I've got a couple posts for The Perfect Horse in the making, but in the mean time, please be patient with me - I have not been updating it as regularly as previously due to major time constraints.
Well, I had wanted to work with three horses today - Link, Cody, and Missy, but as it often seems to go, things did not go as planned. I decided to give Missy the day off in the hopes she would have a fresher mind come tomorrow and due to time constraints. Link didn't get out because by the time I was finished with Cody I was running short on time and Link was being fed. I don't mind Cody or Missy missing out on feeding time (I just allow them to eat most of what they would have eaten, in the barn prior to turning them out), but with Link or Sonny, I try not to miss feed times - they cannot afford the weight loss with their metabolisms. At one point I could have decided to finish up with Cody and take Link out, but Cody and I were doing so well that I thought I would go full out and ride him in addition to doing the liberty work we had already done, plus, Link had already been fed by that time.
So, Cody. He was absolutely phenomenal today and completely blew me away! Keep in mind throughout all this that though I have been working with him about a month and a half, it hasn't been a lot of "foundational" work that would develop him or teach him the basics. We have been doing the 7 games but not really focusing on them (or anything else that has cropped up); we mostly just did a lot of quality riding out on the ranch. So I was not expecting much of our liberty work today - we haven't built up a sufficient partnership for it. I was actually full-out expecting to, when I turned him loose in the roundpen, be unable to catch Cody again - at least not without a lot of work! Instead, he did about 3/4 of a lap before turning to me with the question: may I come in now? Of course I responded with a "sure," upon which he promptly walked right in to me to receive a rub. I was shocked. Did that really just happen? I should mention too that he even allowed me to catch him easier today - I walked right up to his shoulder and made my way easily up to his head today, rather than having to work my way up slowly from his hindquarters. So back to the rounpen. I asked him to circle, and he would circle within about 6 feet of me, rather than taking the entire roundpen. The entire time, he would be bent, asking me if he could come in. He did this at a walk, with some trot. With some of the trot though he did use the full roundpen, but even then he would be watching me carefully (this, despite tractors running about, people, and horses being walked past the roundpen); if I relaxed and backed up a step or two, he'd turn right in on the circle and walk right up to me for a rub, lowering his head to the ground within seconds as I rubbed his face! Not only did he allow me to rub all of his face (well, except the ears, we left those mostly alone today), but he didn't try to "put" me on one side or to keep me at his shoulder. He gave me full submission and trust!! We also did our friendly game at liberty with the leadrope and the carrot stick. On-line, he'd wanted nothing to do with the stick rubbing him or the rope being tossed over him. At liberty however, he seemed to feel more comfortable because he had the power to move off whenever he felt too pressured. If he moved off, I would just get him to circle a lap or two, then I'd allow him in and we would try again. It only took a mistake or two before he was standing quietly while I tossed the leadrope over him and rubbed him all over with the stick, even as I walked all around him and did it from at his rump (previously if he was nervous about something, he would allow me to do it, but only if I stood at his shoulder for security). He is getting braver and learning to trust me more from a distance! We also did the driving game - back, fore, and hind, and I got him started on doing that "spin" away from me (ie. drive his fore around completely so he does a 360 whilst I keep my feet still). After that, I snapped the line back on and we did the sideways game, yo-yo, and some more circling game. We played our squeeze game both prior to the roundpen - I had him walk over that trail-type bridge I mentioned yesterday (well, he jumped it, but going over it is a start and is still the squeeze game) and then after, in the arena, when I asked him to go between me and the mounting blocks and between me and some barrels he was unsure of.
Oh, and prior to the roundpen, we also clipped him a bridlepath! It took a minute or two to get him to allow me near with the clippers, but it was not long before I was clipping away! At first he still stood pretty rigid, at the end of his rope (I had the rope through a ring and was holding the other end, so that he couldn't get too too far, but it was not tied, in case he really needed to get away) and frozen, but after a little bit he relaxed. He was never entirely relaxed, but enough (lowered head, some slack in the rope, etc) that I felt we could end there, on a good note. He is definitely a LBI - he'll freeze (rather than fleeing), but then as he's frozen he gets thinking, which prevents his exploding and allows him to relax. It's pretty nice. He still is not overly comfortable in barns though, which led to his being frightened with things I have normally done with him outside (such as spraying him with a spray bottle today) - he did relax fairly quickly though. Afterwards, we saddled up and headed to the arena. We had already spent a good hour or so together, so I could have decided to put him away after all the good work we had done thus far, but I really wanted to ride him and see how our liberty work had impacted our under-saddle work! Plus, Link was already eating by then, so I did not really want to take him out, so I had might as well take full advantage of Cody!
