Thursday, January 29, 2009

What is it about people sometimes??

I've been so busy finishing off my EMT program that I've had very little time to spend with the horses, unfortunately. Another week though and I should be able to get them all on a regular and consistent schedule. I hope!

Just a quick note in regards to Link's and my playdate last night (quick because I hear the dog moaning and groaning for me to turn off the light...haha).

Jan 28
I sent Link through the arena door before me, following through after him to find a boarder ponying a foal off her chestnut mare. Aly (my pup) lurked around, wagging her tail enthusiastically at the boarder's husband (I presume he was her husband, anyways). I tied Link off, removed his blanket, and ran out to grab my things from my car. I don't know if I previously mentioned it, but I've been blanketing Link, though I never have blanketed any of my other horses, simply for his musculoskeletal issues. I know how my back feels in this cold when it's in bad shape, so I am trying to keep his muscles warm and cozy while his back heals. In addition, I wanted to keep him warmer to allow him a greater weight gain, which it has tremendously! But back to the scenario. As I am laying down my things, guy comes over and asks me:

"This your barrel horse?" I look over at my 16.2hh+ Thoroughbred. I am not particularly fond of barrel racing anyways (because it is more often done 'wrong') - my Quarab, my only real western horse now, is my cow pony rather than a barrel horse.

"Uh, no, this is one of my Thoroughbreds off the track."

"Oh!" The man's eyebrows shoot up as he glances over at Link. Link, I swear, has got this thing going on. Whenever we're alone or no one cares how he does, we typically do fabulous together, though lately he has been challenging me a bit as the spring freshness sets in. However whenever someone is evaluating him, looking for that "psycho off-track TB", he tends to give it to them (in their eyes, anyways)! Lol.

Take a few weeks ago, for example. Another lady was in there with her horse, her boyfriend spectating. I think I have already mentioned this scenario in a previous post, but just as a brief reminder... She comments on how wired Link must be, being off the track, but I reply that actually, he's a fantastic horse (surprise surprise, who would have thought!!). Of course though THAT was the day his horsenality went from LBE to RBE. Constantly. Everything was out to get him. When the woman had her horse kneel and lay down, Link just couldn't believe his eyes. He stood, staring, eyes bugging out of his head, prepared to bolt away. Sure enough, as the lady's horse inadvertently tossed a clump of dirt his way, he dashed back behind me as quick as he could manage. Then, as his own tossed dirt hit the wall, he had to dart away from that too, lest the dirt monster come tearing after him. All I can do is roll my eyes. Of course Link played very nicely into this woman's pre-conceived notions about him.

So anyways. Of course, Link's eyes are bulging out of his head again as he eyes up this mare's foal (I'm not sure what it is about mini's and foals, but he loves them and always greets them as though they were his long-lost friends). Excited, he starts prancing a bit and pacing back and forth as long as his rope will allow, really not even pausing long enough for me to groom him. I sigh and toss my brushes back into their place, untying him and leading him into the arena as the other couple leaves.

Before the man leaves though, he asks me, "so how's he coming along?" He's got this doubtful expression on his face, as if he is already expecting a "oh, he's a terrible monster, this horse!" from me. Sure, Link is a challenge, but what great horse isn't??
I smile and say, "oh, he's coming along great!!"
His eyes wander back over to the pacing Link, his eyebrows raised, before walking off.

What is it with people? This is one thing that really bugs me, because these individuals are already walking up to a horse with pre-conceived notions. Then, whatever they see from that horse, they tend to throw into that "box" they've already created for said horse. The horse doesn't even get a chance!! If I had been riding Link at liberty, it still wouldn't have mattered, they would have looked for one "wrong" (wrong, in their minds) step and said "oh, well he's an off-track Thoroughbred, so what can you expect!" For goodness sake, we make horses the way they are! Yes, breeds such as (for example) Arabians and Thoroughbreds can present a challenge, but think of all the growth in your savvy they allow! Just because not everyone can work with a challenging horse does not diminish that horse, at least not in my eyes. To me, those are usually the horses that have the greatest talent yet to be tapped and they usually make for amazing partners! It's never the horse.

