It's been about two weeks since the boys went to the trainer, and although she and I have communicated several times by text, e-mail and phone, today was my first visit up there. It was a really nice day - sunny and in the 70sF (most unusual for this time of year), so we were able to use the large (unfenced) outdoor arena. I helped her groom and tack them up, and then got to watch her ride both of them. We talked about where each of them was in their training, and what she had been and was working on with both of them. After she rode each of them for a while, I also rode each horse as well. I'm delighted with the work she's doing with both of them and how they're coming along - she's very focussed on getting the fundamentals right with them. I also brought them some new white salt blocks (they have access to free choice trace minerals), which Pie particularly appreciated, and also brought some Ultimate Finish for Drifter as he's started to lose some weight.
Since Pie was napping when I got there, we worked with Drifter first. She's not doing groundwork with him anymore on a regular basis since they worked through his issues with that, but we'll do some groundwork when I visit later as I'm likely to need it at times when he's more excited, such as when we move barns, and I'm not very experienced at groundwork. She mounted him from the ground (right side - she varies how she mounts) and put him to work. Now that he's through with his testing behavior with her, they're working on consistency of gaits and softness. He tends to be distractable and a "gumby horse" - his head and neck and body can become disconnected. He's naturally an uphill horse and a good mover with plenty of forward, but he does have to be ridden properly through trot/walk transitions to avoid falling on the forehand. So consistency, consistency, consistency - of softness of carriage, and of speed within a gait, and of straightness - she did lots of sets of slower walk, then faster walk, and slower trot, then faster trot, insisting that he stay soft and maintain pace whether she was on a loose rein or was riding with contact. His walk/trot transitions still aren't perfect - he tends to not move smoothly into them and each time he did that she stopped him and asked again until he got it right rather than just pushing him on into the trot after the beginning of the transition wasn't right. Due to his natural wiggly tendencies and until this is better, she hasn't been doing much lateral work with him other than making sure he's stepping under himself well on turns.
He's looking very good - the quality of his gaits has always been good, but he was really carrying himself and the lengthened trot was beautiful to see - it wasn't an extended trot but the elevation and reach were very nice for this stage of his training. She's done a bit of cantering with him, but wants to get the trot more solid before they do much more of that. She says he's been fine around other horses when working - no more distractable than a well-behaved stud. Then I got on and rode. I was riding in her Black Rhino trail saddle, and it fit me pretty well. Drifter immediately questioned what I was up to, even when I started to mount (perhaps he thinks Heather is his person now!) and she said that he will test me - he's that sort of horse and has learned to do these things because they've worked for him in the past. But after a few minutes, he did fine for me - I have to always, immediately and at every step, give him leadership, otherwise he immediately starts trying to make decisions for himself. Also, although I have to adequately prepare him for changes like transitions, I have to also not over prepare him as that gives him a window of opportunity to start thinking about what else he might do. He was quite focussed on Heather when I was riding, but we worked through that as well. After we turned him back out in his pen, he laid down and took a nap!
Then Pie was up. She says Pie rides like a very green horse. She spent several days just getting his backing up fixed - he backed well in the sense that he moved his legs and dropped his head, but there really wasn't much softness there. Then they had to spend time on the lunge until his breathing was working right, which allowed him to release the mental and physical tension he was carrying - she said he was one big brace. Yesterday when she lunged him, his breathing was good within one lap, so she says we probably don't have to do that anymore. His demeanor was relaxed and friendly, and he looks both mentally and physically relaxed. With him, the challenges are now making sure forward is there immediately on demand - no slow steps - and having him go where you direct him - straightness has been a challenge but without forward it was even harder. They've been doing a lot of softening work at the walk, some softening work at the trot - he can't sustain this for long as he's not strong enough yet and is using new muscles that have to develop, and working on lots of straight lines and figures to teach him to travel without wiggling or bulging out. He looked really good as well - the quality of his walk and trot are much improved and he looked happy. She says that the fact he naturally carries his head low when softening isn't a problem - that's just how he's more comfortable due to the way he's built and we shouldn't try to change it. She's not doing any lateral work with him yet since he's still learning to carry himself in the basic gaits and not physically ready for it.
When I got on and rode Pie, unlike Drifter, where it took me a while to get him working like he was with Heather, Pie just worked very nicely for me from the beginning. Although he's not as advanced as Drifter and doesn't have the advantage of Drifter's natural uphill carriage, he's easier in some respects because unlike Drifter he hasn't learned wrong things or evasions, and Pie is naturally easy-going. I have to be even more careful with Pie to make sure I keep my weight up and don't lean forward, as this will make it partcilarly difficult for him not to fall on the forehand, which he's inclined to do.
The plan is that next week I'll go up and ride both of them on Wednesday and Friday - essentially a lesson on each of them. They'll be staying with Heather at least until the first week of April. The question of how long they stay really depends on how far I want them along in their training. Her thought right now is that she wants Drifter completely solid at walk, trot and canter - and that means solid with me; and wants Pie to be solid at walk and trot and starting canter - once he's got walk and trot down canter's unlikely to be much of an issue. As weather permits, she's going to be taking them places, both on the trail around their place and by trailer to other arenas and trails. She says that now that Pie's released the tension, he's likely to mostly take things in stride. Drifter particularly needs more exposure to other situations. It's a plan, and it was sure nice to see those two chestnut faces!