It turned out to be a far nicer day today than expected - the rain held off and the big winds didn't materialize - we're supposed to have storms tonight but the afternoon was pretty nice. So I decided to ride - with the rain coming the arena may not be useable for a few days, and I particularly wanted to continue to build on what Drifter and I had been working on.
Drifter did get some hand grazing time this morning, and I was pleased again that when he spooked once while grazing, and again another time this afternoon when I was leading him out of the barn and a large dog was being walked by, both times he stopped well before he came to the end of the lead and never came into my personal space. He also calmed down afterwards pretty well - I just ignored the spook and kept on going.
This afternoon when I took Drifter into the arena, we went right to work - no free lungeing. I probably won't do much more free lungeing with him unless he seems particularly high or unfocussed - and I don't think that's how he's going to be once we're working consistently. There were lots of distractions - the goat coming and going in his pen, joggers and bicycles and strollers and small children. But he ground tied beautifully for grooming, foot picking and saddling - whenever his head would pop up and his eyes would get big I would gently ask him for a head down using the halter. Before I mounted, we did a little leading work using the cones and then some backing in hand, each time for as long as it took for the softness to come through, then we took a break and walked around. We did that until we got several nice repetitions of soft backing - we probably won't have to do that again as he's now got it. Mounting was uneventful - he's got that down now and I don't think it's going to be an issue any more, just like feet picking is no longer an issue. Today I wanted to do a little longer and more concentrated work session - he really isn't a baby and we'll be working on increasing the length and intensity of our work sessions.
Then we concentrated on our walk/halt transition - my objective was to never use more pressure to ask for halt than I want to end up with, which is about a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 with zero being no pressure and 10 being the most pressure you could use. When I started working with him, if you just used rein pressure to stop him, you were talking about an 8 - otherwise he just blew through your hands. In the old days, I might have called him hard-mouthed, but he's not hard-mouthed, he's just learned to brace on the bit because that's what he's been taught to do. But I don't want to use an 8 - I want to use a 1. So we'd be walking along and I would ask with a 1. If he didn't stop in a specific number of steps - I said two - I immediately turned him in a small circle, keeping the outside rein loose and using no leg pressure. He could go around as many times as he wanted - I didn't care. As soon as he offered to stop, we stopped and backed until the backing was soft - this usually didn't take more than a few steps as his back is already pretty nice.
We did this exercise for a while, varying the direction of the circles. It wasn't long before he got it, and when he got it, he really got it - as soon as I asked with a 1 for a halt, it was there - he planted his feet 1-2 and stopped. We did about three repetitions of this - he definitely understood what I wanted and was happy to comply. As soon as he knew he didn't have to pull on the bit, he started to relax - the change in his demeanor was noticeable. Then we did some walking around, doing circles and serpentines - I wanted to encourage him to stretch his neck down and out and relax. There were some nice deep sighs - he was much more relaxed when we finished than when we started - I think he was pretty pleased with himself and he had a right to be. Good Drifter!
Then I got Pie ready and took him to the arena to do some more softening work. But he was distracted, and looky, and bulgy, and rushy (Pie, rushy?) and not really paying attention well. He clearly thought there'd been some mistake - I realized this was the first time I'd worked him when all the other horses were already in the barn (and about to have dinner, he said) - the days are getting longer now. So I took a step back and instead of working on something that was hard for him, we did something that was easy - figure work using our cones and neck reining. This got him to relax a bit, and we were able to go back to our softening work. He was able to concentrate better, and we did some good walk work and then were able to do some work in both directions at the trot. He was doing a lot of bit-chomping, and I may defer working him with the bit until the dentist has come the first week of May. Pie goes very well in the sidepull, and we can do our softening work in that, and if I move him to a bosal, we may not need to go back to the bit in any event. Good Pie!
It was nice to have an unexpected day of good horse work - with our unpredictable weather (and only an outdoor arena) I'll take any day I can get.