You can’t fix everything at once, so today I focused on SQUIRREL!
We warmed up with circle game on the 22-foot line, playing with four poles and with traveling circles with relaxation. Rocky offered a canter and I let him know I was pleased. He’s cantering with his head and neck relaxed these days, with his nose still a bit to the outside but his whole body in more of a rounded position.
We have a nice new girth that has elastic on both sides; plus, it’s a little bit longer than the old girth, to fit Rocky’s new physique. He’s finally keeping weight on and looking more like a 6 or 7 on the vet’s body condition scale instead of a 3 or 4, and he is moving so much more comfortably and fluidly than he ever has. (We also borrow Erin’s CSI saddle pad, although I’m going to get one for us, soon.)
Our mounting is going great. He is lining up at the block with me on either side, and squaring himself up when I rock the saddle gently. He’s no longer trying to walk off as soon as I’m on, and I am taking more time to breathe and relax and get in tune before asking for the walk.
We are still struggling with staying on the rail. Either my foot is hitting the panels at the rim or we’re veering three lanes hubward. It happens in both directions about equally, so I don’t think it’s a problem with me having too much weight on one side. I wanted to play with point-to-point to work on straightness, but Rocky didn’t.
I experimented and said “Okay, where do you want to go?” and played passenger. Turns out that he wanted to play stand-at-the-gate-or-make-small-circles-near-the-gate. He wandered around for a while within 22 feet of the gate and then stopped with his head over it, twice.
So I thought what the heck, and we practiced opening and shutting the gate together, which he has started helping me with, side-stepping toward it so I can unlatch it, backing up to help me shut it, and the like. I wasn’t as confident with my one rein outside the arena, but I thought “let’s see what happens” and put my rein on the arena side and we walked around it four or five times. He wanted to get interested in things happening lower down the ranch but kept forward willingly enough when I half-halted to return his focus to our circuits, and when I asked him to get near the gate again to go back in, he didn’t argue. Much.
We practiced our hindquarter yields. Next time, I will chant “lift creates light,” as I realized I was pushing with my leg instead of merely squeezing and then upping my phases by spanking the air (or the butt, if it came to that!). A horse can feel a fly walk on his hair so I doubt I need to be pressing my leg so hard into his ribs when he’s bracing. It just encourages him to brace more.
It’s hard for me to steer and post at the same time, but I’m confident as a passenger now, so I kept enough rein to check with a half-halt as needed and otherwise let him kind of go wherever he wanted, just to help me build my strength. Can’t have balance or harmony or grace or even much leadership during the trot until I have strength. However, thanks to my new Lynx Zoom sports bra — the best sports bra I’ve ever had, the first one that actually supports my giant bazoombas without discomfort, the first one that actually controls the bounce (which the Enell tries to do but doesn’t) — my body was working in harmony with itself for the first time since … ever. I even jogged up to the barn in the thing and felt no digging of straps or flopping of boobs or squashing of — anyway. Huge difference.
All in all, a good session. Definitely a practice and not a performance, and a novice practice at that. I feel like I’ve recently been putting in the workouts and training that will lead to a successful Freestyle Level 2 audition later this year. More importantly, I’m enjoying the workouts and training. Things that in the Olden Days would have felt like they’d “gone wrong” now just feel like Things We Do Together.