As for Link's and my session of play, it consisted only of groundwork as a) I did not feel it would have been wise to ask him for so much concentration under-saddle when he was having so much trouble focusing on the ground, and b) I had very little time. We played a bit of Touch-It as well as Figure-8 Level 1. We also did a bit of Level 2, keeping in mind though that we haven't completed enough of the Level 1 patterns (so it was more of a trial to see where we were). A few more times will set us up much better for Level 2. Our Level 2 Figure-8 (on the 22' line) was quite rough and so I returned to the 12' lead and did the patterns. By the end, Link flew through his 7 games quite well (for the most part) as well as the Figure-8, Weave, and transitions (w/t) on the 12'. He did have quite the tendency to revert to RBE but I think that a consistent schedule will really help me cement a more solid partnership with him, which will eventually eliminate that RBE-ness that keeps popping up! He still tends to run through my requests sometimes, at times running right through my carrot stick. Just keeping it in mind though and we'll keep slaving away - gradually it will come together with a lot of patience. I really have to remember with him to stay extremely quiet in my body language!! He reads my slightest movement and there are always a couple of instances where he misunderstands me because I was trying to pre-empt him and set him up for success lol (such as in the Figure-8 pattern). Usually we start off each session with a quick review of the 7 games but I have decided to back off of the games even moreso and concentrated more on the patterns. I feel that I focus too much on his hindquarters (because that is an area where he tends to challenge me at) say for example in the Porcupine Game. He knows it well and what I think is happening is that I am confronting him and so he is challenging me back and therefore I am getting the reactions that I am. A Q&A in the latest Parelli email newsletter cued me in to this possibility and it just sort of clicked into place and made sense with his reactions. So instead I will accept a little less in some areas (such as perhaps only asking once at the Porcupine at his HQ so that I get my Phase 1 - it is usually only by the second "ask" where he starts to challenge me and so I continue, and he escalates, and so on) while working harder in other areas. We'll see how this goes!! A couple of times I think I inadvertently confronted him (in lieu of earning his respect) and so he reacted adversely...a little driving game backwards at those moments really made a difference. I think the key will really be these patterns, as they really really do keep him interested and start him thinking. Once he gets into the patterns he really just relaxes! He is such a challenging horse though, as he is forcing me to be extremely fair and to really earn his respect (rather than demand it). I am learning more and more that this horse is not a horse that likes to be told what to do! Do so and he responds with kicks and/or striking forelegs (and I am sure much worse if you were to really challenge him). So he is really really forcing me to earn that partnership rather than demand it. It's great, but definitely a huge learning curve for me!

I was a bit disappointed that Link wasn't working with me as a partner as he has in previous sessions (rather than follow me around afterwards, he vigorously paced the fenceline), but I still feel we made quite a bit of progress within the session and hope to make more over time! I have ridden him at liberty a couple of times now, so I'd like to get him back up to that level of partnership. I think even more of a foundation is needed though at the moment. Any time we have done liberty it has been at times when he was so focused on me and very cued in to our partnership...but a more solid foundation will increase the frequency of those instances and also create them easier. So we'll keep it up, hopefully on a more consistent basis soon!!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Equines Jan 18 2009

Jan 11
Played the 7 games with Link as well as the barrel pattern from the patterns program. Little Gerbil-On-Crack though was a little hyped up and very GoGoGo-I-Must-Move-My-Feet!! Under-saddle we worked on some transitions, back-up, and the figure-eight barrel pattern, during which I felt at times I was working with his ghost - half of his mind was focused on me while the other half was off in LaLa land. Finally I gave up trying to keep his toddler-like mind focused and turned him loose. He promptly itched his back via a good roll in the dirt (making sure of course to make one side as dirty as the other) before taking off, full-tilt, around the arena. I cleaned up, put away barrels, and twiddled my thumbs as he ran circles, without stop, at a full-out gallop for a good solid 15-20 minutes!! Finally he huffed and puffed to a halt in front of me, after which I had to cool him out. I found it somewhat amusing, as well as ironic, that I had to cool him out from his "cool-down", or "max and relax period" when I had not had to do so after our playtime earlier. So my theory as to his as-of-late lack of ability to concentrate and desperate need to move his feet at all times is this: we are right about close to spring training time, where last year as well as the two years prior to that (three years total) he would be headed to the track to train. Also, the same way the Parelli patterns instill confidence and a cemented foundation, the track also instills patterns - in the case of the track, to gallop around a track the same way each day (thus, a pattern). So my theory is that, just as he reverts to right-brain and moving his feet at times when he is unconfident, he is possibly reverting to his old cemented track patterns (ie. track gallops) because he figures he should be starting spring training around this time?? Food for thought...

