek with the double joint and lozenge in the middle. We did some backing in-hand with the bit, some baby gives and also some disengaging the hind end - with a new horse, I'd like to know I've got a working one-rein stop if needed.
Then we went right back to work on him coming up to the mounting block, stopping and standing in the correct position, and staying there for mounting on a loose rein until he's signaled to move off. I'm delighted to report that we got there! It took a while to get him back to where we were yesterday - standing at the block and allowing me to jump up and down weighting the stirrup. There were a lot of distractions, including the horses in the pastures, and I just kept asking for his attention back. Then I progressed to leaning across him with my whole weight and patting him on the other side. Then I stood in the stirrup for progressively longer intervals. In between, there was much praise and relaxed walking around to reward each successful effort. Finally, it was time to get on, so I did. He stood there like a statue. I dismounted and repeated - same thing. I think he's got it! For a horse that couldn't stand still for mounting for anything, this was big progress. This is the first ride he's had since I tried him out last October, and I believe he only had a few rides the entire two years before I got him.
Once I was on, we did only a few more little things. I checked his backing - not too bad - that'll be right with just a little bit of work. Where he needs work now is speed regulation - he's like a boat in full steam and rushes while pulling on the bit. He also doesn't halt well on a soft cue. I knew these things already from my ride last fall. I see lots of circles in our future. When I ask for halt, I use only the pressure I want to end up using - almost nothing - and if that doesn't produce a halt, I do a small circle using an opening rein (leaving the outside rein alone) until there's an offer to halt, then back a few steps until the softness comes through. For speed regulation, pretty much the same thing - if he's rushing, I ask (very softly) for a decrease in speed and if that doesn't happen, I do a small circle until I get the speed I want, then proceed in a straight line. Drifter's habits are pretty well-engrained, so it'll take some time, I expect, for him to understand and accept the new way of doing things, but he'll get there in whatever time it takes - we're in no hurry. Once we get these issues cracked, then we'll be in a position to move on to softening work, which I think he's going to find pretty easy. Good Drifter!
And, finally, there was Pie. We took a lovely, slow (walking only) solo trail ride. It was really nice - no problems with halting or speed regulation with Pie! Pie and I were both tired - we've ridden a lot of days in a row. We stopped from time to time to survey the universe. Good, good, Pie!
Tomorrow there's rain on and off and I don't ride on Saturday because of my music lessons. So all of us will get some well-deserved time off before we take up our work again in April. In March, I managed to ride Pie 18 times, double the number of rides we had in each of December, January and February, and Dawn and Drifter made it under the wire with one ride each. March isn't usually one of my favorite months, but I'm pretty happy with our March. I'm hoping that April will be even better.