Thursday evenings, a group of people at the barn regularly get together and do things with their horses - some people do groundwork, some ride, some do both. There are usually at least 6 or 7 horse/person combos, and sometimes more, so it's busy in the arena. But it's a nice group of folks, who treat each other with respect and consideration.
I decided that it would be a good opportunity to get Missy out for a work session. My objective was to get on board, but if other things needed working on more and we didn't get to riding, that was fine too. It was a pretty challenging environment - lots going on all over the ring - but I thought she'd be able to handle it. She looked around a fair amount, but never was startled or particularly worried.
We started with some in-hand work - her leading is already about where I want it to be. A side note - any time I have a new horse to work with, I have a regular program I go through with them to get them to the point that their handle and feel, both on the ground and under saddle, are what I want - I have very precise requirements for leading, ground handling, mounting and feel under saddle. I just take one thing at a time, and when we're where we need to be, I move on to the next thing - I don't drill or do a lot of repetition, but once the horse gets it I assume the horse is going to offer me what I want the next time, and that's pretty much what happens. Occasionally we go back and review things specifically, but really we're reinforcing what I want every time we interact so that's rarely necessary.
The first thing I wanted from Missy was some relaxation, starting with relaxing the jaw on both sides, one side at a time. I then encouraged her to so some stretching down in response to the request on each side for relaxation. Only when we had a bit of that did we move on to mounting.
Standing still for mounting on a loose rein until I signal the horse to move off is non-negotiable for me. I won't mount if I haven't got that, and was prepared to work as long with Missy as it took for that to be there. It took less than 10 minutes for her to go from walking off when I tried to mount, to standing there like a rock on a loose rein while I mounted and then sat there and fiddled around before asking her to move off. We didn't repeat the mounting because I think she's got it pretty solidly - I may have to remind her next time but that may not even be necessary. One thing I really like about this mare is how willing she is and how quickly she learns - both very good things - her response is "oh, that's what you want me to do? yeah, I can do that".
We spent about 10 minutes walking around all over the ring - she didn't blink an eye at anything in the arena, including all the scary stuff piled in the corners. Her turns are pretty good, although I'd like the feel to get softer. Improving her front to back softness will be one of our next areas of work, and when I got off we did a bit of backing in hand to begin to work on that. Once she's getting the relaxation/stretch down more consistently and starting to offer more front to back softness, she'll start rebuilding muscle correctly. We'll be there in a few days, I think, and will gradually increase our walking time under saddle over the next 10 days or so. By then she'll be ready to start some trot work.
This morning my trimmer came, her front shoes came off (she had no backs) and she was able to go out with the herd for about 3 hours - the mare herd has about a dozen mares. There was some running, herding and chasing, but Missy was careful not to get into trouble. It'll be a while before she's fully accepted by the herd, but so far so good.