So reeeal quick I thought I would update here to start back into the swing of blogging (and yes, I fully intend to blog on The Perfect Horse, I am hoping tomorrow!
Wednesday April 7 I ended up working with both Link and Cody; work under-saddle with Link and simple groundwork outdoors with Cody. Both were absolutely fantastic, with Cody doing exceptionally well at all 7 games as well as initiating some confidence and curiosity toward a pair 0f blue horse-eating barrels, despite the high winds. Link worked well in the indoor arena seeing how by the time I got to him it was too windy to do anything outdoors! He came into my hands and on the bit, lifted at the base of his neck, allowed his rounded back to swing, and stepped beneath himself quite nicely with very little encouragement! He even picked up the correct canter lead on the right rein without too much difficulty - it took a few tries but he kept at it and instead of going hollow when he was uptight, he actually stretched down and forward and picked up contact! All the impulsion he obtained from the canter was beautifully recycled through my hands - I loved it!! Eventually he did get the correct lead at the canter to the right, and he immediately picked up the correct lead to the left. We wrapped it up finally with some liberty work; at first I simply removed the bridle but left the reins around Link's neck, but ultimately I even removed the reins, since he was obviously in tune with me and very responsive. It was funny though, as I directed him near the fence during one pass of the arena at liberty, and laid his bridle on said fence as we passed. Of course (Murphy's Law!), the bridle fell, spooking Link, who shot forward a little. Immediately, my heart leapt into my throat - I was on a horse I wasn't sure I could trust, who had bundles of energy, who tended to 'lose his mind', who loved to run, and on whom I had nothing on his head. Fan-frickin-tastic!! As I leaned forward and panicked though, I reminded myself that I just had to relax and ask him to slow. Sure enough, as if he were reassuring me as well, he dropped right back into a walk immediately. He could easily have taken advantage of the situation and the 'Old Link' undoubtably would have, but this Link instead acted like a true and honest partner!
April 8 my time with Cody was limited to grooming him and his standing tied, politely, for a good hour or so (outdoors, in the wind), while I was busy with some clients and their horse coming in for training. However I had the great opportunity of riding with J (Link's rider over the winter), who rode Sonny, in the arena! Link was actually quite distracted and while pretty calm, he did not focus on me and follow my leadership quite as easily. We worked quietly at it though until he was collecting and working correctly from behind, which did admittedly take longer than usual due to his lack of focus. I was so proud of him though when he started to finally come around, and then especially as he held contact consistently! We finished with some amazing trot (plenty of impulsion while collected consistently and on the bit!), after finishing up the canter in either direction. This time it took only two tries to pick up the correct lead to the right, and the first time I asked for the canter to the right, from the trot, he picked it up incredibly quietly as if he were an old plow horse :) So proud! A huge blizzard hit while we were in the arena and so of course rain and hail could be heard on the metal roof and the wind was gusting all round, banging one of the arena doors loudly and also blowing snow in beneath said door. What most impressed me was how quiet both horses were, but especially Link, and how willing he was to go onto the aids (including picking up the bit of course) despite his fear at times! I would feel him stiffening and eyeing up the snow gusting in (initially) and simply bent him in the opposite direction and he instantly relaxed and went back to work - but the best part was that he allowed me to put him on the aids and ask him to relax! What a partner :)
April 9 was my first session with the new gelding and another session with Cody. The new gelding is a tiny (right around the 14hh mark) 4yo black Morgan gelding, Toffee. I actually competed on this little guy as a 2yo in a Trainer's Challenge, so I have had him under-saddle performing various tasks and w/t, though he has probably had maybe an hour and a half total under-saddle and no other work since I worked on him. He is definitely a little challenging, since he is definitely opinionated on what he wants! He will rear or even kick out occasionally, though not necessarily really to challenge my authority (not directly), but rather he'd just prefer to do what he wants, haha. As such though, he does not put a whole lot of effort behind it though and is fairly easy to work with. Our first session I pulled a good horse's worth of hair off of him, lol, prior to our work in the indoor arena. He was not sufficiently focused to learn the sideways game and just did not quite grasp it, however he did all 6 other games! He was fairly unfocused however did very well for his first outing. Cody did fantastic as usual - at all 7 games, despite riders in the arena, and he and I finished off with a short bareback ride. When I first threw my leg over, I could feel he was extremely tense - his back was very humped up and I wondered if I had made the wrong decision by getting on his back. This horse has never been ridden bareback, to my knowledge, and has not been ridden under-saddle for a good several months now (7?), plus he was only in a rope halter at this time. As I quietly urged him forward though and gave him the time he needed to think, gradually he 'unfroze' to walk calmly at one end of the arena. I only asked for simple patterns - primarily circles and figure-8's, as well as turns on the fore and hind, back-up, and turns off of leg and seat as opposed to hand. He was actually extremely responsive and light, even to leg! All in all, I was quite impressed with his demeanor and how he handled himself and what was requested of him.
