Short and Sweet
There was a nice breeze this morning when I fed the Boys, so I came in, had my own breakfast and after a little thought, I headed back out to ride.
A bit earlier would have been even better as then more of the arena would have been in the shade. As it was, the woods side was shady and it felt at least 20 degrees cooler than in the sun. But even the sun wasn't too bad with the breeze and, thankfully, lower humidity.
I rode Tucker first. I have been focusing on "forward" off the leg, immediately in our last rides. Today, I could feel it was paying off. The first trot transistion was a bit sluggish, but I gave him a kick. He laid his ears back. I threatened him with my voice and off he went into a more active gait. I did a downward, repeated the upward, and he moved right off. I did not have much rein contact at this point. Adding "on the bit" to the exercise would defeat the purpose of simply establishing the forward response to my leg.
We worked for a while on loose contact, doing one transition after another. Walk/trot/trot/canter/trot/walk/canter...etc. Again, all I was looking for was that "jump" into the gait and, in a sense, even out of the gait. Too often people ride downward transitions backwards, thinking of bringing the horse back instead of forward into the next slower gait. Then the horse loses impulsion and falls behind the leg and seat. It is very important to keep the transitions forward at all times, even when you are practicing a reinback...as strange as that may seem. The horse always needs to feel as if in an instant he would just go forward off your leg.
While I haven't neglected that with Tucker, his personality and attitude have not encouraged me to keep at it. And, he has a terrible ability to get totally stuck, refusing to go forward at all and, when pressed either rearing or bucking. However, I did find one fault in my riding that hasn't helped.
My right leg is a "nagger." When I am riding Tucker, and he gets sluggish, I keep squeezing at him with my right leg. He gets either crabby about it, or simply starts to ignore the urging. So now, I am focusing on keeping my right heel/lower leg off his sides except when I am demanding something. One squeeze or kick to encourage forward followed by, if no response, a tap with the whip on the top of his rump, and then a passive leg, in light, but not "pushing" contact. Seems to work well.
For the last ten minutes or so, I put him in a frame and worked the same exercises on contact, wiht again, lots of transitions. If I felt his trot start to lose energy, I cantered well into the bridles, then went back to trot, always insisting on forward. I finished with some lovely canter/walk/canter simple changes, then headed up the center line, halted, asked for and got a nearly perfect four step reinback to a trot, and ended on an ideal note. What a good boy!!
My goal with Chance was "down and round" no matter what. He started off really well in a nice walk, but then on the first transistion to trot, threw up his head. It is not a dramatic reaction, but decidedly off the bit. I "purred" him back to a walk, and repeated the transition with much better success. As with Tucker, I then did a series of transitions, each time insisting, with muscle and rein work, that he keep his head down. It got better and better.
For the transitions to canter, I was not as particular, as Chance is just learning he can canter with his head down. Actually, the upwards weren't too bad. If anything, he simply "lifted" his head rather than coming entirely off contact. Then, in the canter, on both leads, he did drop back towards at least starting to work into the bit. Not perfect, but getting there.
However, when I brought him back to trot after the canters, particularly on the right rein, he was super! There is a feeling I love of a horse reaching into the contact with his whole body, kind of "pulling" the rider along...not pulling in a too strong way...but rather with an eager energy to go into that rein. It doesn't pull you out of the saddle, but I call it a "water skiing" feeling, where you and the horse simply must go forward together. At any rate, Chance had it this morning.
It's not quite all there at the canter, but on both leads his canter has a good soft feeling, with a relaxed forwardness and balance. And today, especially, his trot was something wonderful!
I "asked" Toby if he wanted to work by showing him the bridle. He started to make a hasty exit. Just as well because after riding the other two Boys, I was kind of tired.
Short but sweet rides. I schooled the two of them in about an hour and a half. Tucker, as a Thoroughbred gets fit quickly and he does work hard the whole time. With Chance, it's a balancing act. I don't want him to get too tired so he gets sour, and right now the main goal is to challenge his brain. No point in drilling a horse on an exercise he understands. Short and sweet is the way to go when training.
If the bugs weren't so bad, I could add some cross country work for more fitness. Then again, I suppose bucking and kicking and fussing at the wood flies and mosquitoes would be exercise......