In the arena, I actually did a lot of the exercises I did on Link yesterday in our lesson. We did some serpentines to loosen up his barrel, which coincidentally also seemed to loosen up his stride a bit and get him moving off my leg nicely. Once he figured out the pattern (which took only a loop or two), he started moving off of my leg so I wouldn't have to use much rein. Afterwards we did some transitions walk-trot - he got to the point where he would transition down as soon as I relaxed and transition up whenever I so much as picked up my energy (nevermind using any leg, even lightly!); he is an incredibly fast learner and he is unbelievably sensitive to everything you do in the saddle. Every shift, every movement you do, you'll feel him asking "what was that? What would you like me to do?" Even if I so much as breathed differently he would prepare himself to respond to my next request. We also did some circles and figure-8's, to which he easily bent around my leg, and then also some turns on the fore/hind and sidepass. The turn on the fore to the left (using my right leg to push) was more difficult - he wasn't as clean about it (well, not clean at all, really) and so then when I would use more rein (still being light, but picking up the slack he liked in the rein), he would fight me for the slack back - he really loves a loose rein and will respond to my requests (when I use rein) when I simply pick up the slack, before I even actually touch his mouth really; uber sensitive (which is fantastic, especially considering how hard-mouthed he was when we got him!). Anyway, so then he would be focused on getting his head rather than the turn on the hind, and both of us would get a little frustrated. I finally figured it out though. Add more pressure to the right-hand side, and give him back his head. By adding pressure on the right side (keeping the leg on and rhythmically swinging the rein end towards his shoulder), he would move over cleaner - with slack still in the rein, he'd have the focus to respond to my pressure on his right shoulder. I'll work on it more with him tomorrow! We also did some cloverleaf pattern - a pattern I usually use to teach responsibility in the horse (continue to do what I asked originally until I say otherwise) as well as leg aids. By the second run (or even sooner) through the pattern, each side, he was moving strictly off my leg without my using any rein guidance at all. I am going to mention here too that all of our work today was done on a loose rein with plenty of loop. As we progress, I can add even a little more loop and on a curb bit, I can add even more loop thanks to the more intimate communication the leverage allows. He was very light and very responsive in all respects. It was pretty neat though to have him moving off my (directional) leg so lightly, so quickly! This one is pretty smart and very motivated to learn and work with me. The odd time he did not respond, I would simply cluck and he'd respond - it was like he was off in his own little world and my cluck would break him out of it and remind him of what I was asking, lol. Lastly, we did some impulsion work. I would trot him down the short end of the arena then down the long end, picking up speed as we went. Then at the corner of the long end, I would sit and ask for a stop (just sit, relax, and pick up the reins without touching his mouth if need be). After a few shots in either direction, he even slid some!!! I couldn't believe it - he is built to sit down and slide, but I was not really expecting such a hard stop from him at this stage. Can you imagine what some further development, could do for us?! All in all, the little man was absolutely amazing today, he really did blow me away with his willingness, his work ethic, his partnership, and his talent! He was responsive to everything I asked - he would even slow or increase his jog according to my breathing. For example, I always breathe out (usually audibly) when asking a horse to transition down. How much energy I remove from my body reflects in how much air I breathe out, which in turn reflects in how much of a transition I want (ie. trot to walk, trot to halt, canter to walk or halt, etc). Then when I wish for a horse to move into an upwards transition, I "pick up" my energy accordingly. Link is quite sensitive to this and will slow his trot as I breathe out in such a way that indicates I want him to relax and slow, but not change gait. This has taken awhile to develop though! Cody however picked it up immediately, though I am sure that riding him on the ranch has helped him figure out how I operate. Still, he was slowing his trot to a slow pleasure-horse jog when I breathed out gently (without really thinking about it), and if he felt me breathe differently, you could feel his stride questioning me, trying to make sure he was doing whatever it is that I wanted, at all times. It was neat! We have more work to do, like developing greater relaxation and confidence, but man this horse has got a good start, and I can only see him flying through everything I teach him. Oh, last point I should mention is that we did canter today, though he was quite unbalanced so I only asked for it down the long sides mostly and I kept it short in duration. He did pick up the correct lead each time though, I think in part because I made sure to make sure my body was in the proper position to ask (ie. appropriate hip and shoulder forward according to the lead I wished him to pick up). What a good boy! I did leave the halter on him again tonight, but if he goes well again tomorrow, I will take it off, likely for good now. I still can't believe the trust Cody put into me today, and how much he worked like a real partner!!
Tomorrow my goal is to work with all three horses currently in my focus - Link, Missy, and Cody, with liberty work for all three. Missy and I will hit the trails, the other two will be in the arena. That's the plan anyways, and I am pretty determined to see it through! It'll be a long day but I should be able to get it done.