I worked with and rode all three horses today - the weather was about perfect - low 80s and sunny with some wind. Drift and I continued our work on consistent softening at the trot, and lots of transitions, and also experimented with leg yield - he does very well with this at the walk, but doesn't get it at the trot yet. He also gave me some very nice soft lengthening at the trot - almost extension, which he's certainly capable of.
Dawn and I continued our work on softening on circles and making sure there are no braces, and we also worked on shorter and longer trot - interestingly, Dawn really doesn't ever offer extension at the trot, even though her shoulder is nice and sloping - when she moves out at the trot you tend to get more elevation rather than extension. She gave me some very nice "big" trot as part of our work together to get comfortable with all sorts of trot. She also showed me how important riding the hind legs is in lateral work - I was able to get her to do very nice leg yield at the walk on a completely loose rein - the feel of her just effortlessly stepping under was lovely.
Pie and I had a specific agenda for our work session. I need him to be able to respond, and be "with" me, whenever I pick up a rein - this will mean that there's something I can do to help him if he's nervous or spooks. This, I guess, is what I mean by mental softness - the horse is able to respond and have a conversation no matter what the circumstances. We worked in the arena, starting with some leading work (making sure he was paying attention to where I was and my body language) and then did some mini-lateral flexion work. I'm not a big fan of big lateral flexions - nose to stirrup type of stuff - I think that can lead to gumby-necked horses who can bend their heads around while traveling straight ahead (and possibly running into things). What I was doing was something I got the idea about from Andrea at Mustang Saga - thanks!
This involves taking up a rein (while standing next to the horse) and putting a bit of pressure on it - the objective is for the horse to give, just a small motion but soft, to the pressure and also "acknowledge" you with a soft eye - there isn't a lot of motion involved but the softening, both mental and physical, are really profound. When I started working with Pie today in the arena, it took a number of seconds for him to acknowledge me at first, and not just stand there either checked out or distracted. Once I was getting that reliably, and also some nice soft backing in hand, I mounted up.
Pie and I then worked on blocking and redirecting "thought magnets" - horses in turnout, another horse leaving the barn and then riding off - visible for a long ways in the distance, people working in the vegetable garden. As he would start to fixate on a particular thought magnet, I would instantly direct him into a circle, looking for some softening in the lateral movement (without any pressure on the outside rein). We kept doing this until he was able to respond instantly when I asked him to "join" me with his thought and body. Then we did some trot work - Pie is, to be frank, a slug, so I used a crop as a secondary cue on my leg or the saddle. He did some decent work at the trot and I was getting some pretty nice intermittent softness. We did transitions as well, which helped keep him sharp. By the end of the session he was much more "with" me than he was when he started. This is beginning to give us a means of conversation if he should become worried on the trail. I haven't done much arena work with Pie, but it's clear we can benefit from it. I also may try him in a different bit - he's currently in the ported Mylar D which accommodates his large tongue, but he's doing a lot of chomping so something else may suit him better at this point.
My horse work today went very well with all three - I'll take that!