We seem to have gone directly from early (cold, wet) spring into high summer. It's in the upper 70s and sunny and I'm not complaining. With the heat, though, come the bugs. The ticks (big, brown dog ticks - the tiny deer ticks that carry Lyme disease are rare in our area) have exploded. I got at least 8 off Pie this morning when I brought him in to ride. Most were in his tail - I have to pick around in there and examine the tail bone to find them. Some of the horses, including Pie, get a crusty, oozy reaction to a tick bite so I cleaned up those areas too - he seemed to really appreciate it. And just today the black flies have started tormenting the horses - they get bloody, crusty areas on their chests, in the throatlatch area, between the jaws, between their front legs, on the their bellies, and on the geldings' sheathes and mares' udders. Slathering vulnerable areas with Vaseline seems to help prevent the black flies from biting - fly spray doesn't help much if at all. The regular stable flies haven't gotten too bad and there are no large horseflies (we call them B-52s) or deerflies yet, but they'll be along in due course.
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The theme for all three horses today was stretching down to find a soft contact - I find this very useful for a number of different issues. It helps horses who are tight on the top line (like Pie) and also helps horses who are prone to curling up (like Dawn or Drift) either due to trying too hard (Dawn) or due to nervousness or incorrect prior training (Drift).
First up was Pie. We had a fairly short, intense arena session this morning. We worked on him started to stretch down for soft contact at the trot - he's finally able to stretch his top line a bit and engage his core and the difference in the quality of his trot is noticeable. He's finally starting to stretch through the top of the lower part of his neck in front of the withers - this has taken some time for him since he came to me so contracted in the top line - making muscle/posture changes like this isn't easy and takes many sessions to allow the horse to be comfortable, and in fact even able to assume, the new posture, and it can't be forced - it has to develop and the horse has to be able to offer it. And we also worked on our trot/canter transitions some more - they're very snappy now (I only had to carry my small crop and tap my own leg or the saddle if a secondary cue was needed, and it mostly wasn't) and as a result the left lead is no longer a problem - he pretty much can consistently get it now even though that's not what we've been focussing on - it just happens on its own when I cue since his departures are now immediate and he just steps off in most cases on the correct lead, if I time my cue to the departure leg. I knew the left lead was there, since he does it, as well as flying lead changes, easily in the pasture. Then we went on a quick trail ride as a refreshment. Good Pie!
After lunch, I got Dawn out for some work. We also worked on her stretching down to the contact at both the walk and trot. In her case, the tendency to curl up is much less pronounced than it was last year - she's learned she doesn't have to do that in order to be soft. But she's still practicing stretching down at the trot and her head tends to want to pop back up. Partly this is a fitness issue for her, and it should resolve pretty quickly as she becomes more fit with our trot work. To finish up, we walked out of the arena and around by the community garden. Good Dawn!
Then Drift and I had a very good work session. He came out of the pasture calmer than yesterday, and didn't fidget as much while we were tacking up, although he did fidget some. The only time he screamed in our entire work session was once on the cross ties, which was also an improvement. I noticed when tacking him that's he's starting to lose some weight and tone up, so the saddle no longer fits exactly as well since he's a bit narrower - it's a little too wide - I'll have to change my pads next time we work (I couldn't do it today as I didn't want to leave him unattended on the cross ties and the fit wasn't yet a significant problem). His leading work in the arena before I mounted up was excellent - he stayed right behind me no matter what turns or figures we did. Mounting still wasn't perfect although it was much better. It didn't take all that long for him to do a nice, relaxed, long walk with his head stretching down at least somewhat. His concentration and focus were much improved too. Then we did a lot of trotting in sets, interspersed with some walking on a loose rein and also some halts and backing. He's not consistent yet, either with his pace or his stretching down, but he improved as we worked. At the end of our work, he got a very nice series of large trot circles where he began to relax and stretch down to a soft contact - his trot stride got longer and more engaged, without rushing, and he was really participating mentally in the work. I halted him and immediately jumped off and praised him, he followed behind me to the arena gate and I took him in to untack and then turned him back out. He ended calm, which is what I want at this point - the calmness when we start is also coming along a bit every day. Good Drift!
I couldn't have asked for better from all three horses. That's what I call a good day with horses!