Hopefully I should be starting some professional training (unfortunately not at all horse related) on Sept 12th, so Dandy will go from up to 4-5 sessions a week, to 3 at the most. This horse has shown me that he much prefers to be interacted with as often as possible (read, work breaks do not, I repeat, do NOT do him any good). So I kind of need to “wean” him from nearly daily visits, to 3 a week, at best. I started that by working him every other day, rather than 2 and 3 days in a row. Rode him the day before yesterday, left him alone one day, went to see him again this morning. And he was great !
Now are the dog days of summer. The stalled horses are turned out at night, and sheltered in the cool(er, all being relative) barn during the day. Dandy is kept in a large shed/paddock combination with access to 2 different pieces of pasture. In other words, he manages his time as he wants. I strongly suspect that he goes down the pastures and grazes at night, and comes back up to his shed and sleep around dawn, and dozes through the hot day. So when I show up to halter him around 9:00am, I pretty much wake him up in the middle of his “night”.
Which might explain why, though he knows from experience all my forward cues will be backed up energically, he still needs 2 or 3 meetings with the lungewhip to really get going in the groundwork ? Whatever the reason he’s that slow to get going, once he’s forward, we’re good. Transitions up and down from all three gaits, stopping on cue, and when he starts blowing at length through the nose, extending his neck and putting his head down, I know the mental “fresh” is out (paradoxically he was before lazy in body BUT fresh in mind, which created all the defenses I struggled with for a month). That’s my signal but hop on.
This morning it took me seconds to know he was focused and willing. Light as a feather in steering (at the lope) all I had to do was open my leg to where I wanted to turn, and even before I could lay my outside rein on his neck, he would steer nicely, my outside leg was rarely needed. On a circle I picked up an inside rein, put my inside leg on and his nose tipped in while his ribcage made a nice arch to the outside, all pretty nice and soft. No scary areas appeared (at a very small exception that I chose to ignore as it only happened once). I decided I wouldn’t drill something that worked (could only make it less good, right ? ) so I grabbed my skin gloves, put my calves on his flanks and we zeroed in on the gate at the trot. The gate means : going outside. Or not. Depends on my mood and whether he’s earned it or not. We are getting pretty handy at opening and closing it, trailclass style, which means, mostly one handed and not letting go of the gate during the whole process. I did leave it for a second to rearrange my reins at one point, but truly if I had been under the scrutiny of a judge I could have taken a touch more time and gotten it right. That’s nice, considering it’s one large, heavy and deadly metallic monster of a gate, that has skinned my fingers in the past, and has a few treacherous knobs for your knees, too. Operating it the way we do involves a lot of body control, lateral work, backing up, all calmly and one step at a time, and Dandy is getting better at it by the day. Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you that I also had him pick me up off the gate at the start of the ride, that little party trick I taught him while starting him, and that I try to keep alive now and then.
So off we went in the already strong heat. He inched towards the start of the trail (many scary places and blocked minutes there before) but he never stopped and just slided right through the scariest spot with ease. Then we spent the next 30 minutes or so touring the area, sometimes where I wanted to, sometimes where his curiosity would take him (and he’s a very curious little horse). Zero spook to report. A bunch of times I had to get subtly firmer to go from his direction of choice to mine, got a little tail swishing with that, but all in all it was a very nice ride, with walk, jog, trot, lope and a slighlty faster canter. All good.
Came back to the arena, opened and closed the gate again (to near perfection, for our skill level at least), met another horse and his human that were lungeing, and I was pleased to feel zero tension from Dandy, he just went where I asked him to. Unsaddled him and went to put my stuff up, I heard the other horse’s owner saying “No, no”, so I rushed back to the arena and he had walked up to the other horse, but they were just sharing breath in a super relaxed way, nothing to do with the fire breathing stallion I’d had so far. I grabbed him and backed him up a little energically to his ground tying spot, talking foolish and totally useful reproaches to him, as in “I only groundtie you because I trust you, and that’s how you thank me”. I had to laugh at myself, but amusingly enough he looked a little meek and embarrassed and didn’t offer to leave his spot again. Then he got a nice shower, during which I hooked him in the cross ties for just a minute (he’s not used to or comfortable with that yet), then walked back to his paddock, stood quietly with his head respectfully tipped towards me while I was taking the halter off, then walked drowsily back to his shady shed. He gets tomorrow off, then Friday some work, and his second lesson with our Dutch reining coach Olivier Van Den Berg on Saturday. Stay tuned for the report 😉