Jan 18

Visited and played with Silver and Koolaid today, though the wind was howling so strong that it was only 5 minutes before my ears were sore and cold despite the 14C weather!! It was fabulous to see both horses though - I wish I could play with them more regularly!

I started out with the Circling Game to cement our level of respect before going back through the rest of the games. He was very very light (phase 1 or 2) through all 7 games!!! I had actually expected some initial resistance just because he usually throws me a challenge or two to see if I can still earn his respect, but he never challenged my leadership once! Throwing my arm over his back I actually had the intention of driving him forwards however he interpreted my communication otherwise; when I first waved my stick at his hind, he actually pivoted his hind towards me (thus away from the stick)!! I was impressed and so asked his shoulder to move over towards me, to see what I would get: he promptly sidepassed several steps towards me!! I find I am constantly astonished at how much horses retain and figure out; once you teach them to start reasoning and thinking things through it is amazing what can happen!! I've worked hard to build some solid foundations on these two horses and while we still have so much to uncover and play with, that foundation is obviously still holding true and allowing us to communicate in ways I had thought were not yet possible!! Koolaid in particular surprised me as he has always been the most challenging of the two and I had not thought him advanced enough to understand and interpret my request today, which was why I had not actually asked for a sidestep, just a simple forwards motion. Wow though! I cannot wait to play with him some more so that we can continue learning from and challenging one another!!! While Silver is certainly no slouch (and, thanks to Parelli, now thinks most everything through rather than blindly reacting), Koolaid is a Left-Brain-Introvert and so naturally thinks rather than reacts, which certainly causes him to better utilize his intelligence (of sorts) and figure things out quicker than his Right-Brain-Extrovert brother.

His GoGoGo I-Was-A-Racehorse-In-My-Previous-Life self but very responsive and light (phase 1 or two) throughout all 7 games! We whipped through our seven games, including some transitions and change in direction (at the trot and at the canter). I also threw my arm over his back and directed his movement from the opposite side using my carrot stick, having him sidepass but towards me (and thus away from the stick). It was a little rough but I think he got the idea, so we can work on refining and building on it next time!!

Afterwards I trucked out to play with our newest two boys, Sonny and Link. Right now our main focus is on advancing through the Freestyle (under-saddle - eventually escalates to liberty riding) and On-Line (on the 12', 22', and 45' lines - eventually allows for an escalation to liberty work through the Liberty patterns) patterns through the new Parelli patterns program. Each patterns quadrant (ie. On-Line and Freestyle - there are four total: Freestyle, Finess, On-Line, and Liberty) consists of 4 Levels which each consist of various patterns. Level 1 On-Line (12' lead) consists of Touch-It and Figure-8, Level 2 (12'/22' leads) is Touch-It, Figure-8, Weave, Circles (pattern #6), Circles (pattern #7), Trailer, Push a Ball, and Obstacles. Level 1 Freestyle (hackamore, casual rein) is Follow the Rail and Figure-8 and Level 2 (hackamore/bit, carrot stick) is Follow the Rail, Figure 8, Weave, etc...

Last I worked with Sonny I had a lot of trouble keeping him focused and left-brained but today the Right-Brain-Extrovert was extremely sensitive yet focused!! I initially started with him as, when I entered the arena, the main door was wide open to the dark evening (and all its accompanying distractions) and another boarder was working his Paso Fino in the arena. I tied Sonny to remove Link's blanket, but something startled Sonny, causing him to pull back. I quickly calmed him down but felt that although he had given in to the pressure of the rope, by leaving him and working with Link first, I would be leaving Sonny in a negative emotional state - one whereby he'd be likely to pull back again. So I gave each horse a quick brush-over before toting Sonny into the arena.

