Did our warm up of backing on a circle today keeping in mind that backing is a GAIT and therefore the horse should maintain it on their own (thanks to the reminder from 3* PP Jenny Trainor). I have started to realize that I must have some life in my body when I ask my horse to move his feet and maintain it in order to eliminate the need for a stick and rope in the future. Now this doesn't mean nagging or coming out of neutral - I can be neutral without being a sack of potatoes. It's like riding - you ask your horse to canter and while you don't keep spanking and kicking him to go you do RIDE the canter not just SIT the canter. So in effect I must "ride" the gait I want from my horse while on the ground... I hope this makes sense! So for me I wanted to work on being more conscious of my body language, energy, and intent and for Aspen I wanted her to up her level of responsibility. I moved away from the fence a little farther this time and asked for her to back up - I really only needed to use my stick once or twice to reinforce that she should maintain backing on her own (while I kept my life up in my neutral body) and twice to protect my space a little as she wants to get really close to me while backing around. I think she's trying to offer sideways toward me here - and I fully recognize and appreciate her offer and effort but this is where I need to be more clear about what body language means back around me and what means come to me. I was really pleased with the circle today and pretty proud of both of us for being able to do the majority of it without the rope or stick!
We also did a little sideways toward me as we have been for part of our warmup... I think that this is better done after playing a little bit to get her interest up and having established a little draw. She's getting the steps down but they aren't as fluid as I'd like and I think we've stalled out on being progressive with it. So next time I'm going to do this toward the mid-end of our session and be more particular about not drifting forward and getting a full side step rather than FQ and HQ coming over.
Had some great changes of direction and transitions on a circle today (45' line). She even offered to start backing on the circle at one point after I'd asked her to halt. It's cool she's putting things together and she's giving me lots of positive ears and green lights to keep teaching her things. It's been very rewarding to have her confidence up as much as it has been lately. I really had to work hard to learn what to do with a RBE when I first bought her and now it's nice that I've learned so much from her but we're getting more centered so she's more often Left Brained and easier to teach.
The figure-8 is going well. I think now what I need to focus on is straightness in our back up to start the pattern and a better send. The quality of the circle or pattern will not exceed the quality of the send so next time I'm going to have a stronger focus on this and I think the continuous nature of the figure-8 will be more apparent once we have established a better send off. She is getting her lead changes effortlessly and it's so fun to watch her display her natural athleticism in this way. She's also been a super star about jumping the single down barrels - she's getting two in a row now (in a line) so may have to see about what we can do to be more provocative and progressive here as well!
And the last thing I did today was to start teaching Aspen is to back up between two barrels so I can mount. To begin this I made sure we could back between the barrels on the ground. Then I stood on one barrel and had her yo-yo a few steps back and forth between the barrels. Next I got her to go pretty much all the way out so just her tail was at the edge of the barrels and got her to back up between them to an appropriate position for me to mount if I had one foot on each barrel. At one point she got too far out and couldn't figure how to get herself back in. She got worried and tried a lot of things besides going backward. I finally got her to stand perpendicular to me and then with the moves we've been developing with backing on a circle and sideways toward we had enough tools and techniques to get her to step her front end around so she was now parallel to me (we're both facing the same way, me standing on the barrel and her tail pointed between the two barrels) and got her to back up to position. It was very challenging for both of us and it's safe to say we both did a lot of licking and chewing after that. Aspen also did lots of head shaking, yawning and blinking too. A big moment for her!
With all that we played with on the ground I wanted to keep our ride pretty simple. I just asked for some backing, HQ and FQ yields all with the neck string or stick, and then a little FTR at the trot and a circle at the canter (yes! bareback!). She was great, albeit a little distracted by some rogue antelope running around, and I have high hopes for continued progress on our next ride.
Have I mentioned I love my horse yet? Because she's such a super star with a big heart! Love this girl!!