I was up in Wisconsin riding both boys today. We were outside in the big, open arena - it was chilly and quite windy but the sun was nice. Both horses are making great progress. Pie is easier - he's learning many new things and taking them all on board, pretty much without a problem. The key with him was unlocking his body - he's no longer stiff and short-strided and inverted, but can carry himself softly, engaging his core and relaxing his top line. He's not the same horse at all - he even looks different just standing there, and when he's moving the difference is remarkable. His gaits are now foward and fluid, and both his walk and trot are beginning to show the beginnings of true engagement and lift.
We had an excellent work session today. My focus was on getting exactly the quality of gait I wanted from the first moment, and on him maintaining consistent softness at walk and trot, including through transitions and changes of pace within gaits. We also did some nice canter work, with my beginning to ask him to soften, and on the right lead - which seems to be his easiest one - he was actually volunteering softness when I was barely asking. Tomorrow, Heather will take him on a little trail ride, and then she'll work with me on his groundwork on Friday, and then I'll load him up and he'll be coming home.
Drifter is also progressing very well, although with him making changes is more of a challenge as he has lots of old habits and has to learn to let go of old, engrained ways as well as taking on new ways of acting and moving. So with him, it's often a case of two steps forward and one step back. He's still experimenting - he says, is this old way I used to act/carry myself better, or is the new way better? And one very interesting thing - as we peel layers away, and he learns new ways of going, the old behaviors/patterns recur again as breakthroughs occur - as he finds a new way of moving, he has to go back and test out the old behaviors again. Heather says that this is likely to continue to occur until the point when he just gives up on the old ways - we're close but not there yet. My job is to be extremely consistent with him so that he can rely on my consistency and leadership and relax into that. I was to think of upwards transitions as forward rather than up, and downwards transitions as having an element of up as well as forward so he'd use himself correctly.
Drifter's a great example of why riding a horse from front to back is such a bad idea. His baseline tendency is to overflex, while not using his body properly at all - he looks good but it's not the real deal at all - and he then tends to push upwards with his head and neck and brace on your hands whenever you ask him for an effort - hence the "hop" on the walk/trot transition - he's throwing his body at the transition as there's no other way to get it done if he's carrying himself wrong. Heather agrees with me that he was likely ridden in a tight tie-down (hence the bracing upwards) - the white hairs on the bridge of his nose are clues as well - and likely in a strong bit and possibly also with drawreins - they sure got the headset but not much else. Also, she believes he may have been strongly pressured to perform as a young horse without a proper foundation being established and when he wasn't mentally mature - we think he may have been a competitive barrel horse - and the likelihood that this sort of pressure may happen again still worries him, although he's starting to let go of that worry.
He came out pretty braced, and we worked through that in the halt, back and walk - once it was gone, it was gone. This was him reverting to some old behaviors after beginning to make a big change in his way of going as a result of getting his breathing sorted out, and his body more connected from front to back. Today we worked on him stretching down, instead of cramping his head and neck up, and using his whole body from nose to tail softly in a connected way. He was really starting to do this - the quality of his gaits was noticeably improved and he's beginning to let go in his top line and engage his core. We did have some "hops" on attempted walk/trot transitions, but I was able to interrupt them immediately and wait for him to feel right (just on the verge of softly offering what I wanted) before I asked, and we got some excellent transitions without the hop. And his downwards transitions were much more fluid and forward - now that he's beginning to use his whole body, he can lift himself from behind.
And Drifter seems to be calming down a bit and is also less reactive around other horses. Heather was riding one of her mares while I was working him, and he worked well in close proximity to her - he nickered at her once but was otherwise able to concentrate. He also nickered quite sweetly to Pie when I returned Pie to the adjacent paddock. Heather thinks the chaste tree berry is beginning to have an effect.
Another great day with the boys!