After nearly a month of bareback only, (have I mentioned how much I love riding bareback?!) I decided to try the saddle again. I think my hips have really benefited from the bareback work as I was able to let my stirrups down a notch. (jumping up and down + clapping!)
The back end of the arena presented our first challenge. It was still one giant puddle / mud slick due to last weekend's snowstorm melting away. Val showed zero desire to work in that area. I figured this was a great faux trail ride training opportunity. I quietly persisted in asking him to go forward while not allowing him to evade with my legs, and maintaining loose but steady contact through the reins. It took a couple of minutes, but he relented and walked through very calmly and quietly.
Next, we tackled the scary side of the arena near the loud and disturbing neighbors property. The loud disturbing neighbor was in full force, banging and clanging tools, punctuated by hollering at his dog (or maybe his grandchild?)
For our last several rides, Val has been reluctant to ride on the rail in this area. Same strategy here. Quiet persistence and making the desired action easier than the evasion. I caught myself coming of off my seat and twisting in the saddle a few times... my aids were much more effective after I corrected myself. Success. I could feel how my leadership was relaxing and calming to Val - as opposed to my tendency to become frustrated, which always escalates the issues.
I can honestly say that while I intellectually understand why I must refrain from being emotional in the saddle, being in control of my emotions is one of the most challenging aspects of riding for me. I hope that someday practice will make perfect :)
The rest of the ride was a piece of cake. I've been trying to choose one item to focus on for each ride, and today's was keeping my eyes up and softly looking at my desired destination. So often I find myself staring down at Val's neck. When I can achieve this, it is almost like Val knows where I want to go before I even give him a directional aid. We finished up with some nice trot work, weaving through the cones on the buckle and some snappy transitions. We both enjoyed our work today.
After an under saddle rubdown + cookies, we went for a little walkabout - wait for it - out the front gate and off of the property!! I've been thinking Val needs to spend some time on harder surfaces to help toughen up his soles. Today was the day. We mosied down the sandy gravel road, around the bend at the graveyard, and right up to the death dealing corner of knocked over black trash cans. Val hesitated just a bit... I let him approach the cans slowly. With patience and judicious rewards, he dealt with the horse eating wall o' cans like a rock star. We proceeded down the asphalt road a good ways, found some edible grass (!), and turned around for home. On the way back, he even sniffed the trash cans :)
|Scary cans are boring now|
Since things were going so well, as we headed back past the gate to home, I decided to walk into the woods toward the trail head. A family of deer passed by not ten yards to our left, eliciting some heavy sniffing and a few dance-y steps. We proceeded to the trail head, and onto the trail just a bit. Since all the while Cowboy had been screaming his fool head off, we went back home so he could settle down. I have never been so proud of my horse. What a good boy!!