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!!!