No rushing, no pressure, all the time in the world . . .
Most of the problem I described in the last post occurs because I put pressure on myself - to get things done, keep to a schedule, ride (in some fashion) as many horses as possible. I'm trying to do things a bit differently now that I'm trying to be more aware, due to learning from my face plant.
My new approach is to spend as much time as it takes to get things done, without worrying about whether it's enough, or whether I can do the next thing on my list. Every day I'm at the barn - which is pretty much every day except Wednesday when I have my music lessons - I'll take time to groom each horse and spend some time just being with them and communicating with them and finding out how each of them is that day.
I'll go to the barn with one ride - one horse - as my priority. If I have that one ride, and pay attention and work together with that horse, that's good enough even if I don't have rides with my other horses. On a day when I have time, I may ride another horse, or perhaps even a third - if I have time and if I'm still feeling like I can contribute something positive to my ride. If I don't ride a particular horse, that's OK, because they're in all-day turnout and have plenty of opportunities to move, and none of them is a baby - they're all riding horses with a good foundation already and days off really don't matter too much. Rides where I'm paying attention are much more valuable than inattentive, rushed rides.
So today, that's what I did, and it worked pretty well. I took time to thoroughly groom all four horses - they'd been blanketed and the ground was snow-covered, so no one was too dirty. That took about an hour - some days it'll take longer. Then I got Red back out and tacked him up - he was my priority ride for the day (and I have an evening meeting so I expected to ride only him).
It was very cold in the indoor - the outside temperature was only in the low 20sF, and both doors were slightly open, blocked by snow (we had 18 inches of snow on Sunday, which the horses are enjoying). Today was the only day for several days where it'll be above 20F, which is my usual cut off for too-cold-to-ride.
Red is a normally pretty high-strung horse, and he hadn't been ridden since last Friday - he'd had three days off. But I thought he'd be fine if I rode him with attention, so we went right to work. I planned to do some shoulder-in with him to strengthen and stretch his hind legs, wanted some stretching down and relaxation at the trot, and we were going to work on the "scary corner".
The scary corner is at the south end of the arena, between one of the big overhead doors and the sliding doors to the turnouts. It is cluttered with jump equipment, tarps, trail obstacles, a water tank that is used when the pasture horses have to stay in the arena overnight due to extreme cold, and a hole that birds and/or cats go in and out of - and the birds are coming down to drink at the water tank and fluttering/fighting as they do so. And there's also the doors to the outside - with a gap today, and snow drifting in - it was snowing again - and the mounting block corner with more jump paraphernalia. Red really dislikes this area of the ring and goes to a lot of effort to avoid it - his usual behavior is to slow down as we approach it, veer away while bending toward the outside and dropping his inside shoulder. Once in a while he'll startle or even bolt if a noise occurs or a bird flies up . . . For contrast, Missy, who's been at the barn for less than a month, is already pretty much fine down there, whereas Red still is worried and prone to startle/react to the slightest noise or movement in that area, and he's been at the barn almost three years. Big difference in basic temperament there . . .
Red and I started with some in-hand work asking for stretching down and relaxation in small circles in that area of the ring - he did pretty well with that. I mounted up and we went to work, lots of circles at walk and trot with stretching down, without worrying about going into the "scary" area of the ring. I also wanted a prompt first walk/trot transition - he can tend to draw this out and fuss a bit - so did my usual pre-signal of changing the rhythm in myself and then exhaling for the actual transition - I used an immediate secondary cue with the dressage whip - no gaps - and got a pretty decent first walk/trot transition.
Then my job was to direct and focus on what I wanted - for him to go into the corners, including the scary corner, with proper bend and forward. Shoulder-in can be very useful for this, since it counteracts his tendency to bend to the outside and focus on the worry area. The only change I made in how I normally ride him is that I sat the trot through the scary corner to be able to stay with him in case of unusual moves - there were a couple of startles and skitters, but no big bolts.
There was another horse in the ring - a steady eddy type who is a pasture acquaintance of Red's, and whose owner only walks him - and we used him for cover at the beginning of our scary corners work - I would put Red in behind him as we went around the corner so Red could follow along. When we went into trot, I used shoulder in to bend Red away from the scary stuff and to encourage him to step under with his inside hind. Red has a lot of try, and even though he was worried, he was willing to try for me. To help him not focus ahead of time as we approached the scary corner, as we started down the long side towards it, we would take the diagonal to the center of the ring and then turn back to the corner so we approached it with a bend for the corner already established - shoulder in came right out of this.
It took a fair number of passes in each direction for him to settle enough to give me some decent, forward trot, with a correct bend to the inside, through the scary areas. When he was able to do it well in one direction, we stopped for a loose rein rest down there. Then we repeated in the other direction, with a rest after again. By the end, his confidence that we could do it, together, was increasing, and he was able to go through the corner in each direction at trot without my having to do shoulder in to get him into the corner, and he was starting to relax a little and stretch down. I dismounted down there, and we stood around for a bit, with much praise.
It might have been my only ride of the day, but I'll take that!