Today I rode all three horses outside, and things were a bit less exciting than yesterday - everyone, including Red, was relaxed but forward and responsive. It helped that there were no wildly galloping horses or Dementor ponies around . . . Dawn got an early morning ride, and Red and Pie had rides in the late afternoon. It was another beautiful day - have to love that.
In the morning, after my ride on Dawn, I audited a clinic at our barn. There were eight horse/person pairs, and the clinician was someone I've known for a while (Denise Lesnik of Inside Out Horse Training) but have never ridden with. I have a pretty strict policy of not riding with a clinician unless I've seen them work before, so I audited. I was the only auditor and was able to stand in the arena and observe different horse/handler pairs work - Denise knows me well enough to know that I could probably manage to stay out of trouble and out of the way. I also was able to help out by picking up manure for the participants.
There were lots of obstacles - platforms, a car wash (a curtain of plastic strips), a tarp tunnel - one side high enough to walk through without the tarp touching the horse and the other side lower, and various pole/cone combinations, and some barrels and blocks that several people used for side-passing. All the horse/handler combinations did great - especially one Arabian and his share-boarder - he has a reputation for being a spooky, difficult horse, and he tried his heart out even when he was a bit worried. The exercises were about helping the handlers be more effective in directing their horses and rewarding the smallest tries, and building confidence between horse and handler.
After the obstacle ground work, Denise worked with one combo on trailer loading - this horse tends to get very nervous and have trouble loading calmly. It was very instructive to watch and listen to her comments and instructions to the handler - she said that a lot of her business concerns helping people with trailer loading problems. The timing of releases and the timing/frequency of taking breaks as a bigger reward were of particular interest to me, and she had some good suggestions about dealing with Dawn's tendency to kick while trailering - she suggested she might do better in a box stall/loose set up, which my new trailer will permit. She said the kicking is likely from anxiety about maintaining her balance.
Then the group mounted up and did more work with the obstacles. I think everyone had a very good experience. Although Denise is more classically "natural horsemanship" than I am - she does a lot of groundwork, including lungeing at liberty, seems to pretty much always uses rope halters, and does a fair amount of lateral flexion, none of which I do, I otherwise am in pretty good agreement with everything she does and her attitude towards horses - she looks at things from the horse's point of view and helps their people become more effective while staying soft. She's particularly good at helping people with their timing - most people are late with their releases and/or miss the horse's small tries, which tends to confuse the horse. If you're looking for a competent and caring trainer west of Chicago, you might want to check her out.