I decided to tack up with S's saddle and ride through some of the First Level movements to see if I felt a huge difference in how she was going. Since I was there nice and early I was counting on a "calm" ride since nine times out of ten I get the most consistent, steady work when I ride (10 hours) before dinner.
Today was the first "cool" morning we've had in a while, which combined with a day off and made the mare... distracted.
She's developed a habit of flipping her head occasionally. Not constantly, but she gets herself in such a tizzy from it that it generally only goes away with me completely dropping the reins and everything grinding to a complete stop. I don't think it's a super productive way to deal work out of it, but she gets so bound up that my brain immediately jumps to "oh-crap-oh-crap-she-wants-to-go-up." which leads me to doing just about anything to prevent her front hooves from leaving the ground.
In point of fact, I am nearly certain that Prairie is nowhere near wanting to go up, but that's what it feels like and it triggers a panic button for me. Since she hasn't ever actually gone up, my (more rational) concern is that I'm inadvertently training her into a really obnoxious evasion. Not exactly a noble accomplishment...
So, she did her obnoxious head flip twice (once in each direction) and then when not flipping her head stayed super inconsistent in the bridle. Our tempo was uneven, I couldn't keep her in my outside rein and the general package just felt more like stop-and-go traffic than fluid and forward...
I tried everything to get her attention, lateral work (which was SUPER responsive, but tense), transitions, serpentines, mini circles.. you name it. But I was met with a fussy mare who was not interested in what I was trying to accomplish.
About the time I was about to scream my head off, S pulled into the barn and suggested a 5 minute walk break in order to mitigate my frustration and try to bring Prairie back down to earth.
The break didn't do much for Prairie (she was busy watching everyone get turned out and gallop about), but it did let me release some frustration and remind myself that I'm riding a horse. Not a bicycle. She's not a robot.... (although robot would have been preferable ).
When I picked her back up I did a ga-zillion trot-walk-trot transitions working hard to keep my ass out of the saddle and encourage the mare to stay nice and round and soft instead of hollowing out. It appeared to help her focus again, so after we were consistently balanced and responsive I threw a few trot-canter-trot transitions in with the same goals and when I got 2 good ones in a row each direction I called it a day and slid off.
Sometimes I forget to quit while I'm ahead. It's so easy for me to fight and fight and fight, then when I get a good response I want to school and school and school... Instead of rewarding the good choice and letting the horse be done when they make that good decision.
I remember one of my trainers once told me that there are days where her rides are 5 minutes. Good canter? Done. Move on to something else. First leg yield was perfect? done. First halt was square and soft? DONE.
She said if something was mediocre, school it until its what you want, but if you get a good, perfect, soft try on the first ask? Let the horse be done.. reward them for offering great work initially instead of teasing it out of them.
So, in that spirit I decided that as rocky as we started out, seven minutes of good, responsive, soft work was worth rewarding. It was hard to stop the ride when I felt like we were just starting to accomplish something, but she started so scattered, and I want her to know that dialing in is the correct thing and doesn't result in a harder ride.
(that and I was already late to work...)
But not too late to snap a pic of the mare and her freshly growing neck! I think she's putting on muscle, but maybe I'm just imagining it..
|(she thinks she looks fat in this saddle)|
Also. I'm less in love with the hunt tack again. Her body just looks so gigantic with a compact little saddle. Things were so unsteady that I didn't even bother trying to string enough movements together to ride a fake "test", but I did like how she was using herself in our final transitions... There's a decent chance that we might be in the CWD for our schooling show in a few weeks :)
Also, I snapped a few (bad) pictures of Prairie's feet so I can share what they look like when they are due for a trim. I'm curious to get your opinions on them...