I worked with all three horses today, and in all three cases we had a minor "event" that was a good indicator of where I was with each horse in terms of the horse being, or not being, soft inside. Any horse can spook, but the question is whether the horse has enough confidence in the leadership and direction of the human to look to the human for guidance - this will happen only if the human has provided consistent leadership and direction so that the horse will maintain that elusive "withness" - the live connection between horse and rider that is the meaning of a horse being soft on the inside - even under stressful or unexpected circumstances. I'm not there yet with my three horses - we're on a journey together that requires me to build and maintain the solidness of that connection with the horse - but I was pleased nevertheless with how each horse responded.
Drift and I have had two excellent work sessions in a row - his transitions are really getting good. The trot/walk transition is improving markedly - I want him to flow into walk without losing impulsion, and that has to come from me, otherwise he collapses into walk. He's beginning to offer up the start of some nice lengthening at the trot on a looser rein and is starting to stretch down. All very nice. And yesterday I was very proud of him - Scout and Fritz went galloping along their fence line - close to the arena where Drift and I were working - and Drift just stood there and watched them - good Drift! Today, while we were walking, he was startled by something happening in the adjacent community garden behind him - just get yourself a nice community garden as a despooking device! He did a spook/scoot, but very quickly stopped when I asked him, and we went immediately back to work without more ado - and he wasn't agitated or concerned as we kept working. Although at this stage of his training he's still sometimes nervous and prone to spook, the speed with which he recovers and goes right back to work without carrying nervousness forward is a good sign for the future.
Pie and I went on a nice long trail ride with Charisma and her owner. I rode him without his bug armor - it was pretty windy so the bugs, although bad, were bearable. We'll do more bug armor work in the arena before we use it on the trail again - I think the mask either impaired his vision and made him nervous, or some part of the covering moving in the corner of his eye bothered him and made him spooky. I think our arena work on staying connected yesterday made a difference - he was less nervous - but then so was I so that could be a big factor. We rode by some scary stuff - he looked, and not only that, wanted to go up and investigate - a flapping hand-made sign and a bicycle lying on its side with other things like a coat and bags strewn over it. We did some trotting to catch up with Charisma, who has a fast walk, although Pie's walk is now much improved - more stride length and nice swing. At one point heading towards home, Charisma's owner wanted to trot, but then Pie felt like he was being left behind and did a scoot/bolt. I stopped him as he getting up even with Charisma to pass her (maybe he thought it was a race? although in the past we've trotted with other horses on the trail). I think he was just worried about being left behind. I was pleased that he maintained his composure after that and wasn't more nervous. Charisma's owner and I will do some trot work together in the arena and also closer to the barn on another occasion. I was also pleased that this didn't worry me - I just kept on riding.
And then Dawn got a bit of work. She's been in heat - and when Dawn's in heat, she's really in heat, if you get my meaning. I don't even bother to ride her when she's in full heat - even grooming her in the barn aisle or picking her feet is difficult. She's come a long way from the extremely distractible horse she was when I started working with her, but when she's in heat all bets are off. But she's coming out of heat now, so we did a little bit of lungeing work - about 15 minutes. She needs the exercise for keeping the weight off and also for her hoof health. We did walk and trot work with lots of transitions, including halting. I used my body language and also verbal commands. She was very sharp and things were going well, when the last horse in turnout disappeared inside the barn - it was dinnertime and she knew it. She then threw a hissy fit - bolting on the line, and bucking. I just had her keep moving in a circle around me - it took a few laps of scooting/galloping/bucking for her to come back down. Then we went right back to work. Same thing in the other direction - she had another hissy fit and then we went right back to work. I didn't stop until I'd gotten some acceptable walk/trot/halt work in both directions, and then we did a little bit of leading work. She was compliant - holding things together - but not relaxed. That was the best we were going to do today, and it was good enough - for her to be able to do this instead of losing her mind altogether is progress.
All in all, I was pleased with how all three horses came back to me after their "events" - they're all in different places on the road we're on together in search of horses that are soft on the inside.