7 Games
Each session we still do a quick run-through of our games, though I try to keep it short and sweet so as to prevent souring on the games. Our goal is to improve them a bit each time without really focusing on them too much so. Thus we re-cement our games, and thus our primary foundation, before we advance and build upon that same foundation. It also allows me to see what side of the pasture the horse woke up on as well as gain the horse's focus.
Friendly Game we ensured the "rope" boogeymen were vanquished and also worked on diminishing some of our carrot-stick-circling-like-a-helicopter-over-my-head mortal fears.
Porcupine was quite light, though we are focusing on making it even lighter (some days it is Phase 1 while other days - presumably when Sonny is bored and in a calm, left-brain emotional state, we are Phase 3). I expanded this game a bit by wrapping him in his lead rope and asking him to follow the feel and thus unravel himself - he thought his way through the puzzle very calmly!
Driving Game was quite short and sweet with focus on a little refinement of HQ and FQ movement. I also threw in a backwards driving game: I moved the stick in a circular motion at his shoulder-level while standing behind his shoulder. I had been prepared to "help" him by yo-yo'ing him back with the lead at the same time however it was not necessary, as he instantly picked up the new game and moved back with ease!
Yo-Yo was Phase 1 and 2, though I played with it a bit, moving forwards on him (while asking him to back) to get a longer back-up and backing up to obtain a longer draw (ie. when he was coming back in to me).
Circling we did w/t/c and then also expanded and played more with it in our On-Line session (see: below).
Sideways I asked Sonny to move off sideways without the aid of a wall yet he performed brilliantly, correctly interpreting and putting into action my request immediately.
Squeeze Game I sent Sonny over a set of 3 barrels (laid down) without the aid of a wall. Initially I asked him to simply touch them with his nose before adding some pressure to have him jump them from a standstill. Rather than giving me the lazy jump he usually does (when at the trot), he cleared them cleanly with his fronts, though hitting them with his hinds. Afterwards, rather than run around high on adrenaline in a state reminiscent of a chicken with its head cut off, he jumped the barrels then calmly turned to face at once to ask what my next request would be!! This is still a huge learning experience for him and so I was quite happy with his level of try this time - a major improvement for him, particularly to squeeze in such a calm emotional state.

On-Line (on the ground)
Sonny and I completed both Level 1 and Level 2 and also did some prep work for Level 3.
Touch-It consisted of my having him walk up to and place his nose on a few suspicious (surely horse-eating) objects.
Though a little skeptical at first, he performed the Figure-8 flawlessly and with very little direction on my part (I simply stood by). His confidence visibly soared as he continued around the barrels (both walk - Level 1, and trot - Level 2) calmly while keeping a keen observing eye on my next request.
Next I asked him to Weave through 3 barrels (I'll have to add to that number using cones next time, as I ran out of barrels!) while I trotted along next to him (trot and walk), driving and drawing him through the barrels. As we had just completed the Figure-8, he easily performed this one with very little direction as well, even when I switched directions several times and thus walked on opposite sides of the barrels (something new for him, working the barrels from either side).
We also expanded on our Circling Game with the Circles pattern (#6 in the Level 2 patterns pack), which consisted of a few downwards transitions (trot to walk) as well as some changes in direction at the trot. This was our first attempt at this pattern and so while it was a little rough he did seem to understand it so next step is to establish it as a pattern through playing it a few more times and thus raise his confidence level in the pattern.
The second Circles pattern (#7 in the Level 2 On-Line patterns pack) consisted of my walking a straight line down the arena while Sonny meanwhile kept circling. At first he kept asking if he was supposed to continue circling (at the trot) rather than simply follow me so we kept playing the pattern until he made several consecutive laps in either direction as I continued walking.
The Trailer pattern I expect to play with Sonny when the weather provides the opportunity to easily move (and thus play with) the trailer. I am excited to do so as Sonny is rather skeptical of trailers (I foresee some Touch-It!) and it will also enable me the opportunity to reinforce my attempt at lateral (aka prey animal, rather than straight-line, aka predator) thinking (watch the On-Line Trailer video in the patterns pack).
Push-a-Ball will likely be replaced with my ball-less version: Play-with-a-Tarp (haha), as I am definitely ball-deficient.
Obstacles will be done as obstacles are presented (lol) - including tarps, as I do not currently have an obstacle course available for my use.
Our dabble into Level 3 consisted of some further expansion of the Circling Game, whereby I spiraled Sonny in and out of a circle at the trot. Sonny was definitely initially convinced that a smaller circle meant easier-horse-eating-carrot-stick-prey (despite our initial Friendly Game involving the carrot stick, as by now the carrot stick had been involved in some "suspicious" Driving Game-like circumstances that made it worthy of skepticism it may yet be hungry for equine steak) and he was also of the line of thought that it was not possible for him to circle such a small diameter. After a few successful circles on the smallest circle (successful meaning he continued responsibly at the trot without asking me for further direction) I spiraled him back out before spiraling him back in, then back out and to a halt - in either direction. His carrot stick worries rapidly evaporated and his confidence in the game certainly increased quickly.

