I went up to Heather's today to work with both boys. The weather was pretty stinky - a high of about 40F, rainy and windy - we worked in the indoor, which is very small, but got some very good work done.
Pie is ready to "graduate". He's far from finished, but he's made enormous progress. He softens readily and consistently at the walk and trot, and is now using his whole body - where he used to have a short-strided walk and a stiff jog, he now has the ability to do a beautiful, fluid, swinging walk, and a lovely, forward trot with a fair amount of elevation at both the longer and shorter trot. The transformation in the quality of his gaits is wonderful. Heather had me work him today as if I were at home, and only made a few comments, since we'll be on our own soon. I always need to watch my posture and head position, to be sure I'm focussing high to keep my weight and energy off his forehand. While warming up, while he's on a looser rein, I still have to "define the box" to be sure he doesn't brace at the poll and invert his neck. (It's amazing to look down at his neck now and see how the muscling has changed as he's developed a top line.) I need to always be very clear with him about direction and quality of gaits and not accept anything less than what I want. The ride went extremely well - his walk/halt/walk and walk/trot/walk transitions are consistently soft, and his trot is now immediately forward and starting to be engaged. We didn't canter today, as the indoor is too small for a horse at his stage of development to canter comfortably. Heather will be taking Pie and Drifter out to another arena and possibly to some other trails next week, and then Pie will be coming home with me next Friday.
Drifter and Pie both spent the session while I was riding the other tied. There was some fidgeting and digging holes to China, but both boys did well.
Drifter is like peeling an onion. He's doing very, very well, but Heather agrees that there is that 10% that he's mentally/emotionally holding back and doubting/not trusting - the resistance I talked about in my post from a day ago. He's often compliant with his body, but the inner softness is missing - he may have never had a person he could reliably trust to provide effective leadership. Part of this is physical - he is a horse who tends to overflex and overbend through the head and neck, while the rest of the body is disconnected. Due to his athleticism, he gives the visual appearance of softness - he's capable of elevation and extension, and he's not inverted, but he's not soft through his body and most of the action is below his hocks and knees, and he's not mentally soft. We expect he was ridden in a tight tie-down - the white hairs on the bridge of his nose and his tendency to go up with his head and brace is consistent with that, and he may also have been ridden in draw-reins and in general ridden too much from the front - his tendency to go behind the bit and over flex in his neck is indicative of this. So he's never really learned to let go through his body, and use his head, neck and body together - he's disconnected.
Today we worked on a number of things. First, we did some groundwork - he came into the arena pretty excited due to the cold weather. I watched Heather work with him, and then I worked with him. She helped me with my body position - keeping it parallel with his body and being very clear and directive with him - no wishy-washiness, but keeping my demeanor quiet and soft to keep the energy low. We also worked on keeping me moving - no standing still - and moving him around the whole arena. Since it was a small arena, I worked him in his web halter rather than the rope halter - when we're in a larger space such as the arena at the new barn or outdoors, I'll use the rope halter to make sure he stays within bounds. She also helped me practice inside turns - shortening up the rope slightly and taking a step to the inside to open a space for him to move in, but then changing my body position to direct him in the new direction. The groundwork went very well, and as we get closer to him coming home at the end of April, we'll do more in larger spaces to be sure I have that available in my bag of tricks.
In our ridden work, we worked on him stretching down and out at the walk and trot, and quality of gaits, to encourage him to connect the rest of his body to his head and neck. We also worked on my position and his transitions. We've got a pretty good handle on the "hop" he tends to want to make when transitioning from walk to trot - he's throwing himself into the trot for a couple of reasons - first, because I was tending to overweight his forehand with my posture and focus - Heather says he's very sensitive to where the energy is flowing and my driving the energy down with my eyes and posture isn't helpful; second, because his head and neck have been disconnected from his body, his movement isn't truly engaged which makes stepping into trot a big effort; and lastly, because of my earlier insistance that he trot "now!" (regardless of how poor the quality of the transition) - he isn't ready for this yet since the quality of the transition needs to be established. So, we focussed on my interrupting any walk/trot transitions that weren't right before they even got started, and waiting until the walk quality, stretching down and softness were just right to ask for the upwards transitions. We got some lovely transitions by the end - he seems to be figuring out that he can flow into trot without hopping.
Heather thinks that Drifter, when things start to break loose mentally and physically, will make a dramatic change - we're close to this but will continue to peel the onion until we get there. Sending the boys to her for training was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It was a very, very good day with the boys.
And for more about my ordering a new saddle, and some photos related to that - as well as a gratuitous cute kitten photo - see the previous post.