I think it's just the culmination of a few weeks of Perfect-Prairie and Pissed-Off-Pia, but secretly, when I'm handing out treats, Prairie gets all the big pieces of carrot.
The irony is that Pia's been great under saddle. Her lateral work is going well, she's responsive and soft in the bridle and has even been executing some polite lead changes. Sadly, Pia gets no emotional credit from me for that since I'm only on her about once a week.
Instead all the time I spend with P1 is on the ground - and on the ground she is winning awards for being supremely obnoxious.
If she's not bulldozing over me at the paddock gate in an attempt to follow Prairie out, she's biting people in her stall, baring her teeth at passers by or screaming INCESSANTLY for Prairie while we work. I used to be able to leave Pia out in her paddock while Prairie was worked, but in recent weeks she's been working herself into such a steaming lather that I opt instead to bring her in where the confines of her stall limits her ability to freak out. Don't get me wrong, she still screams her head off and throws a tizzy, but it's less extreme than if she has a fence line to run (and run. and run... and run...)
I'm not sure what's behind the increased separation anxiety but it's fostering not so nice feelings toward the mare. When Prairie comes in, Pia still has their other pasture mate to keep her company, not to mention the other thirty horses turned out within eyesight. I also tried riding outside while Pia was still turned out to see if being able to see Prairie go round and round the arena would be reassuring, but no. Just as torturous, as though every long side away from the pastures could be Prairie's last and she might just trot off into the sunset instead of looping back around toward home again.. ugh. we'll work on it.
I really don't want to just separate the two permanently because I have a crazy belief that herd animals are in fact happier when they have a "herd" or at least a few friends they can form bonds with. But something has got to give. Pia is more flexible than this. I know she is.
Anyway - Back to the good sister.
Perfect Prairie is a bit of a misnomer since she of course isn't totally perfect. But she has been totally calm, focused and reasonable. Sure there's things we've been schooling that wouldn't get a "10" from even the most lax judge, or even an 8 - but the huge success is in how coachable and relaxed she has been for the last 3 weeks. We haven't had a single big scoot, or gerbil-rage-blackout. Instead she's been calm, adjustable and responsive to corrections.
I don't know where this mare came from, but I like her and I want her to stay.
Last weekend S set a small course in the indoor that consisted of one cavaletti and three other fences about 2'6". Not big by any means, but big enough that missing our distance would worry Prairie and send her careening around the corner.
So, after careful warmup, I picked up a tiny-teacup-canter and popped over the cavaletti. Without any fuss or tension. So we did the 3 stride line, and easily added for four strides... we did some roll backs, with a nicely contained shoulder, and we even got a few lead changes. S had me run through a course that started with a rollback to a bending line, to a single to the outside line. Prairie not only landed on all the right leads, she waited to the base of every jump and stayed soft and light in the bridle the entire time.
|obligatory scribble of our course|
The next day the sun graced us with its presence so I rode outside and Prairie was the fussiest she's been in weeks. She was very distracted by a cute pony jumping around, but even in all of her anxiety she stayed with me (mostly) and still managed calm, controlled canter work and spiraling in and out at the trot.
Then the beast mare got two days off for the New Year because I was lazy. And then we hauled out for another lesson down at Brass Ring. Two days off isn't exactly the most responsible way to prepare for a field trip of any sort, but it happened and I fully expected to pay the consequences in the form of a hot, antsy mare for most of the lesson.
Except she wasn't. The only hint of tension was some very noisy pawing in the trailer as we pulled out, which I attribute to Pia's terrified, omg-I'm-being-eaten-by-wolves, screams from her stall.
Prairie walked off the trailer like a champ and settled in to sniffing around her stall and munching on some hay. She's really calmed down a ton with basic things like tacking up. Whereas before I needed help in keeping her legs still for wrapping, I took off her standing wraps, re-wrapped with polos and tacked up without even tying her head in the stall. She walked into the ring like she owned it and went right to work.
I opted to put her in the pelham, but more for easier balancing than as a tool for brakes (we work hard at these lessons and I liked to avoid getting my arms pulled out by a big tired horse). We warmed up similarly to previous lessons, haunches-in down one long side, leg yield down the other. In the canter we repeated the same haunches in/leg yield pattern and we got comments that Prairie seemed to be stepping much more underneath herself as well as my leg was much more effective (yay!).
Then it was the moment of truth. We were to circle a cavaletti at the canter.
Prairie was great and stayed contained and balanced. I worked on trying to see my spot sooner and asking Prairie to move up to it instead of resorting to my default setting of hold-hold-holding her to the base. Not surprisingly, even when backing her off, if I mentally committed to asking Prairie to move up during the last stride, it resulted in a rounder, softer "jump" over the cavaletti.
Then we moved onto some simple courses over very small (like 2') jumps. We only worked single fences in the typical line-diagonal-line-diagonal fashion. Nothing complicated, but it was a larger ring so we didn't have the visual confines of our tiny indoor to help keep us balanced and tidy.
So I gathered Prairie up and set off. She nailed all of her leads (except for one diagonal fence where she swapped on her own before the jump) and stayed at the same rhythm pretty much the whole time. No fussiness, no tension. We were a bit wiggly to one fence on the quarter line but that was the biggest issue.
When we finished we got the expected comments of "wiggly to fence on quarter line" and "maybe try to save the lead change for after the fence" along with some great praise about her overall improvement. But then a surprise came at the end with "Lets do that one more time, but not so collected, ask her to move out a bit more."
excuse me. Did I just hear that Prairie was too collected. I didn't honestly know that was possible. Too collected has not been an issue for us. Ever. Under any circumstance, and certainly never when jumping.
I was a bit nervous to open her up (even to a normal working canter) worried that without my little teacup stride all hell would break loose - but we were fine! We predictably missed our left-to-right lead changes but I didn't care. We made it around the entire ring calmly and without any motorcycling around the turns.
Finally we finished up with testing our lead changes a bit by cantering down the long side, rolling back in a pirouette type turn, leg yielding back to the rail in counter canter then asking for the change. Prairie always swapped her fronts, but I couldn't quite get her to step up and change behind.
Before she could anticipate and get tense we switched gears to some turns on the forehand which highlighted a possible issue - namely that Prairie doesn't like to turn on the forehand. The whole yielding-her-haunch thing wasn't particularly crisp or clean or even responsive. Seems like we might need to clean that up before I expect her to really mobilize her butt for changes.
I also think that this might be more my issue than Prairie's. S can get a clean change on Prairie 80-90% of the time. By no means is the mare "confirmed" but clearly I'm bracing my hand or sitting crooked or something that inhibits Prairie's best effort.
All in all we made it home with some great progress and a few good things to work on. This weekend one of the bigger barns in the area is setting up a "schooling day." where for $25 you can ride four rounds in a new place over some nice jumps (I hope). The fun part is you can set the fences to whatever height you want and your trainer can coach a bit between rounds. So really it's just an excuse to haul somewhere new, warm up in a slightly crowded ring and get some courses in without any pressure. I think it'll be a good outing, though I'm a little worried it might cut into watching my Seahawks playoff game....