Freestyle: Follow the Rail, Figure 8, and Outside the Arena

Tonight we did our fourth Follow the Rail session, and this time I did much better at consistently turning in the same spots and doing the halt-back-halt each time we came to the mounting block, and at changes of direction at regular spots. Once I got comfortable I asked for a more energetic walk, and then I added in transitions to trot for 8 strides. I’d forgotten to wear my knee brace so I couldn’t do a lot of trot, but what we did manage felt – dare I say it – mostly soft. Certainly softer than last time.

I also stuck with Follow the Rail through a threshold of my own. Not a fear threshold, but my mental or emotional block about making mistakes that could cause discomfort for Rocky. I reminded myself that the only way to learn to be more comfortable for him is to do the best I can to practice and improve, and I kept going along the pattern, and lo! I got through the block. And practiced relaxing. Rocky did not seem bored, either.

It went so well that I started us on the Freestyle Figure 8. He gave no resistance to the turn or the trot, although he did want to swing wide around one of the barrels and then cut in close on the way to the center. That was okay – the point was not to get lovely circles this first time, but to start a new Pattern and see how we felt about it.

We did the whole thing with the gate wide open because I couldn’t maneuver us properly to shut it behind us after I mounted from the big tack trunk outside the arena. After a few figure 8s, we had a bit of a rest and a cookie, and then I focused on the outside world and rode him along the outside of the arena and around a corner.

He hit a threshold there and I immediately backed him up, so that he could retreat but not flee. We waited. He relaxed. I urged him forward and this time he wanted to go left, toward a patch of grass. I closed that door and laughed and asked for a step over his threshold. I got one, smiled, said good boy, and turned him immediately back toward the tack trunk so I could dismount. (I am under doctor’s orders to have no impact on my feet whatsoever for the next few months, until the physical therapy has time to work. I’m taking advantage of this limited mobility to teach us how to sidle up to the trunk and stand quietly despite being in a patch of grass.)

I felt Rocky’s surprise that I didn’t push him any further forward. One step beyond the threshold was fine by me. It’s the old “I don’t know if I can allow you to whitewash the fence” technique. One of these days he’s going to beg to be allowed to keep going on that ‘trail.’

I need to practice mounting from the off side, and also pausing before I swing my leg over, but I did take time to rub him and lean over him and not get frustrated when he put his head down toward the grass. I even managed not to pull up, but instead to hold the reins steady, so that he was in charge of his own comfort and pressure.

When I went back for the dismount, he stood and waited, and didn’t drop his head until I swung down and said “Okay” and took the reins down to show him it was fine by me. That he’ll get to graze…when I say so.

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