Well I made it to the barn yesterday. Boyfriend was out trout fishing and I am already going stir-crazy sitting around the house and haunting the usual online places for job postings. I decided to go to the barn and waste the morning away, and I brought Angie with me too. Angie probably is liking all my time off, she doesnt have to be locked in the laundry room all day.
After getting to the barn I saw Heather and Batman were coming in the driveway, so I would be able to ride with Heather and Angie could play with Batman. Perfect! I was ready before Heather was and made my way down to the outdoor arena, then opened my truck door and Angie shot out like a rocket. She hadnt been to the barn in at least a year, and she really doenst get to go anywhere all that often anyways. So needless to say she was full of energy. Fortunately, Angie knows to not get too close to horses (or so I thought, more later), to bark at, or chase them either. She's confident, but if Milo stoops his head low to look at her she shies away at his massiveness.
I began with some Connected Groundwork, but not a whole lot as the lead to and from the barn gave me time to Comb the Line as we walked, and Milo was telescoping forward and softening his eye. I jumped up on him and although Angie was still running around in circles, Milo was calm. Now, since Angie hasnt been to the barn very much, I havent really been able to teach her to stay out of the arena. But she really wasnt a problem as I rode, always staying just far enough away, never getting directly in front of us, and not chasing. Maybe I will just let her stay close to me as thats all she wants anyways and it does no real harm.
A few times as we trotted our circles, Angie would get a little close and Milo would pin his ears and curl his lip at her, treating her much like he does a cow. Angie would back off quickly and Milo would go back to being relaxed and working. Everything was going well in our warm up and then Heather, Missy, and Batman strolled down. Milo is seriously in love with Missy and it took a while to get him to remain focusing on our circles and not try and stare off in her direction. Eventually he figured it was best to listen to Mom and we got a few more nice circles and a trot-to fencing, so I meandered my way over to them. Missy was once again tied to the post working on her patience, and Angie and Batman were beelining it around and around, happy to see each other again. Poor Batman knows he cant go in the arena though and as Angie would run under the fence rails, Batman would stop short under the stern stare of his Momma, Heather. He snuck in once time chasing after Angie, and what did Angie do? She ran directly underneath Milo - twice! Oh Angie you are soooo lucky that Milo doesnt care, but she got yelled at for that. In no circumstances can she run underneath a horse.
I got back to work and had a dressage whip in my hand to use as a Motivator where needed. All was going well, Milo was responding well to my hips, my leg aid, and we were leg yielding, half passing, nose in hip out, and generally things just felt great. So I moved him into the lope, where he departed rather crooked. I moved him out onto his left hind leg, then changed my hips and cued for the lope. His body still felt straight, but he took off at about 45 degrees to the left and not straight as he was set up to be. I wondered if I hadnt supported him well enough on the outside rein, so tried again. It was better, but still kind of crooked. I didnt think much after we were loping now and began our circles and things. Pretty soon it was apparent that Milo was not working on the outside (left) rein, and his shoulder was way out in the middle of nowhere. I tried counter weighting him by torso twisting to the outside, which helped some, but he was all over the place with a hollow back and head in the air. It seemed he was not only not on the outside rein, but also ignoring it's neck reining cue for turning. Eventually we were able to get some decent circles, but he just was not willing to bend.
For God knows what reason, I wanted to half pass at the canter. Thinking back, I really should have been listening to my horse who was having a really hard time of bending in this direction. But I persisted and he was not having any of it. The first few tries he again was hollow, head in the air, and off the outside rein. He would "scrunch up" becoming a big ball of energy just going upward in place, if you can imagine. We were lacking good forward and instead his energy was getting built up inside of him. On about the third or fourth try, Milo kicked out behind him. I persisted still and two more tries later, he literally threw a huge buck. I went back to some solid loping instead and got some really nice circles, and at the walk, reinforced the half pass and leg yield both directions, which he did relatively fine.
And its funny now that Kate from A Year With Horses had just posted on knowing when to step back and approach something from a different way. It sure makes me think about the "issues" we were having and how if I had only listened to the horse I had in front of me yesterday, and not tried for the horse I had on Thursday, we probably would have had a much more successful ride. There were many red flags that day advising to take it easy and go back to what we know and yet I didnt heed them.
After leading him to the barn for grooming, I decided to go back to some Connected Groundwork, or more-so, the exercises. After a grooming, I took him out of the cross ties, and began by Drawing the Bow, allowing Milo to feel and begin to accept some contact. He did, and we moved into Combing the Line. After only a few moments of this, Milo let out a huge sigh, telescoping his head forward and softening his eye. I figured after that ride he must have been really tense, and I incorporated cheek press, cheek delineation, caterpillars - which provided the most obvious signs of relaxation in Milo, and shoulder delineation. After a few minutes on both sides and allowing time for Milo to process, the visual change in my horse was huge. After I took the saddle off, his shoulders where tense, the big muscular bulges that had been created there were very present, and his neck was tight and braced as well. After spending some time to connect with my horse again, all of that was gone, and he was fluid and relaxed through his poll, neck, shoulder, and wither. It was incredible! Milo must have felt great as well, his head was dropped in the cross ties and his eyes were only half open.
So the day wasnt a total "failure". I had a great reminder to listen to my horse and work on only the things were are capable of on that day. I also saw firsthand (again) the incredible benefits of listening to my horse's body and responding as needed. Milo was put away in his pasture a relaxed and content horse - far better then a tense and frustrated one I had created earlier in our time together. It reminds me of Mugwump's post on having the same horse we started with, and vice versa for creating a horse to begin with that we end with. Her post more specifically on having as soft and connected horse that you end with, and having that same level of attention at the beginning. For me, this was in reverse today - trying to have as connected of a horse that greeted me at the end after my hour of time spent with him. I have to remember that I want all the time spent between Milo and I connected and progressing, and never let my horse be put away feeling like that wasnt the case.
So yes, I still think that yesterday was productive. As Kate said, "The Benefits of Mistakes". I can adhere to that.