Dawn had the day off. I rode both Red and Pie in the afternoon. Red and I faced some challenges. When we went into the arena, both big door were open to the outside - it was a beautiful winter day, with temperatures in the low 30sF, no wind, and bright sun. Red did a very nice walk warm up, and I focussed on "riding a headless horse" as described in my last post - it worked like a charm with him - we did turns, figures, and even walk pirouettes just with my eyes and focus up and my horse hind legs. At one point he was very alert about something outside the doors - I didn't see anything - and was both attracted to the doors and wanting to move away when we got there. We just kept working and eased up on the doors - that worked well.
Then two other boarders came into the ring and started lungeing/doing groundwork with their horses at both ends of the ring. That left us very little space to work in, as our arena is quite small. I'm not generally comfortable passing on my horse along the wall with a horse being lunged so close that there's almost no room to pass, particularly if the horse isn't under complete control. One boarder was vigorously snapping a lunge whip to get her horse to go, and the other was using a lariet rope to slap on her leg to get her horse to move - I guess their horses needed that in order to move out. Red, I expect due to some bad experiences in his past, gets extremely worried - even frightened - when whips or ropes are loudly snapped or slapped - he isn't yet able to distinguish between someone doing that to another horse and doing it to him. He was quite concerned, and we parked ourselves in a corner since there was really no where else to go. We stood there for a bit, and, although he was trying so hard to hold it together for me, his anxiety level got to the point that he gave a mini-rear - the reins were not tight - to tell me that he just couldn't cope any more. I dismounted and stood there for a moment, but that didn't reduce his anxiety - he started swinging around me and although he didn't run into me, he was very upset. If I'd had somewhere to keep him moving under saddle - doing circles or small figures to keep his mind occupied - he might have been OK, although maybe not. With our small arena, it just wasn't an option.
Since he was so upset, I took him out of the arena and we walked up and down the barn aisle with the big door to the arena closed. Just getting close to the door when the whip and rope were snapping, even with the door closed, made him so nervous that we had to go back down the aisle again. Once the boarders were done making noises, I took him back into the arena and remounted. He was nervous for a while but was able to stay with me and work, and his focus improved as we went. We did our usual canter straightline work and then moved on to trot - he was very forward and engaged and worked well. I told him what a good boy he was and put him away. (Later, after I rode Pie, I took Red back into the arena and hand-walked him around - his eyes were big but he was very good, and I hope it reassured him somewhat.) I felt bad that I'd allowed him to be put into a situation that was too much for him to cope with - this is the first melt-down he's had in almost a year, and a first at the new barn - but I was very pleased with how he recovered from it. His trust in me at this point is strong, but it still will only take him so far, particularly if I have no way to direct him while allowing him to move his body - we were basically trapped in a corner.
Neither of the other boarders seemed to notice that we'd had a problem, or if they noticed, to care, despite Red's visible agitation. That was a little discouraging, but I guess they had their own agendas and were going to pursue them no matter what. I'll just have to be sure to look out for my horse and my own safety without assuming that others will be look out for me and my horse - that's useful learning for me, even if a bit sad.
Then I rode Pie. Neither of the boarders who'd caused Red and I problems were in the ring any more. Pie was very, very good. I again worked on riding the headless horse. Pie's trot work was excellent - forward, with good bend and impulsion - and his canter work was outstanding. On both leads, we had the best departures from trot we've ever had - he just stepped easily into canter the instant I thought it - and he sustained the canter on both leads around and around the ring, stepping deeply into the corners with no real effort on my part - he made an excellent headless horse. After that ride, I felt a bit better - tomorrow is another day . . .