Though he was somewhat restless once tied after our session (and made it known through audible movement in addition to both loud cries for help and minute squeals of protestation) Sonny never once tested the tied rope and, by the end of my session with Link, had resigned himself to standing quietly with a hind leg cocked. Progress!!

As in our previous session, I had my hands full maintaining his focus, though my purposely sloth-like slowness seemed to counteract his right-brained GoGoGo emotions and thus balance his mental state somewhat and thus maintain his concentration on the games and patterns.

7 Games
We whipped through our 7 games much the same as with Sonny and with much the same results, though Link was much more high strung and so I had to progress much more calmly so as to pass that calmness on to him through quiet leadership.
Respect is a challenge with Link moreso than with Sonny simply due to the very different horsenalities and that combined with our repetition of the games caused Link to challenge my leadership slightly during the Porcupine Game and particularly when I asked for his HQ to respond. This is where I had to back off a bit and ensure that I was very light and fair. I think too that next time I need to back off and ask very lightly then drive his HQ a bit rather than increase my pressure phases.
Our Driving Game I asked Link, same as with Sonny, to back while I stood at his shoulder. Link got a bit uptight and frazzled and so I had to use a wall to block his movement somewhat and thus set him up to better think through the puzzle. As I maintained consistency and rewarded with a quick release he quieted down and thought his way through to a back-up.
Link's Sideways Game was not quite as crisp as Sunny's however it was done very well, particularly considering his comparatively limited time off the track so far.
Our Squeeze Game I also asked Link to jump the barrels without the use of the wall; he popped over them very easily and though was slightly pumped afterwards, he calmed down quickly from his jumping high. This time I also had him jump one barrel with two standing barrels flanking the one lying down - after a little initial hesitation (but continued forward motion) he popped over nicely.

On-Line (on the ground)
Touch-It is not a high priority for Link simply due to his horsenality - as a LBE he is naturally inquisitive and not as skeptical as say a RBE like Sonny. Actually, whenever I lay out an object such as a tarp, Link usually spends his time attempting to drag me over to said object so that he may play with it himself! We'll continue this game though as we find additional objects to play with (particularly horse-eating objects)!
This was Link's second session with the Figure-8 pattern so we were able to clean it up quite a bit. Previously he would at times run through my request (ie. just run right past my stick) in a right-brained attempt at pushing through pressure and thus evading it. This time he did so twice initially; the second time though he paused in his evasion and so I simply continued to hold my stick still out in front of his path and waited for him to stop, relax, and think through my request (not increasing my phases and thus allowing him the chance to think). As he realised that he had little to be skeptical of carrot-stick-wise, he relaxed and thought through the puzzle I'd presented him with. Pretty quickly he was walking through the pattern with a 9/10 confidence at both the walk and trot and constantly eyeing me for my next move, trying to interpret and follow through with my not-yet-requested next request...which resulted in a few humourous miscommunications on my part.
Next we tackled the Weave (3 barrels as well), which ended much the same as the Figure-8 had, with several successful run-throughs in either direction.
Circles (#6) I found to be more challenging with Link than with Sonny. Sonny had been in a calm and thinking state of mind whereas Link, when I held up my stick for a downward transition, had the tendency to freeze up and react in flight mode with forwards movement. I brought him in to a smaller circle so I could more clearly communicate with him which seemed to help quite a lot (as also did my very deliberately calm and quiet movements). A few more transitions repetitions should help break down his walls of pressure evasion and instead get him more in a thinking pattern. I also had him change direction at the trot as well however it was much the same as the transitions - more playing yet to accomplish!
Circles (#7) was much the same as with Sonny and ended well with several successful laps in either direction as I paced down the middle of the long side of the arena.
Push-a-Ball, Trailer, and Obstacles follows the same for Link as with Sonny. I am looking forward too with working with Link with the trailer as he has not been particularly fond of hauling in the past.

