I was supposed to work with both horses today but by the time I finished with Link the headache I'd had had worsened to a killer migraine....sooo it was just Link today...who did amazing, by the way!
Today was the very first day that I ground-tied Link while I groomed him. I had to curb his curiosity maybe once but otherwise the leadrope remained on the ground, untouched, as I worked my way around him with my brushes. It was pretty neat to have him so calm (the large arena door was open), just gazing curiously outside while I brushed.
We tore through our 7 games today with another individual and her horse in the arena working alongside. Friendly game, check. Porcupine (pretty light), check. Driving game (very good), yo-yo (very light phases), sideways (used a wall but it was very good), squeeze (between me and the wall), check check check check. Our circling game was fantastic, I did not even need to talk to him today he was so calm and LB! His herdmate, Cisco, was there though in the arena (also calmly and quietly doing groundwork), which definitely helped. We did spiraling circles at the trot, changes in direction at the trot, and just some responsible circling. For the first time ever he stretched down and out today, rounding his back fully relaxed! We took on the weave afterwards - we're still having trouble on his right side but we got a walk on that side at the full length of the 22' and we got a trot through the pattern on the left side. I felt like we didn't progress much in this area today, but perhaps re-cementing the pattern is progress in itself I guess. Our weave at first was a little rough, Link kept missing the barrels. After a little bit though he calmed down enough to think through the pattern and complete it flawlessly at the trot, mostly LB.
When I saddled the big kid today he was extremely calm; I let the rope dangle again and he did not even bob his head in anxiety this time as I saddled him. We got through our 3-part maneuver (super light) before the other person and her horse left the arena. I thought I was going to have to dismount and end our session because he'd be too unfocused and RB to work like a partner with me alone in the arena (especially after a herdmate left)...so I started him on some patterns to keep his mind as focused as possible as the other horse left. He was a little unfocused, but I had him do circles on the rail and as we continued he relaxed. After that initial period of anxiety (calmed through the patterns on the rail), he was absolutely fabulous! We worked on w/t transitions along the rail and did our figure-8 pattern (trot one ring, walk the other) as well before doing some point-to-point - I wanted to clean up our downwards transitions. As our p2p progressed Link became more confident, calmer, and quieter - more LB. He'd listen to me and thus respond when I relaxed in the saddle to go from the trot to a halt; he was also standing quietly at each "rest point", licking his lips and lowering his head rather than waiting, tense, for my next cue. As he grew quieter, I lengthened our "lines" to the point where we were soon trotting down the long side of the arena. Since he was doing well there, I even allowed him to do a couple laps of the trot in either direction along the rail. I did have to talk to him a couple of times and even correct him with a few half-halts, but for the most part I had the reins slack on his neck as we trotted around the arena, and he was calm and LB!! His trot even felt more relaxed than I'd ever felt it before; there was definitely still some tension there but it was much more relaxed than on previous occasions. I can't wait for further sessions to relax him further as his confidence in me is instilled further and our partnership grows! We did infuse a little canter into our work too; I just felt I might as well get a little in, as the more we build on that (albeit in small amounts) simultaneously with everything else, the more he can be relaxed at it. He was quite high energy with it today and immediately (upon my canter cue) charged to the other end of the arena (where I was directing him); he relaxed fairly easily afterwards but only more work will create a more LB canter. His canter though was better than yesterday's - yesterday's was full of humped backs (contemplating bucking to get me off so he could have his way and run) and uber-charging, so today's was definitely a step forwards, as rushed as it still felt. Afterwards I wanted to make sure he was back on the right track so we did a little walk/trot along the rail for a couple of minutes. Just for fun I thought I'd throw in some contact work (still in the hackamore) as well, even though that is not where we are at yet - I just wanted to see what we could do based on the foundation we'd built so far. It took a tiny bit of work (all of a minute's work lol), but I had him doing haunches-in and shoulder-in along the rail in either direction!!! We also did some side-pass along the rail and some leg yield in the center of the arena at the trot!!!! Lastly, we tried out spiraling our trot circles in and out - he was great!! We've still got a long ways to go but wow the foundation we've already built is amazing. Oh, forgot to mention as well that we also did the cloverleaf (no reins for the most part) pattern and his back-up was very soft as well (asking for 10 steps, no pawing, bobbing head, or other anxiety - he was very soft with the back-up). That's about it! I was amazed at how relaxed he was with just him and I in the arena and the large door open to introduce distractions; obviously our partnership is growing! Once I untacked him he followed me about the arena and/or watched me curiously, no pacing the fenceline. At one point I thought he was going to pace, however he simply walked down the line to the barrel at the corner and played with it some before snuffling the ground and sauntering back to his food. He was completely thinking and not once in that unhealthy "zone" he gets into when he's pacing the fenceline. So so excited about our progress today!