(While I haul P2 to a public park where we're meeting up with our vet, I'll leave you with a synopsis of our last couple rides before the damn leg started hurting on Tuesday..)
After our ride with the Corkscrew and the two bucks, I thought maybe I'd control some variables and switch back to a softer bit and see what happened.
Saturday's ride we had almost the exact same lesson plan with some small fences, an outside line and ending with a few small course like rounds. Not being a perfect scientist - instead of returning to our full cheek that we've been jumping in, I tried the slightly thinner, double jointed loose ring with a copper lozenge. I've had some flat rides in it and P2 seems to respect it a bit more, but she stays pretty soft-and-chewy with it. We hadn't used it over fences (mostly because it's attached to a black bridle not a brown one and I'm lazy) so I switched it up and we went for it.
Prairie definitely wasn't as backed off the contact as she was in the corkscrew, but she also refrained from any weird bucking or other outbursts. Our only freight train tendencies came as we jumped a single fence on the diagonal going home. There's something about the big open diagonal pointed at the barn (and not a wall of trees) that incites the mare to scoot away from her landing.
What I enjoyed about this ride though, was the fact that a month ago one of those land-n-scoots could only have been solved with a halt (or a walk) usually using a fence line as a physical brake. Now, we've modified what it takes to get back to normal. Instead of having to hit the reset button to reestablish a balanced canter, Prairie is capable of re-balancing and bringing herself back to a cute little hunter stride without a total stop.
It still takes 8-10 strides of land-n-scoot - but what's new is that I can feel P2 trying to come back. Eventually she makes it back and responds nicely to my half halts, so I'm thinking the residual scooting that I get is not an evasion, but still a balance/confidence issue. She's already come such a long way, I really can't complain about not achieving perfection in that realm yet.
Here's a clip from the ride. Notice how balanced the mare is in the line and how she fits a nice 5 strides in like she's supposed to! I sit up a little to remind her to come back, but she's back herself off and finding her distances all on her own (grin).
Coming around to the single fence on the diagonal, you'll see her open up for the longer distance (that's ok) but then there's a bit of a land-n-scoot on the far side. But, BUT, I don't have to slam her on her ass to recover. By the short end of the arena she's balanced and tuned back in. I think that's progress.
The mare was rewarded with a day off followed by a nice, easy, Labor Day flat hack. Since the loose ring had been moved to a brown bridle, I grabbed our other Black bridle which had the KK dynamic D-ring on it to try for giggles. I haven't touched this bit since our last Dressage Show where Prairie showed off her absolute best impression of either a freight train, or a field plow. There was some debate as to which one she more closely resembled.
That was the final straw for switching bits, but after some nice light rides, I thought I'd see what would happen with the KK D again...
Prairie was... a gem. I worked through some of our "bit response" exercises before mounting up (basically stimulating her lip with either my finger or the bit to get a lick/chew) and started with a nice long amble around the ring on the buckle. I have been focusing on trying to steady the mare more with my legs and less with my hands, especially with regard to wanting to eyeball scary looking things. I get conned into grabbing her face to contain her, but we're making progress. Some is just from increased time together, and some is from Prairie figuring out that a death grip on her face isn't actually a positive form of support. If you'll recall when I first brought the big mare home, letting her "out of her box" at all would result in lost balanced and rushing into a spook.... By extension if she was scared of something, if I didn't immediately take a strong contact Prairie interpreted that as "holy crap you probably want me to run away now."
We still have bits of that, and I'm curious to see what happens at the show this weekend (in an indoor), but she really is starting to get the same confidence/support from my leg without me grabbing her face. (baby steps).
Anyway, our flat hack was lovely. Soft, light shoulder in, soft light leg yields, a few lengthenings, then I played with transitions. Lots of walk/canter/walk, and trot/canter/trot. Then I worked on canter departs down the center line alternating what lead I was asking for trying to maintain as much straightness as possible.
When in doubt Prairie likes to take her right lead, so it took a few attempts to sharpen my left lead depart, but we got it. By the end we were getting 4-5 departs from the walk per trip down the center line with a nice little rollback at the end.
After that I thought I'd revisit my "reinless" ride so I threw a knot in my reins looped a pink through the end and put my hands on my thighs. We did a few more walk/canter/walks with mixed results. The departs are lovely. Dare I say better than when I've got my hands all mixed up in them, but the downward transitions leave something to be desired. P2 gets confused and tips onto her forehand and then we rush around a bit before we drop back to the walk. I worked through some sloppy ones before I cheated a little and gave her some rein support to hint that maybe she should sit down instead of plowing around and that seemed to sharpen things up again.
I ended with some big figure eights with a simple change and called it good. That seemed deserving of a walk through the pastures and some fun chasing the mini-donkey around. (I'd buy P2 some toys, but nothing makes her happier than chasing that poor donkey...)
Hard not to feel great about an easy, relaxed ride like that. What a fun mare.