Freestyle (under-saddle)
Initially Link and I did our Cloverleaf Pattern (actually done in Level 3 at the trot) at the walk to re-cement our past work. He moved off my leg very well (most often simply when I turned my body and thus applied a bit of thigh pressure) though I found I had to be exceptionally clear and there was the odd time when he broke rhythm and increased his pace to a trot, I think just because he was carrying a bit of extra emotional/mental energy.
In our Follow the Rail I found Link to follow the rail with ease but he seemed to become a little worried during our transitions. Some transitions (walk-to-trot, trot-to-walk) he responded beautifully while a few others he either was reluctant to pick up the trot or would fall into flight mode once in the trot and thus not transition down. Several other times though he responded into a trot with a simple increase in energy on my part or into a walk with a decrease in energy and relaxation on my part. We also did some 9-step-back-up, which really lightened up after a few repetitions (and very clear and quiet communication from me). Lastly, we did some full turns and simple change in direction using leg aid backed up by both direct and indirect reins (his direct is fabulous so we primarily used indirect). My mind was not completely in the game at this point so it took a few tries before I improved my ask enough for him to improve his turn, which worked out great in the end!
Our Figure-8 was very good (once I focused in on asking him correctly!) though I think some additional work at it will clean it up even more.
Lastly Link and I took a stab at a little carrot stick riding (Level 3) - Figure-8 and Follow the Rail. It was quite rusty and Link tended to fret, turn right-brain, and therefore run through my request rather than think it through. In the end though we did manage to finish with a few good barrel patterns and turns along the rail. I think some continued work on Level 2 to really establish a strong foundation with those patterns will enable us to have more confidence in Level 3 patterns. So...more playing!!

I had actually wanted to ride Link a little at liberty today; we finished off our cloverleaf with 9/10 confidence and calmness however the additional challenges of the new patterns we worked on afterwards ruined our chances at liberty, as Link was a little too right-brained (though still left-brained and calm overall) for it to be a successful attempt. Next time!! This time our patterns, which will provide us a stronger foundation for liberty riding, were more important.

Afterwards I turned the two horses loose for some good rolls in the sand and to play a bit with each other before turning them back out to pasture...just for kicks, when I later caught them up, I thought I'd take a stab at playing the Circling Game with both horses at was actually pretty fun and challenging at the same time, as it was difficult to talk to one horse without accidentally miscommunicating to the other haha. We'll have to make a few more attempts at it ;P

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Link Jan 06

Reluctantly I must admit that I have only had the chance to work with Link 4 or 5 times since my last blog November 23 for personal reasons (midterms, Christmas, etc!!) and Sonny perhaps twice. My last session with both horses was Jan 05.

I have not ridden Sonny much however as I feel he needs a stronger ground foundation first. Being a right-brained horse he really needs to be worked with regularly to establish a partnership and I haven't been doing so. I find the RB horses regress more quickly over time than do horses with LB horsenalities so that you spend more time re-establishing previous levels of partnership with them in a session than with LB horses. He tends to be quite reactive and so my communication always has to be very quiet (very quiet energy) yet he's extremely light and advanced in his games! He's also learning nicely to respond to pressure such as when he is tied (rather than pulling back and panicking). Some regular work should earn that trust that is lacking for a calm horse. All in all he is doing very well he just needs a regular schedule.