The following day, April 9, ended up being a Toffee and Link day! Toffee progressed on the ground, though still no sidepass yet. He was quite a bit more focused though, and did very well (plus, we pulled off another quarter of horse worth of hair, lol!). Lastly, I worked with Link once more, starting off with our usual ground exercises (at which he excelled of course) prior to swinging up into the saddle. By the time I was in the saddle, it was just after 3pm...with roping starting in the arena at 4pm, LOL! So next thing I know, all sorts of cowboys are pulling up in their trailers and unloading their horses (eager beavers these ones, since they weren't actually looking to start until 4! Haha) - whilst I am on this big Thoroughbred, in a dressage saddle. I think we all found it just a little amusing! Lol. Link was absolutely amazing though, especially despite all the commotion of horses being unloaded, the horses tied to the arena fence, ropes whistling, and people moving about. I could not have been more chuffed, he just behaved amazingly well and worked so in tune with me. I was especially surprised that he did not spook at anything at all at times when I knew he was in deep concentration - it was like magic! It took very very little coaxing before he was on the bit and working from behind. He was also exceptionally light at leg yields, was picking up his left inside shoulder (he tends to drop it and get heavy on the bit on that side at times), and was super responsive. When I asked for the canter, he picked up the right lead on the very first try!! He was a little more reactive this time round and was not straight, but I was not complaining ;) Of course his left lead was fine as well, and I actually had him mostly straight in that direction. We finished with a relaxed cool-out that encompassed dropping my reins (despite other horses in the arena) and simply guiding him with my seat and legs. Wow! I have to admit, as much as I loved that first 'magic' ride on Link awhile back, I was scared I would not see it again for a long while; yet instead he is only becoming increasingly consistent and is moving absolutely beautifully!! :)
While I lacked the time to do any work with my equine trainees, Sunday our new arrival was Princess, a 6yo grey Arabian mare! She is apparently quite well bred and is a very nice looking RBI mare who is in for some remedial training. Her owner's issue with her is that Princess can become quite right-brain reactive at times, especially if she is pushed. Her owner has done plenty of groundwork on her but is looking for 60 days for Princess to be more confident and reliable (calmer, braver, smarter) under-saddle. Photos of both her and Toffee soon!
Monday April 12 was my Princess and Toffee day! Toffee was first and it was soon discovered he had a bit of a bad cold (poor guy), so we kept our work down to a walk and very very little trot. He did very well though and we worked as well on his allowing me to lie over his bare back...something he was honestly not quite that fond of! He's still a pretty narrow and undeveloped colt and came out of winter a little on the thin side though, so I think partially he just wanted his own way, but also that he did not appreciate my weight upsetting his balance and my elbows inadvertently digging into his back! He actually got quite indignant about it and even crow-hopped once and kicked out at me another time, but we plugged away at it patiently until he was standing quiet while I lay over either sides briefly. I think I might just work with the saddle from here, and I will have to be careful how much I push him - he really is not physically capable of too much at this time in his development, in my opinion. I am thinking strictly w/t in the arena and wait to canter until he is outside in the hills and has more of a straight line to balance himself out. We'll see though. I was fairly excited to work with Princess and see how she was, and I was certainly not let down! She was careful and tentative, but also very curious. If I asked correctly, it was literally only a matter of moments before she was walking up to and sniffing previously-deemed 'dangerous horse-eating' objects :P She was a little opinionated with her front end (she is also in heat though), as expressed by the occasional flattened ears and not being quite as responsive with her front end. I was extremely impressed though and left playing the 7 games with her feeling like it was my privilege to be working with her - and I'm being paid for this?!! Haha. I am very thrilled to be working with her - she is light, responsive, intelligent, and has a strong ground foundation to work off of. Just the horse I would look for for myself! I laid over her back as well, but she completely ignored me as if I were not even there ;) I look forward to riding her these next two months for sure, especially in the mountains if possible.
That's about it! I was in a course both Tuesday and Wednesday and will finish off the course next Monday/Tuesday. I am also away this weekend and so the horses will not be worked Saturday/Sunday/Monday, between my travel and my course. I have it all worked out though - Link, Cody, Princess and Toffee are all up on my roster and both client horses are set up for 20 days of work over their 30 days. So stay tuned for updates! My goal this week (and henceforth) with Link is to get him in condition and to continue his consistency at collection. I am so pleased with him - not only is he developing physically into a very nice horse (he has definitely filled out everywhere and has grown an inch to now stand 16.2hh!), but he is also really acting like a prime partner when we work together. I will probably start all three other horses under-saddle this week - Cody, Princess, and Toffee, though my expectations of Toffee will obviously be quite low yet. At this point, I just want him to accept weight on his back and to be desensitized to the saddle and all its riggings. Next week I would like to throw some curve balls at both Princess and Toffee by playing with tarps and other such 'terrifying' objects, lol. Should be fun!
Already Toffee's owners have booked in another horse with me over May and I have another owner with a formerly abused 7yo Paint mare who is also requesting to be booked - so it should be a busy summer!!
I will post photos of everyone soon!