Having cheated a little bit at the show with regards to my vets suggestion of "nothing that causes tension" this week I've been focused on keeping them mare moving freely and not instigating any fights or encouraging any anxiety or tension.
This meant that after a much deserved day off I tacked up for a light hack on Tuesday with every intention of just hacking out in a stretchy trot and doing my damnedest not to mess the mare up.
She was fabulous. Loose, relaxed, happy. S was teaching a lesson so we stuck to the "scary" end of the arena where Prairie was happily bopping around on a looped rein even with chickens screaming in the bushes and some lunatic running a chainsaw (on what sounded like sheet metal) a few driveways over.
One thing that I've noticed is that Prairie has lost some of her cadence in the last couple months.
I can only assume that this is directly related to my rein usage and our general lack of balance, but she feels decidedly less uphill than she did and it's especially obvious when I don't carry her front half and let her determine her frame. It's possible that I've adjusted to her movement somewhat, but I'm pretty sure we've lost some loft along the way.
No worries. We'll get it back. But first the mare must relax and step freely.
Another thing I've noticed is that all this time in hunt tack has left me with an incredibly wobbly lower leg when I drop my stirrups. Not sure where all my stability went, but it's also gone (MISSING: Loft and Leg, please call me if you find it)
I can (also) only assume that my wiggly leg isn't helping our balance/loft/relaxation issues any.
Anyway, noticing our lack of balance and my lack of supportive leg I dropped back to a walk and started with some figure eights of varying size, exaggerating our bend and trying to control the shape with only my leg. I also started scooping Prairie either into shoulder in or haunches in on our circle to keep her mobile and relaxed and responsive. She was great to the right, but a bit stiff to the left (albeit responsive).
Finally, when I felt like I had my legs working and my hand relaxed we bumped up into a trot and repeated the exercise, fluctuating from 10 meter to 25ish meter circles and often going from a larger circle to a smaller "snowman head" circle on the same figure eight. I was encouraging Prairie to go as low as she could without falling on her nose and she was very eagerly seeking the contact.
When she did lose her balance she would pop up, invert then find the contact and follow it down again. It seemed like a good order of operations.
When things were working well again I tossed in some leg yields which were sloppy at first, then pretty soft and straight. Finally we cantered on a loose rein both directions but I didn't fuss with changes, simple or flying, so as not to ruin our lovely moments.
Prairie was soft, foamy and full of lots of snorts and sighs which seemed like a good first ride back. I'm going to try to do as much of this as possible and rebuild our foundation with a lighter hand and better balance.
Something tells me it might take a while.