This horse teaches me something new each session!
Friendly Game - he finally feels comfortable enough to stand still, rope loosely looped over my arm, while I saddle him up. I've also been putting on his hackamore from my knees after asking him to lower his nose to the ground.
Porcupine Game - Link is "left-sided" and so we have had to work extra hard on his right side, particularly at the hindquarter (turn on the forehand) to improve our response. Yesterday he actually threatened me a bit with his right hind and (after playing the driving game for a moment to re-iterate our level of respect) thus forcing me to approach the hind porcupine differently (in a way that wasn't annoying him and causing him to want to kick me in response haha). He really forced me to slow down my phases and so ask more politely and so perfecting our porcupine! When I asked nicer he responded as such! Under-saddle later I noticed a huge difference in his response to my leg asking for a hind disengagement (either side).
Driving Game - His front end (turn on the hind) was pretty rusty (found a hole in our communication!!): he moves off pretty well just to my body language but if I bring in the stick he switches to RB and just runs forward (more stick Friendly Game(!) which we did yesterday). So this time I used my body language but kept the stick moving rhythmically at his front feet, only moving it up (holding it) when I need to ask for more of a pivot on the hind. This horse is really forcing me to communicate effectively and think outside the box (and to discover new methods of asking and such by accident haha)!!! With our new approach we achieved some pretty nice turns on the hind in either direction!
Yo-Yo - starting to ask for more of a back-up (to the end of the line in lieu of a few steps or half the length of the line).
Circling - Counter-clockwise Link tended to get RB when I ask for him to disengage his hind so we worked on that quite a bit. By the end he was disengaging equally on both sides, just by clearer communication on my part (and the earlier work on the "foundation games" - the first three).
Sideways - still a little RB here however he responded very lightly for a number of very "correct" steps sideways.
Squeeze - we actually dug into our new Parelli Patterns (Christmas gift) and did the barrel pattern. I am pretty sure I did not do the pattern as it was intended (need to watch the DVD first to gain a better idea of how to use the patterns) and so my not knowing quite what I wanted presented a challenge. Also, the barrels were approximately 10 feet apart and so were quite narrow for a horse with RB tendencies (particularly one that was trying to run through the small pattern!!) and I had to keep moving to do the pattern in the manner I was. I kept the space between the barrels narrow though for easier communication but also because it would be a bit of a challenge (that I felt we could handle if we figured it all out!). Despite all that though he did awesome! I had to really tone down my energy level though and "speak" to him very quietly. Pretty soon he was circling without constantly stopping to ask for direction and in a LB frame rather than a RB emotional state. I did not ask him to jump the barrels as I usually do this time as I felt we'd done enough forward work for the day for a horse with such reactive tendencies; I did not want to get him keyed up after I had worked so hard to achieve the quiet partnership we had! On previous occasions though he has jumped the barrels with ease, good form, and with increasingly limited RB-ness.
At the end we extended our driving game a bit to a bit of driving on the ground (I stand at his hip, hand and carrot stick over his back and increasing phases to have him move forward) - Link picked up really quick though some additional work will help him stay LB as he tended to react a bit to the new scenario and move forward too quickly.

