Today all three horses and I are getting the day off - it's been a busy week - all of us have worked six days in a row and we need a break.
My day yesterday was long but very satisfying. It was a beautiful day, and I took advantage of it. Grooming, tacking and riding three horses, with two one and one-half hour drives up and back from Wisconsin - I slept very well last night. I recently did a calculation of the maximum number of rides I'm likely to have in my lifetime, if I'm able to ride until I'm quite old, and the number isn't that large, so I'm motivated to ride my three fine horses as much as I can.
My day started with a morning ride on Dawn. We rode in the outdoor arena, which is adjacent to the mares' dry lot, so Dawn had lots of company with mares grazing outside the arena while we worked. The outdoor is nice and big, with a sand track around the outside and a mowed grass area in the center. The arena is on a slight slope, so there's the added challenge of some up and down hill, and the sand footing can be a bit deep. Dawn gave me a superb ride - her walk and trot work and transitions were absolutely continuously soft with lots of engagement and her lengthening/shorting work was also very good - we tend to lengthen on a long side and then the uphill bit and shorten on the downhills, although we did do some shortening work in other places to mix things up. I gave her breaks at walk or trot on a loose rein after sets of softening work, to let her relax and also tell her clearly how well she was doing. Then we did some canter work, sticking mostly to the grass area and the firmer parts of the sand track to make things easier. We worked on getting a quiet engaged trot/canter transition, getting some steps of softness at the canter, making sure we did our downwards transition to trot when she was soft, and then getting softness at the trot, followed by a loose-rein reward at the trot, then a short walk break and then more canter out of soft trot. I'm not worried that she braces right now through the downwards transition - that'll go away with time - bracing/anxiety are really built in for her at the canter and we need to get relaxation/softness before the bracing can go away. We've done that in trot, so I know we'll get there in canter. I took her back to the barn, telling her repeatedly what a fine mare she was, untacked and then turned her back out - she sprinted away and galloped down the very steep hill away from the barn and then up the opposite slope with no trouble - it looks like her recovery from EPM is complete, although she'll be on the low-dose meds for another 6 weeks to help build immunity.
Then into the car and up to Wisconsin. Red didn't whinney at me this time, but he did come right to the gate, so I'll take that. We had a really fine ride - things are really starting to come together. There was almost no bracing at the walk or trot, and the transitions were mostly very good as well - particularly the downwards ones where I'm keeping my eyes and posture up and thinking forward. There was very little bracing in the walk/trot transition, although his head did pop up from time to time - the brace is almost gone but the thought of the brace can still be there. Every ride, the percentage of excellent transitions goes up. There were a couple of occasions where he thought for a second about popping his head up but then chose not to - he's beginning to feel like it's no longer necessary and I think pretty soon it will just go away on its own. Trot/canter transitions were a bit sluggish - it was pretty warm and he was a bit tired - he tended to fall on the forehand and brace, but we worked on it for a bit in both directions and it got better. I asked Heather about walk/canter transitions, and as I suspected, although those are likely to be easier for him than walk/trot, we're not doing those with him yet because of his residual issues with the walk/trot transition. I told him what a fine horse he was, and then back in the car to drive home.
Then Mr. Pie and I had a fine ride in the outdoor - he likes it out there, although the bugs were getting pretty bad. I led him out there rather than riding him down and back up the steep slope to get there - last time we did that he had real difficulty due to the EPM. This time, although he was careful, he walked down and up straight and didn't hesistate. He wasn't fully engaging his hindquarters, though, and was taking shorter steps than normal - we have some minor rehab work to do. When walking in the outdoor, if I didn't ask for forward and soft, he tended to fall on the forehand and "scuff" a bit with his fronts when the footing was deep - he wasn't carrying himself from behind - but there was no tripping. Once he was forward and soft at the walk, that went away. His trot work was really excellent - we did short sets interspersed with soft walking, and he was moving very well on both diaganols, and there was good softness and engagement. We worked on forward and didn't do much shortening, and stayed away from trotting in the deeper parts of the track or downhill. Our total work session was about 30 minutes, and as he rebuilds strength and fitness, we should be able to keep on adding time and intensity.
A really fine day with horses!