"Wow! His neck's gotten even better!" Eric hollered to me as Sunny and I worked out way down the long side of the arena. He was retrieving another pair of horses for the farrier working in the barn. I hopped aboard at 10 AM, with my lesson on Buddy scheduled for 11. Well, at least the ride started on an up note.
Sunny was snorty, rolling his eyes at the sound of the sprinkler flicking off the greenhouse, and bouncing sideways at the familiar yellow flags flapping in the pasture across the rail. I did my best to put that energy to work, asking him to really stride up and stretch. Big circles, small circles, counter-bend reverses... I was curious to see if I could get Sunny stepping under himself as precisely as Trinity had for C. It felt good, but who knows.
When he was soft and a bit less inclined to gawp and swerve, I clucked him up to sitting trot and repeated the exercise. Some head flipping and some lugging, but for the most part not too bad. Working trot, ditto. When he was willing to carry himself for stretches at a time without hanging on me, I pushed his hip over, squeezed and kissed him up into a right lead canter.
My goal was to work on rate - I wanted to see if I could rate him back to a steady, slow canter without breaking. It was actually working pretty well. I was using the center of the arena, not the ends because one end hasn't been worked recently and has some crust issues, and the other end has ground poles laid out.
We were on the top end of the arena on the edge of the crusty stuff when... well, I'm actually not completely sure what happened, but one minute we were moving around at a nice easy pace and the next he was flailing around and tipping over. It felt like he tripped, and then when he tried to recover couldn't get traction behind or his feet back underneath him in front. I was no help, since the saddle - and my weight - was in the process of sliding forward over his shoulders - round horses don't have withers to hold the saddle when things go south nose-first.
An eye-blink later, I somehow had my feet out of the stirrups, and when he started to tip right, I just let myself roll left over his shoulder in the opposite direction. When I hit dirt, I just kept rolling, making sure I didn't end up under his feet. We both stood up at the same time. Sunny shook himself off, and nickered at me. I told him "whoa" and he stood there quietly while I checked him over and brushed the sand off of the two of us (well, except for the coating that ended up plastered to the mix of sweat and sunblock I had smeared on anything not covered, and the handful that came home in my bra...).
Once I had the saddle loosened and repositioned, I walked and trotted him - no apparent hitches in his giddy-up, so I got back on. We walked some until I was sure he was four-square under my weight. He seemed fine, so I cued for a lope again. Two easy rounds, staying well off the spot that tripped us up, then down to the trot and some nice serpentines and figure eights with Sunny still moving well and freely.
Wrap-up for the ride was walking the ground poles and some slow motion "spins" - basically, just asking him to yield his shoulder so that he's pivoting around one step at a time without moving his back end. He's starting to really get the hang of it.
When he was untacked and snoozing at the trailer, I took a minute or two to stretch, swig some water, and breathe a deep sigh of relief. Okay, maybe more than one.
A few hours later, I can safely say that I'll more than likely feel the left side of my back tomorrow, but other than that and a spot on the back side of my upper arm/shoulder that feels a bit sunburned - I think the sunblock rubbed off when I landed and then brushed the dirt off - nothing feels off. I'll head out and check Sunny later to see if he's stiffened up anywhere.
Details of my lesson on Buddy later - it wasn't nearly so exciting, thank goodness!