Our improved level of groundwork greatly benefited our under-saddle work that same session. Link's tendency to move forwards when I ask for a turn on the forehand rather than disengage his hind was greatly diminished; yesterday's session most of the time he pivoted very nicely on the fore and moved only his hind feet (with really light phases of asking)! He also bends to a stop much easier and quicker, to the point where when he feels me reach down he immediately slows down or stops. This horse initially had a lot of trouble standing still however he's been consistently standing quietly when I ask for a halt now rather than my constantly having to quietly correct him, bending him back down to a halt (patience patience patience!!!). It had been a good week and a half since I had worked with him and when I had originally brought him in yesterday he immediately started jigging and bouncing while tied, so I wasn't sure how far we'd be able to go in our session. However he's just been so much quieter both on the ground and under-saddle, and yesterday proved to be no different (to the contrary, he was even better!). We tried some carrot stick work under-saddle however he tends to revert to RB so it'll take a little more patience and time (and "carrot stick friendly game") before we're proficient. Our cloverleaf (4 "leaves") pattern was excellent, with Link moving off my weight shifts and my rarely having to actually apply leg to ask him to move off in a particular direction or to pick up speed. I also started a bit on some of the Parelli Patterns under-saddle - weaving through 3 barrels at the walk then picking up the trot to weave back through in the opposite direction. I kept the barrels tight (about 10 feet in between) and he responded nicely, never missing a barrel and turning tightly! Afterwards we worked on some rail patterns: walk-trot-walk transitions (at specific points in the arena), change in direction, and tight circles along the rail. He did excellent and was, by the end, responding to my weight shifts to reduce his speed. Some more work will only further improve our partnership - I am pretty excited actually to really delve into those patterns and to make some more progress!!!
Near the end of our session some other riders entered the arena; Link was of course still very light in his aids however our "liberty" work (where I drop my reins) wasn't possible with the added distractions (yet!). Instead we worked on transitions (walk/trot/canter), including shortening and lengthening the trot. I really wanted him to stretch out at the trot to stretch those shoulder muscles and usually he runs into a canter, however yesterday he stayed in an extended trot, slowing down to a slow jog when I shifted my weight and lowered my energy in the saddle. I think the combination of our partnership level, the intense concentration that had perhaps tired him some, and then the LB state he was in all contributed to his really listening to my 'whispers' rather than taking flight at the trot into a canter. I was a little reluctant initially to canter him as I thought it might be too much forward work however he actually remained calm throughout - both during and after the canter work!! He is still learning to balance himself effectively and use his body more efficiently - we've still got a lot of work to do however he's already improving greatly. The saddle work, combined with the ground work and all the work we've done in a LB state developing a partnership, has caused him to increasingly carry himself more appropriately, rather than head up and hollow, without directly focusing on it as of yet. In turn I've already noticed a further development of muscling over his loins and back as well as his abdomen. His shoulder and hind are of course remaining developed (previously from the track work) but his neck is also gaining better shape via muscling over the crest (due to the new carriage and his tendency now to carry his head lower). So far he has been staying sound chiropractically so hopefully we can keep developing new muscling in the weaker areas so as to further keep him sound and healthy.
By the time the other riders had left the arena Link was already cooled-out, tacked-down, massaged, and eating his beet pulp however I still had one experiment I hadn't yet had the chance to try out: he'd been moving off my leg and weight so nicely that I thought I'd try some actual liberty work (rather than just dropping the reins). Link wasn't so sure I should be up there on his back without a saddle and nothing around his neck but a thin little string and so was a little tense at first, striding out quickly. I have to admit I didn't think we were ready (but was way too curious not to try!) and so had to calm a few panicky nerves before he shot out from beneath me (or I thought he would...he didn't though). At first he only responded to my leg aids when it suited him, turning into my pressure when it suited him (though to his credit he was very light when he did respond!). He also tried to pick up a trot a couple of times; deep breath though and he relaxed with me into a walk. This time when he decided to ignore my aids I gently picked up the rope (6' thin thin rope) against his neck in a sort of "half-halt"; very quickly he picked up what I was asking and was soon moving off in circles and through the cloverleaf pattern whenever requested, responding appropriately to different leg and weight shifts (without touching the rope on his neck). This horse really asks for perfection from me for a perfect response from him! When asking him to move off a leg on a turn, I have to shift my weight (slightly) to the outside and lift my weight off my inside, else my inside thigh "blocks" him and he won't move off of my leg as lightly. I absolutely love when a horse challenges me to be better; in this case Link is forcing me to a) communicate more effectively and b) keep my weight centered rather than leaning into a turn. We also did a few walk-to-halt transitions in the center and, again as before, Link remained calm at the halt rather than trying to walk off, jig, or bounce! In the center I actually started asking for back-up when he gave me a turn on the hind and so I worked off of that to get 180-degree turns on the hind in either direction!! We got a little bit of turn on the forehand (disengaging the hind), but it's going to take a little more time and work to get it at liberty ;P Afterwards we worked on the back-up until we had a consistent back-up of a few consecutive steps with very very light pressure on the neck rope. So excited to have made so much progress and looking forward to further progress!!!