Red's insisting on being worked every day - we have to do something, but I need to keep it non-strenuous until he's more healed up. Just hand walking around the arena, or standing together to watch things going on, is fine, but it sure is boring, so I've been having to come up with things for us to do. Pasture hand walks are good, except Red's still having some trouble going down the steep hills in the pasture so we shouldn't be doing too much of that right now - he's getting enough hill work during his daily turnout.
I was thinking about ground driving - Red and I have done some of that before - but the mice apparently got to my web surcingle and one of my lines, so need to replace those before we can do more, at least with a bridle.
So today I came up with something different - virtual riding. Sorry, no computers or internet involved, just Red and me. What I did was to groom him and then put on his bridle - he got pretty excited about this and dove for the bit - I think he thought we were going for a bareback ride, which is something he likes.
My idea was to ride him from the ground - I didn't know if it would work or if he would understand what I wanted, but thought it was worth a try. I've used this technique before, but only to help a horse learn to back.
Here's what I did. I stood next to Red's girth, right against his body, facing in the same direction he was facing - so my body was about where my leg would be if I were riding. (A lot of "in-hand" work I've seen seems to involve facing the horse and not doing the movement with the horse - more doing something to the horse - I didn't want to do that.) I held the near side rein in the hand away from the horse, and held the offside rein in my hand next to the horse, with my hand on the other side of his neck - in fact I either rested my wrist just in front of Red's withers or even hooked my elbow over his back behind his withers - this wouldn't work on a larger horse but Red was the perfect size. I held my dressage whip in my hand that was away from the horse, and when I used it I was tapping right at the girth area just in front of my body.
I asked Red for softness, and contact, and forward. It only took a moment, and he was right on it, and I hardly had to use the dressage whip as a cue at all. We had a smashing time - we set a line of cones and did weaving through the cones, serpentines, figure eights, backing and more. He stayed soft and forward and seemed to get exactly what I wanted. His bending was excellent. Most of the time I was close against his body, actually touching him with my side, and was always facing where he was going and going there with him - at the walk or in backing, his stride is the same as mine (this will be true for lots of folks with horses that are short enough for them to mount from the ground). We just marched around together. From time to time, I changed sides - things worked pretty much equally well from either side. We worked exactly as if I had been riding him bareback, with the same intent and feel in the reins.
I think one reason it worked so well is that, due to all the work we've already done together, Red is pretty much automatically soft and responsive and forward now, and very keyed in to me and willing to try to do just about anything I ask. He also moves in all directions at just a touch on his side or chest, so if I wanted him to step away from me all I had to do was move into him, and he won't move into me unless I bring him into my space by moving away.
He didn't want to stop, and neither did I. I expect we'll be doing much more of this in the weeks to come. I'm sure he would have been happy to do the work in trot too, but he's not ready for that and by the time he is I hope I'll be riding him again.