My last ride of the clinic was on Roxie. As you may remember, our first ride had not ended well - for either of us - and we had worked together on our leading on day two to tune up my "directing" so she and I would be more confident together.
We started our day three session with some preliminary leading work. Everything was good, and she was more relaxed already.
Before I mounted up, Mark asked if I was worried at all about riding her, and I said no (except if there was another hailstorm . . .). I learned later that Roxie, since they got her in a fairly messed-up condition, had only ever been ridden by her owner (the clinic host) and Heather (the clinic host's daughter and the trainer who worked with Red and Pie and I back in 2012). So having to deal with me - a new person - must have been challenging for her, and made it all that more important that I give her direction.
Mark said that, since our last ride had ended in a bad place for both of us, that's exactly where we would be at the beginning of this ride. Mark had us do something very interesting. After I got on and we had worked for a bit, he had me dismount, and either just stand there for a while with Roxie, or walk her around for a while. Then he had me remount and start working again. The purpose of this was twofold. First, since we'd had a ride that ended badly, we needed to build up a sequence of rides that ended well - Roxie would think of each ride where I got off as a "separate" ride and the number of good rides would then add up and start to count more than the one bad ride in her mind and feelings. I got off and remounted maybe 6 times - so that made 7 good rides to the one bad one.
The second purpose of the series of "rides" was to evaluate if things were going in the correct direction - if they were, there would be improvement within each ride and each ride would start (in terms of relaxation and connection) where the previous one left off, and therefore each ride would be better than the one before it.
What I was working on with Roxie was start to direct immediately, from the first step, rather than waiting to see what happened and then directing in response. My directing had to remain soft, and the timing of my releases exact - we weren't doing circles and figures just to do circles (that is, we weren't interested in "moving the feet"), but were circling to find softness that I could reward by releasing - allowing her to move forward. And my job was also to focus only on what I wanted the horse to do, not on what the horse is doing or may be distracted by. This included little things, like getting the behavior I wanted on mounting - for her to stand still until I asked her to move off.
We didn't get out of walk the whole hour, but I was delighted in our mutual progress. It was a very good lesson at how important it is to get the basics right. It was great learning for me on how to be more effective and how to help the horse relax and settle. With each "ride", Roxie relaxed more, and the quality of her walk and softness improved. At one point another horse came into the arena - just as had happened on our first ride - Roxie's energy went up and she was starting to think about being excited, but I continued directing without interruption, and she immediately settled. And one of the most important "tells" was that, by the end of our session, all her head/neck fussiness went completely away.
It was a great ending to the clinic - it was really delightful that they let me "borrow" her for the clinic and they said it was very good for her, too.