40 mph winds this weekend were a touch on the wild side for riding, so I'll give myself an out on that. Even J and C didn't ride, and they're pretty diehard. Monday was clear, crisp and still - with a high of 23' - but when I went out to check the horses, it was so gorgeous the cold didn't register. I probably would have ridden if I'd taken a saddle along.
I was sure I'd ride Tuesday - it was supposed to be in the high 30's, and for winter in SD, that's darn pleasant. Except I made the mistake of looking at the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.... Solidly in the 50's! And by that I mean practically 60'.
So I wimped out on Tuesday, but I did ride yesterday. Since I have a lesson tonight and Sunny's had nearly a week off, I kept it slow and worked a lot on bending and flexing. Funny to think when I started this process a few months ago I was keeping things slow because neither of us had a lot of control and I didn't want him getting away from me. Now it's really only at the canter that we're still struggling consistently with collection. Collection at the walk is hugely better, and yesterday he was finding the sweet spot at the trot, too.
I asked him for a couple of left lead canter transitions to build some energy, and got them. They didn't come as promptly as they should, but better than they sometimes have, so...
Unfortunately, I'm still not comfortable feeling things, and I end up looking down more than I should to check my diagonals, etc. Which isn't the greatest thing for muscle memory.
Sunny still felt just short in the front right, and right bend seemed tougher for him. But he didn't seem put out or sore - he was rolling the bit around and slobbering, and his ears had that lovely floppy look to them that they get when he's relaxed and focused on what I'm asking for.
I focused on bend at the walk, with minimal trotting and no canter in that direction. After warm-up, it was probably 40 minutes of work, but since I was working on homework (bend, soften to collection, commit, release and stretch down ) and he seemed to be getting it there was plenty of "release and stretch down". Even at 57', it wasn't a sweaty workout by any means, and he barely had damp patches under the girth when I unsaddled.
Thunder napped by the trailer with no banging or fuss while I worked with Sunny, and then stood nicely to be saddled. I need to do some digging through my extra headstalls and find one that fits him better, as well as a different snaffle. At this point he's just packing it, but I don't like the way the browband on the one I've been using sits - it's way to high by his ears, and it's made so it doesn't adjust up there. And the bit squeaks. He doesn't seem to mind, but it was annoying me.
Anyway, I let him wear it while I lunged him - 5 minutes or so in each direction. Just long enough to see that he didn't have the sillies and make sure the saddle was sitting comfortably. He was quiet and attentive in both directions, so I moved on.
He needs to learn to give his face. Right now, when he hits pressure on the halter he gives immediately, but he's having a hard time with the concept of "bend". Instead of turning his head, he tends to back up. So I worked on that with the reins snapped to the sidepull rings on his rope halter, and the clicker. Which comes in very handy for reinforcing steps (or looking) in the right direction. At the point of progress - a few turns in a row to each side without the feet moving - I moved on to something else. He'll process, and next time will be better.
On to the next sticky point... forward. He's used to being led from the ground. Someone else's visible actions signal to him to walk on. And he does - but from on top, there's no visible cue. He has to walk off from a cluck and heel nudge. And right now a heel nudge means pretty much nothing except move away. So I worked on that - standing beside him. Cluck and bump gently with the stirrup, walk a few steps and "whoa". At first, the bump triggered move away sideways, since that's what he's always been asked to do. But after a couple of repetitions with the clicker, he was starting to get it.
On to mounting and dismounting. He's still thinking about it, but he stands relaxed and quiet. Once I'd gotten on and off a few times, I asked him to bend again from on top, keeping my legs very quiet and just vibrating the left or right rein. I could almost see the "click" in he head when he realized what I wanted and his nose started coming readily around to brush my boot toe.
Forward was tougher, and I'll reinforce there with more groundwork next time. But we did manage a few forward (and more sideways) steps than backwards ones this time. He's trying.
Unfortunately, the farm owner didn't realize who I was working with, and I was still on top when she let Aisha, her mini-dachshund, out. I heard the squeak of a hinge and Aisha's low-slung pudgy body exploded out of the house to the tune of her usual "hello world, you'd better get ready" barking. Thankfully, we were facing that direction, because when Aisha realized I was there she raced right over to dance around Thunder's feet. He's used to her, and wasn't too concerned, but with all her darting to and fro through the weeds and barking, I lost his complete attention. Time to stop for the day. A solid hour with him, though.
And believe it or not, I'm sore today. Not my seat bones, but my legs - must have been all that bending and flexing with Sunny. Apparently I used some unfamiliar muscles groups in a more controlled way, as well - LOL!