We walked the few hundred yards up to were the fenceline divides the farm from the neighbor's pheasant hunting fields. They'd mowed last fall, and there are lovely, grassy, car-width trails winding around about a mile square area quartered by a four-way intersection smack in the middle. It's great for riding, and I figured I'd at least have a soft landing should I part ways unexpectedly.
Sunny's familiar with it, although it's been a while, but when he stepped out nicely onto the grass, I asked him for an easy trot - walking is just asking for trouble. For about a half mile he jogged along on a loose rein, which was great. And in fact, other than a couple of understandable sidesteps when pheasants exploded up from under his feet, he was doing great. We even had a nice canter up the little hill.
Unfortunately, as we bent around the curve that takes you off toward the road and a crossing to the next section, he got squirrelly. I think, had we had company, he'd have been fine, and had I really gotten after him, he'd have been fine. But I wasn't quite that brave. We did circles until he decided to focus a bit better, but he didn't want to come back to me, and the circles bulged increasingly hard toward home. And then there were deer, and bagfuls of small, really annoyed birds - hopefully we didn't upset any nests!
After a bit it was pretty clear I wasn't really accomplishing anything, he just kept getting more anxious (oh, for a really, really, really long hill climb to send him up!), so we did half-halts until I got a good whoa, and I got off.
I circled him some more on the ground, and then we meandered back toward home for a ways. He didn't pull, didn't try to run me over, but he had that anxious look around his eyes. After we got through the longer grass, away from where we kicked up the deer, I got back on - he stood nicely on a loose rein - and we practiced making some more big round circles. Then we walked home. Any time he wanted to go faster, we did some more circles.
So I copped out and got off. But on the plus side, I got back on. I suspect a big part of him getting high was my fault, because I was almost expecting him to try to take off for home once we turned.
Anxious rider, anxious horse.
And once I was holding him back, that just made things worse. I do need him to come back to me, but I also want to keep that lovely, forward going horse who moves right out with his ears up and minimal contact.
And bigger picture? He was happy to go. Not one whinny, not one balky step. The first half and the last quarter of the ride went great.