All of the new tack items have arrived, except for Red's new black headstall. So, before I rode, I moved Pie's stirrups (copper colored) back on to Pie's saddle, put the new stirrups (silver colored) on to Red's new saddle, and put the new mohair cinch (brown leather) on Pie's saddle and left the old mohair cinch (black leather and neoprene) on Red's saddle. I also had two thin wool pads to try, one single thickness and one double.
I saddled Red with the new single thickness wool pad, and it made the new saddle fit him perfectly, and the green suits him very well. We did a lot of work in our session on transitions. Red still has a residual anxiety brace that shows up on upwards transitions early on in a work session - if you're carrying any contact in the reins, even if very softly, he braces hard up and to the right as you think about an upwards transition. On a loose rein, it's a little bit better, but he still raises his head and tends to bend his body to the right. This is a very baked in response, and is clearly tension/anxiety related. He's looking to have someone grab him in the mouth and to hit a tie down, and to be expected to go into a gallop. I guess his barrel racing experience has something to do with it - it's out of the box behavior - but who knows. After a few transitions, the behavior evaporates.
So keeping him soft in the early part of our work, and helping him to find a way to transition while he's soft and not bracing, is the challenge. We got trot instead of canter reliably, but the brace was still showing up. I'm still in the process of having him help me figure things out - we're trying various things, like doing transitions off of small walk circles to the left (so he is bent left and it's harder to brace right and up), and some loose rein work. I may have to slow things down a bit and just laze around with him for a while until he gives up his anxiety before the transition. A quote from Mark Rashid's new book/DVD set A Journey to Softness, that just arrived today - I've only just started looking at it - may be appropriate:
Some horses don't like being pushed; you need to ease them into things to decrease their worry.
Pay attention to the state of mind before asking for a transition.We've got a ways to go on this, but Red is trying very hard to help me figure out the best way to get there, so I know we'll get there.
The other thing Red and I worked on is his tendency to get all worked up when we do any significant amount of canter work - his canter on both leads is just getting better - more engaged and smooth. When we come back down to trot, he gets all elevated and "jittery", wanting very much to break back into canter and anticipating that. Again, anxiety issues. But I'm not worried about any of this, as he's so willing and 99% of the time so soft - we'll get there, too.
Then I saddled Pie up with his old saddle, which fits him a bit better than Red's new one. I tried the doubled over wool pad, but no go, as it was too thin and his saddle nosed down in front. We went back to his Diamond Wool 1" felt pad, and all was well. He moved much more freely in the old saddle, and his ears were happier throughout our ride. We did lots of cantering, since we had the ring to ourselves. My objective was to get him breathing correctly, one breath per stride, to help him relax and be able to give me a better canter. It took a fairly long time to get there - for him to have to breath every stride - more than 5 minutes of straight cantering on one lead. He stuck for a while at a breath every two strides. Finally we got there, and we took a rest break. We switched to the other lead, and it came through very quickly, and then back to the original lead and things were immediately OK. And lo and behold, the quality of his canter - its engagement and softness, were already much better. I'll bet the next time we canter things will be very nice . . .
Today we're all taking a much-needed break. Back to riding Monday . . .