Today I decided to take a day off and only work with Link. I spent the day catching up on things at home so it was nice to just relax a bit with my own horse and have a shorter horse day!
When I initially brought Link into the arena, the place was empty (as usual); I thought he'd be a little ancy but he wasn't really at all. There was the odd time he spooked at something (ie. when I closed the large arena door), but otherwise he stood still to be groomed, head lowered and completely 100 percent LB and relaxed. No expressions of anxiety whatsoever!
On the ground we definitely had our challenges, though he did very well. Our driving and porcupines were great (working extra hard on that right side of his), and I got him down to a very very soft Phase 3 (wiggling my forearm) at the yo-yo, where the shank was barely swaying and he was backing up gently. I backed him all the way down the 22' twice and he was much softer than he usually is both times. Our sideways and squeeze (over a set of barrels) were also pretty good; our friendly game was injected in between all the games, particularly when I did use the stick for direction. Our circling game was a little rough...at first he was great, we got traveling circle, walk-trot transitions, and changes in direction and he actually stayed at the walk rather than immediately moving up into the trot for the most part. He did get a little RB though a little ways in and so it took some time and slow and patient work to get him back to being LB, but we did it! I was very proud of him for returning to working in partnership with me; soon we were back trotting and disengaging and such completely LB. Talking to him definitely still makes a difference and I ended up using my voice to keep him calm quite a few times. Next we tackled the weave; he was great to walk through the pattern with me on his right side, and then trot up it with my being on his right, but we could not seem to get a trot on the right side that remained calm and controlled (despite my body language - it helped to show I was uber relaxed, but did not fully prevent him from going RB). Since we just weren't getting it, I took him off the pattern and we did our figure-8, which we did until he was trotting calmly (he did it beautifully with very little direction on my part) before moving once again to the weave. We were still having troubles there and so went back to the driving game to re-cement his moving off of pressure (when he goes RB at the weave he misses cones by blocking me out and therefore not responding to my cues for him to move off and away from me around the cone) and also the switchback "pattern". At the switchback he was incredibly RB, bolting around violently as if I were about to beat him with the carrot stick - I just continued walking very calmly and quietly, giving him minimal and consistent direction and working hard to show him he could trust me and relax to listen to my cues. By the time we got from one end of the arena to the other (long side), he was relaxing much more; going back down the long side to the other end, he relaxed even moreso to the point where he was mostly LB and doing the switchback game. So we took on the weave again. We never did get much of a trot on the right side - we got a few tries of trot that were fully successful but started only about halfway through the pattern, which was an improvement for sure though! We also re-iterated our walk through the weave, with my being at the full length of the 22' - I had to be quite assertive in my body language on his right side (ie. very assertive pointing towards the cones), which seemed to help and ensure he was successful at the pattern. I'd like to see the weave even better, but today was an improvement within the session and about the same level as yesterday, which was still great to see.
Tacking Link up today he was quieter than yesterday; a little head bobbing but for the most part he was quiet and still throughout. Mounting up took two tries (the first he started to slowly walk off once I was up but hadn't swung my leg over yet) but he gave me permission and let me up on the second try. We did the same patterns we did last ride - walk-trot transitions, back-up, circles on the rail, figure-8, point-to-point. He was again great at all of them, though a little higher energy level today so we did not incorporate any canter in the point-to-point. He was fairly calm though at the point-to-point and his downward transitions (trot to halt) were a little cleaner than yesterday. All in all a great session though, it's great to be riding him and to have him LB and working like a partner with me! He is a very challenging horse and I'm amazed at what we are accomplishing thus far, particularly under-saddle (which is his most challenging area), it's great :)