Drift and I had two really good work sessions today, each lasting about an hour. At turnout time, before I turned the horses out, Drift and I did more trailer loading practice. I wanted two things from our work today - for him not to stay on until I asked him to back out and then to back out slowly, without rushing, and for him to walk on fairly nicely. I expected a bit of back sliding after our closing up and cruising around the neighborhood the other day, as that made him nervous, and back sliding there was. I got some pulling back, some fish tailing from one side of the the trailer to the other, and some attempts to turn away from the trailer ("if I don't see it it doesn't exist") where he would try to pop his shoulder towards me. We worked hard for almost an hour - he must have loaded at least 40 times - but I wasn't going to stop until I got what I wanted.
The backing off part was paradoxically easier than the loading on part. I discovered that, for reasons that are a mystery to me, he appears to understand the word "wait". I would get him on, ask him to lead all the way to the front and stick his head out the window. I would rub him and praise him and then ask him to back. After a step or two, I would say "wait" and he would stop. Praise and rubs. And so on. After not too long, his backing off was really pretty good. I didn't close the partition today, since we worked so hard on loading and unloading - I think that'll be less of a problem now that he's only backing out at my request. The getting on part was harder - there was pulling back, heading around the sides of the trailer (what I call fishtailing), attempts to ignore the trailer by stopping moving or standing sideways in the doorway. I just kept asking, and every time he did get on, eventually - sometimes it took a while but I wasn't going to accept any less. Finally, I was able to get him to the door without him pulling back, and although he didn't just lead on, he came in after a few moments and that was good enough after one repeat.
When I work with a horse like Drift, I always do so when I have no time constraints - sometimes things take a while and I strongly believe that if I quit before we get to an appropriate stopping place, I'm doing the horse a disservice - the horse needs to get to a better place and know that for us to progress. The same rule applied this afternoon. I was interested to see if Drift's attempts to spring into canter when what I wanted was trot were due to saddle fit. I asked him to tell me about the padding as I saddled - I rode with no riser pads today and he was much more comfortable while we were saddling and tightening the girth. I also massaged the area just behind his withers on both side, which he seemed to appreciate.
My conclusion is that saddle fit may have been part of what was causing him to try to canter, but I don't think that was the whole story. I only recently started using some inside leg to encourage him to bend into corners, and I think he may well be interpreting that as either "go fast" or "canter" depending on how he was taught to canter. I was able to get some decent continuous trot in both directions and with changes of direction, although there were numerous attempts to canter thrown in - I wanted trot and wasn't going to stop until trot was consistent in both directions without canter showing up in the middle. Once I got that, I praised him and we walked and stood around for a while - he likes to stand still - I think at heart he's pretty laid back. Then we worked on walk/trot transitions - once again the canter tried to reappear. Finally, I was able to get some consistent walk/trot transitions - the trot was more of a jog but that was fine with me at this point - I just wanted trot instead of canter - including in the corners where he's most likely to try to canter (this makes me think he feels as if he's being set up for canter). I was able to do this by really toning down my aids - no leg at all and just the thought of the new 1-2 rhythm and an out breath. I think removing any leg aid helped him understand that I wanted trot instead of canter. On a side note, I can't wait until we're able to do (intentional) canter work - he's got a great canter with lots of impulsion. I wasn't going to stop until I got what I wanted - I owed it to him to make the answer clear for him - it took an hour of hard work but we got to a place I was comfortable with.
And Dawn and I had a nice ride - not too strenuous - some trot work, some canter departures and also some transition work, all of which she did very well. Dawn is at a point, and is so sensitive, that all i have to do to get upwards transitions is think the new rhythm and exhale - she's right on it. Downward transitions are harder for her as she tends to be very forward, but those are coming along well too. After our arena work we went on a brief trail jaunt - only 100 yards or so but that's the farthest we've been and she did great.
At the clinic, I'm hoping to do more transition work with Dawn, and also some canter work and some leg-yield to half pass work at the trot and possibly the canter - she's ready for this work, I think. With Drift, what I work on will depend on what horse shows up - it really doesn't matter as we can get good work done no matter what. Our softening work needs further development, and if the springing into canter shows up we'll work on that - I suspect it's my cueing for canter (as he understands it), when I'm asking for bend, that's the root of the problem. We might also do some trailer loading - we'll have to see. It'll be great to ride with Mark again - it's been a few years. We're driving up Friday afternoon and I'm riding on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and coming home Monday night.