I somehow managed to get in rides on all three horses yesterday. I rode Dawn in the morning before I drove to Wisconsin. She wasn't all that thrilled to be collected from turnout - she played "keep away" for a few minutes - cantering away whenever I got close - but I just calmly kept walking to where she was heading and she finally sighed and gave it up. We had a very nice ride in the outdoor, although it was very breezy. Her trot work was much better - she was able to consistently soften and was able to do some pretty nice shortening/lengthening work at the trot as well as some good transitions. I think she's feeling much better about where her body and legs are and she seems much more willing to use her hindquarters. If things continue as they're going, I'll think we missed the bullet on the EPM by catching it so early and getting her treated right away. The EPM researcher, Dr. Ellison, is intrigued by the very fast responses some horses like Dawn are having to the medication - it is possible that the EPM organism isn't just causing nerve damage - which would take longer to resolve - but is actually secreting some sort of substance (like a toxin) that impairs nerve function before more long-lasting damage occurs. So, in a horse in the very earliest stages of infection, eliminating the infectious organisms eliminates the nervous system (gait, balance, proprioception) issues directly since nerves don't have to regenerate. It's all very interesting to me, but I'm also just glad that Dawn's feeling so much better.
After releasing Dawn back to turnout, I drove up to Wisconsin. I groomed and tacked up Drifter, and took him out to the big outdoor and got on. The wind was gusting very hard, and he and I were both nervous, after our mutual bolting episode last Friday. He's such a sensitive horse that his and my nervousness were feeding off one another, and he was feeling pretty tense to me (as I expect I was to him). So I got off and had Heather ride him for a bit to help him settle down a bit and for me to start breathing again. Then I got back on. Heather's advice is to ride him as if he were trustworthy - which he has been 99% of the time - that feeling will get communicated to him and will help his self-confidence and calmness. I've had to do this before with Dawn, so I know what she means. I also worked on staying in the moment (not, "he might bolt" but rather "what is the quality of this walk right now and am I happy with it or do I want to change it" - this keeps us both focussed on a task and not on maybes). It all worked pretty well and we had an excellent ride.
He did a new thing today with both Heather and me - he was frequently trying to invert his head and neck and bracing. It could be a number of things, but Heather thinks it's us encountering another "layer" as we peel the onion. It was almost as if he were looking for the tie-down that we expect he used to be ridden in when asked to "perform". Each time we ask him to do something new or "more" there are new behaviors that arise. These are all essentially him being unsure and worried, and when this happens his tendency is to try to take control in order to keep himself safe. The inverting is a more exaggerated form of his old tendency to brace upwards. All of Heather's and my work with him is about improving his confidence in himself in partnership with his rider. We both think he's making excellent progress, although it's a slow process as he's got 10 years of baked-in stuff that we have to work through. Over the next month she's going to take him to as many different places and situations as she can so that he can learn that he can rely on his rider to stay calm and focussed and keep him safe, and that he can focus and work no matter what else is going on. She and I both think he's a wonderful little horse with huge potential and that we'll get there with time and patience.
Then I drove home and rode Pie. He's continuing to do very well - his walk and trot work are pretty solid and his canter work is coming along. Yesterday, in addition to our usual stretch down and don't travel inverted work at the canter, we also did three steps of softening at a time, followed by a longer rein and just stretching down, and then repeat. It's work for him to carry himself softly at the canter, and we'll stick with just a few steps until this is easy for him, and then we'll gradually add a couple of steps at a time. He understands what I want, but it's just a matter of him developing balance and strength to be able to do it for longer periods.
It was a great day with horses, but I was certainly tired when I finally got home . . .