Second (and last?) ride on River in Rocky’s saddle

I experimented with Rocky’s saddle on River today. Again.

River in Rocky's saddle

It still felt insecure side-to-side, so I’m not going to do it in anymore. I don’t want to give us a bad experience — all it would take is one fast sideways-and-bend-in-half spook to have both me and the saddle swivel around to her side (and then me to the ground, LOL). The “no withers to hold the saddle on” does give me incentive to keep my balance! But River has barely ever worn a saddle at all, compared to how often she’s ridden in a bareback pad, so I don’t want to risk damaging our confidence. Nor am I particularly excited about taking a fall I don’t have to.

However! For today I accepted the risks and enjoyed riding my girl. She gave no indication that the saddle bothered her, even when I cinched up tighter than I meant to. (I got down and fixed it, after checking from the saddle that even with my weight aboard, it was too tight.)

I set up a weave with 2 cones, 1 pedestal, and our spool obstacle. And also 4 poles, overlapping them only half — so if you went through the center you trotted through 4 poles, but on either side you only trotted through 2.

River in Rocky's saddle

We mostly walked and just sprinkled in some trotting for interest. We’re both getting used to having a saddle between us, and today I used reins instead of carrot sticks so that also added a Change. I practiced steering with my elbows, per something I saw Linda say in a video this weekend, instead of my hands. This helped me move my shoulders, instead of just thinking that I was moving my shoulders.

I also kept my promise, per Erin: “I promise that I will keep the rein until you tilt your nose and find release.” This is part of learning the Soft Feel. Again, I worked on not pulling the rein, but rather lifting it and having some feel on it, and waiting for the nose to tilt around with a relaxed poll and no brace in the jaw or neck or attitude (or anywhere). I am feeling more competent and confident while also chuckling inside a little because this is all pretty new and who knows how incompetent it looks from the outside. But I’m getting better results than I was a month ago, which tells me that our practice is goin’ good.

After our arena time, we went outside to walk once around the ranch loop. My original plan was to go once around, but she was so resistant about going forward when we passed the barn that I had to stick with it for quite a while, and decided to do a second loop so that we could have an experience of just walking on by the barn and heading down the hill.

I don’t know if the resistance was more about the barn and the hay that’s inside — she doesn’t live in the barn, but she knows we keep a hay bag near the tack room! — or about the grass that’s coming up nearby, or about the saddle being uncomfortable going downhill, or simply a leadership challenge. Or some combination of all of that.

River in Rocky's saddle

It’s a little bit nerve-wracking to stick with asking for forward when I’m in a saddle that’s going to loop around to her side if she turns really fast, but I stuck with it anyway. I didn’t have any spike of “should I get off?” or fear, just an awareness that I was perched more precariously than I wanted to be.

Patient persistence won the day though. I never escalated my phase and I was able to match her pressure. For example, when she put her nose down toward the grass, I held the reins where I’d had them. That way she could run into the reins but easily find slack by lifting her head again. I did not reflexively grip and *pull* — I just gripped. When she lifted her head and found the slack, I loosened my grip. Yay me!

Rocky’s shoulder/neck is feeling better today but he’s not 100 percent, so he’s still on turnout until Thursday when he’ll be evaluated again. We have lessons this weekend so hopefully he will feel 100 percent by then!

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