Today was an interesting day, as both Chickadee and Link packed around a couple of green riders! My friend had invited out his sister and her fiance so after the two of us played with both horses, we saddled them up and tossed up the two visitors for a little riding in the arena. Oh, and I actually rode Link in bareback today! It was pretty mucky out and we all know how I feel about mud, so Link was put to use. I wasn't sure he was going to allow me to stay up there long, he was feeling pretty good and excited, especially as some of the other horses rared around a bit, so I wasn't so sure I wouldn't have to slip off after a moment or two. That wasn't the case though - he was excited but completely left-brained and responsive as I rode him to the gate, through it, and into the arena! What a great horse ;)
As far as games, both horses whipped through all their games and patterns, including squeezing over two barrels laid down - Link was amazing and jumped with little hesitation and correction!! He was also excellent with the circling game (traveling circle, changes in direction) and also at the weave (trot going up with me on his left, walk with me on his right) and figure-8 (trot). I also worked on jogging next to him at the trot; it took a few minutes but pretty soon he was jogging next to me (me on his right) on a loose rein and licking is lips relaxedly while trotting!! Chickadee did well at all her games and patterns with my friend.
Next we saddled up the two and tossed up the two green riders. Chickadee was great with my friend's sister and took good care of her; she did need some motivation for forward movement later, but she behaved very nicely and was rather compliant, even with someone bouncing on her back at the trot (new rider thing :P), so I was pretty proud of her! Link was even better, especially since he remains my most challenging horse! At first I simply led him around, but as his rider gained confidence and knowledge and after seeing Link remain completely calm, I let the two run loose. Link was very responsive and did very well with his green rider. I supervised the entire time and while there was the odd "surprise trot", it was left-brained. He did not mind the bouncing at the trot either; he handled a green rider very politely and happily! Both horses and riders did the serpentine as well as just some simple go's around the arena, walk and trot.
After our guests had departed, my friend did some work on Link (small turns on the rail, back-up, cloverleaf pattern) while I did some work with Chickadee: circles on the rail, serpentine, figure-8, back-up, w/t/c, etc. Afterwards we switched horses and I got on Link saddled for some good w/t, back-up (he was backing up when I simply "thought" back-up and lifted the reins off his neck!!!!), and cloverleaf - no reins. Since he was doing so well, I thought I'd prep for some liberty work: bareback with a halter, string (looped around his neck), and carrot stick. He was pretty sticky with the carrot stick on his right-hand side (he actually got quite ticked off at it and tried to bite at it lol) at first, but I think we worked out most the kinks by the end. Part of it too was that I accidentally touched him with it on that side at times I'd just meant to wiggle it at him, but a few times I did have to touch him and he wasn't too pleased with that (he'd walk right on through my aids if he wanted to go somewhere - rarely, but a few times, even if I was wiggling the stick in huge fan motions at Zone 1, his nose). Once he figured out though that there were phases, same as on the ground, and that I wasn't going to touch him if he responded to the phases, he started to relax. For the most part he was very responsive, but we did some figure-8 and that was where I needed to just bring the stick down, several feet away from his face (no wiggle even) to reinforce my leg to go around the barrels - we ended up with some very tight, but left-brained and relaxed, turns!! It was our first official time using the carrot stick riding, so I felt we both did great together!!! Meanwhile one of Link's herdmates, Cisco, came and went and Link still maintained his focus on me! We did a little leg yield as well and also some sidepass. Once Cisco had left the arena, I pulled our safety net - the halter, off and we went through all our patterns commando (well...Link was, I wasn't hehe)! Serpentines, figure-8, cloverleaf, even some trot, all with the carrot stick and savvy string around his neck only!! His trot was left-brained too, which was fabulous! He responded well to the savvy string when I did need to use it, mostly just to follow through on my slow-down cues and for back-up and also as the odd reminder to focus on me. At one point Chickadee actually spooked and Link, at liberty, spooked for a moment but remained left-brained and completely calm!! Chickadee actually handled the spook very well afterwards, very proud of that little girl as well.
I never thought that I would get to ride Link at liberty for awhile yet, and I have to remind myself to be patient, because it might be a little longer before I can do so again, particularly consistently. We're building a strong foundation but still have a ways to go yet! Today was amazing though, it was great to work in such partnership with Link!!! He was very responsive and sensitive to my cues and we were completely in tune with one another. What's great too is that every time I put him away now - the last several times, he's waited at the gate and watched me until I was out of sight, rather than just walking away! I seems like something so simple and perhaps unrelated, but it's not - it's great to see our partnership manifesting itself in other ways.