I had an awesome time with Aspen today! First I have to comment on our GORGEOUS weather - beautiful warm sun and only a light breeze. Aspen was different from the moment I got out of the truck today, just relaxed and calm - actually looked like she was enjoying being groomed today. She even started snoozing and dozed through me soaking her mane and tail in lavender baby oil. :)
My goal for today was to have a 'no dust session' in which we focused on more refinement in the games or patterns at the walk and for me to really notice and honor each of her thresholds as to avoid her getting hot and eventually turning RBE.
I took advantage of our breeze by tying up the tarp to the fence knowing eventually it would start flapping and I could use it as surprise stimuli in which I could reaffirm my place as alpha in the herd and help her gain confidence by using approach and retreat with the tarp. I don't have anyone to assist me in flapping things or opening and closing an umbrella so I must find more creative ways to get the same effect - and the wind and fence were perfect for that today. We were barely in the arena for 5 minutes when the wind picked up and started snapping my tarp. Aspen at once noticed, head went up, eyes went glassy and she was on danger alert. Had we been closer I am sure she would have started running around but we were pretty far away, so I asked her to walk with me forward and when she needed to stop we did, waiting for her to make a change (eyes blinking, breathing, licking, etc). At each change I offered to her that we get closer until finally we were right next to the tarp. After smelling and pawing at it a bit she started nipping it and investigating. Throughout the rest of our time together I brought her back to the tarp numerous times to reassure her that it was a safe spot and a place of rest, which I didn't really need to do much after the first approach/retreat with her. It built all the confidence she needed so that it didn't bother her again for the rest of the day!
We then moved on to doing the Figure 8 and Weave at the walk which went really well, the trot was great too - she's almost turning too soon and missing our markers for the 8 so I am getting particular that she maintain her momentum around the turn and push into the change of direction. So much better though than having her blast around them and entirely not change direction at all!
She offered to put her right front on the tire again - just have to figure out how to get her other front up there too. :) It's cool because when we get near the tire she really aims for it and gets very proud of herself for pawing it and stepping on it. She really looks at me with a big question, like "how did I do?!"
Our Sideways was really good too with and without a fence. Ever since the day I put a ton of focus into the Sideways it's been substantially better since. Note to self: FOCUS MORE! :)
We played with some traveling circles which she struggled with for a while. She really wanted to come into me and got a little put off when I'd ask her to maintain the circle. At first it was a little started/fear and then it turned into a whole lot of sass. After a few re-sends she got it and stayed on the circle and maintained a really enthusiastic draw!
Then - this is the exciting part.... we played at Liberty in the arena for the first time today!!!! I love playing at Liberty because if you go slow you can really see where things first start to fall apart that you'd otherwise miss with a rope on until something much bigger is falling apart. Subtly is key here. We had a tremendous stick to me, a little sideways, a little driving, backed about 20 feet out and over a pole then trotted back to me, and our big one was our FIGURE 8 AT LIBERTY!! It was at the walk and was a little oval shaped around the markers but she did it! It deserved a Winnie's Cookie - which I'm pretty sure made her entire week. I think I have a Winnie's Cookie addict now, I'm not sure she'll ever eat a carrot as a treat again. :) At one point while trying to move her hind end away I kind of lost her and she drifted away to the other end of the arena. I purposefully walked toward her about half way down the arena then changed direction and ran off. I looked back to see her galloping after me!! I ran as fast as I could until she caught up to me when I hit the brakes and so did she - stopping right with me. I didn't lose her again after that! :)
To end our session I wanted to play with mounting her. I left her bareback and stood on a water bin so I could approach and retreat with putting my leg over and off of her. It took about 15 minutes but I was able to get a leg over and sit down (simultaneously giving her a WC) without a grumpy face. Before getting to this point where I got on Aspen all of a sudden released a lot of tension - starting yawning A LOT, licking and chewing, and blew out a little. All good signs! I rode around in a couple circles, laterally flexed, disengaged the hinds, and brought her back to my water bin so I could dismount. I still don't have 100% permission to ride but we're getting there. It's interesting because she'll be a little unconfident or RB about things but when it comes to mounting and dismounting she gets very defensive and LB/dominate about it. I must make sure that while I'm respecting her thresholds and gaining permission to be on her back that I am also maintaining my leadership role as well and stay assertive - be as soft as possible but as firm as necessary.
Here are a couple pictures of Aspen today - doesn't she look great?! Gaining weight, shedding out, and is looking sharp. :)