Link standing in front of the tarp curtain, just to lend an idea of how far he had to duck to get beneath it without touching it!!
As usual, Sonny was my first victim of the two boys, as I hate leaving little mister Right-Brain-Extrovert tied up by himself first (yet!); at least after we've played some together he's in more of the right frame of mind not to get himself into too much trouble!
So today we started out with our 7 games - as usual - just to re-iterate our partnership and see where we were at for the day. He did very well except for having to use Phase 4 at the Porcupine game; we ended with Phase 2 or 3 though and left it at that. Just a rougher day for the boy all in all, as he seemed quite distracted - I had left the large door of the arena open to allow some of the warmth in but apparently it also let in a whole lot of distractions haha.
We played some with the tarp as our Touch-It Level 3/Obstacles Level 3, shaking the smaller of the tarps out all over his body and focusing particularly on dragging it over his head. Today he allowed me to rest the tarp over his head for several minutes before I chose to pull it off, which was fabulous! I also set up a sort of "tarp curtain" for him to walk through, which he eventually even backed through! Our Figure-8 was a little shady at first, as he kept getting too hyped up at the trot. Several times he ripped past me as if his tail were on fire, until I took him aside, took a couple of breaths with him, and we started again, but at the walk. Afterwards we did our Figure-8 and Weave perfectly (the Weave at the trot). We also spiraled our circles at the trot during our (7 games) Circle game and also worked on transitions as well as change in direction all on the 12' lead. Afterwards I threw him on the 22' for a little more work, spiraling at the canter again. By this time he was pretty responsive and focused, though he wasn't as responsible for maintaining his gait as he had been yesterday - no worries though! Lastly, I knocked over two of the barrels and asked him to pop over them from either direction, which he did!! I was extremely impressed with his jump, as I normally have to line the barrels up against a wall before he'll jump them (to block off the one side), and usually with a frantic I've-got-to-get-over-these-before-I-die(!!) look. Today, however, he popped over them calmly with little guidance and at the first request!! Job well done! A little reactive and distracted overall today, but he did well, particularly for an "off" day!!
I kept our 7 games extremely brief today and kept my asking phases uber light (ie. phase 1, phase 2 at most), which really seemed to please him. I think sometimes I get going through my phases a little fast (as I've mentioned previously), which frustrates him. I also asked him to work through the tarp, same as Sonny. Ever seen a horse duck? Well Link hesitated very little when I asked him to go through the tarp curtain, but for the first several passes he would sneak his head under the tarp, then "duck" his entire body underneath so that the tarp would barely brush his back - quite the feat for such a large horse!!! Pretty soon though he was walking through as normal (though he was always trying to go for the far edges lol) and even backed through once. We also worked on transitions (getting there) as well as spiraling our circle at the trot and change in direction. I really have to be careful with the change in direction to push his shoulder out though to ensure he doesn't come in too close to my space (ie. kicking range), but he was quite polite today and moved out when I asked, albeit with a tail swish or two (haha). After playing with our circles a bit, I began stepping towards the barrels (backwards); as I was turning around, he actually walked past me and started doing the pattern himself!! He was a little leery at first, but I was actually able to really tone down my effort today!! Usually I lift my stick to block as he comes around the barrel towards me, then lift the stick again a moment later (pointing in the opposite direction now) to guide his shoulder away from me and around the next barrel. Today however it only took a pass or two before all I had to do was point and block his shoulder every once in awhile as a reminder going around the barrel away from me (just by lifting the stick off the ground really, not even lifting it up). For him to walk around the barrels as calmly as he did and with so little direction was fantastic!! I never once felt threatened by a possible kick either, which is definitely a step in the right direction ;P As we moved on to the Weave pattern, I found the same. I rarely had to lift my stick off the ground (perhaps 1' off the ground and only a time or two) - for the most part all I had to do was point and he moved around the cones in a perfect Weave!!! Lastly, I tipped the barrels and asked him to pop over them as well. On previous occasions we had been unsuccessful at obtaining a successful Squeeze game over the barrels when they were not set up against the wall; today he tried a couple of ways out but he did finally pop over in either direction! We finished there for the day, as he had made so much progress in the one session!!!
I know the breathing thing probably sounds a little odd, but I find it really helps under-saddle (transitions downwards I use it all the time with all my horses) and I've been finding that it actually makes a difference on the ground too! I have been using it when I want to encourage Link or Sonny to transition downwards and also when they're a little right-brained and I want to have them relax. Our horses are constantly reading our body language (particularly if we're in tune with one another and playing games in a partnership), so if it works under-saddle, why wouldn't it work on the ground?!
On a final note, though Link didn't walk up to me today, neither did he walk off, which is another steady step in the right direction! After our session together he followed me for a bit before taking a roll and taking to pacing the fenceline. When I see a horse doing that, I see an unhealthy (mentally and emotionally) horse; I've found on our really good days, Link just doesn't run the fenceline. When he does run the fenceline, there is usually no getting him out of that state of mind; he is too worked up to relax and get himself out of the pattern (a manifestation of his stress) he's started. So today I walked over and just spent a couple of minutes with him before returning to taking down the obstacles in the arena, just to see if this time it would make a difference. Well it did! He followed me calmly for the remainder of my gathering up objects and putting them away. I thought I might lose him when we had to walk up to the fenceline a couple of times, but he stuck with me rather than reverting to his pattern! He was a whole lot calmer at the end and was definitely acting in partnership!