I am convinced that I have three of the most wonderful horses that exist. All three were superstars today under somewhat challenging conditions. It wasn't that cold today - around freezing, but the wind was ferocious - it was steadily 20-25 mph with gusts to 45. Darn unpleasant. The recent snow/rain/somewhat thaw left the corners of the ring flooded and there were cones marking the edges of the flooded areas. The metal arena doors - two sets - were banging and crashing. The arena roof, when it's windy, makes a loud buzzing noise, and today the buzzing was extremely loud. There were points when the wind was so bad it was howling and screaming around the corners of the arena.
I was alone in the arena for all three of my rides - it's my favorite way to ride. I enjoy socializing at the barn, but not when I'm riding - that's for me and my horses, and I tend to lose my concentration (and the horses therefore lose theirs) if there are too many people in the ring, and being alone also means we can go whereever we want at whatever gait. Today was ideal - each ride, we were by ourselves, and the arena was freshly dragged before my rides on Red and Pie this afternoon. Every footprint in the arena this afternoon came from the three of us. None of my horses cared that they were alone - this is huge progress for Red. Dawn and Pie both had to deal with some distractions - Dawn with the tractor and spreader coming and going and doors opening and closing, and Pie with someone coming and going to get a horse from outside, and opening and shutting doors. All three horses had had a day off yesterday.
This morning, despite the noise and distractions, Dawn acted as though it were 80 degrees and nothing much was going on. She was soft, and relaxed, and responsive, and just plain wonderful. She did one small scoot when the arena doors loudly banged right behind her, but we just kept on riding and after a few strides her relaxed trot was back. For Dawn to be able to cope with weird stuff in the arena, and loud noises, is enormous progress for her - she was with me and for me throughout today and I told her what a wonderful and special mare she is - she knows it already and accepted the tribute with graciousness.
Red came to me as a nervous and reactive horse. Today he dealt with the challenges like a champ - riding alone without other horses used to be a big issue for him but he now takes it in stride. He was listening to the noises, but that was OK and we just went about our business - there was one point where the wind was really screaming, but although he was slightly worried, he stayed right with me and we just kept right on working. He's struggling right now with the first couple of walk/trot transitions - I'm working on not giving him anything to brace against, rather than holding him to keep him from sticking his head up in the air and balking - some bend to the left with the right rein relaxed may help. We'll keep working on this - it's partly his worry about his hocks hurting - and I expect pretty soon it'll just disappear. Poor fellow, he's sore when we start our trot work and I bet that feeds into it. I let him choose the degree of engagement and stride length for a while at trot. Today we also did some canter work on both leads after a while - this seemed to help him stretch out and be more comfortable, and the trot after that was much better. I told him that he was amazing - he agrees.
Pie and I also had an exceptionally fine ride. I hand walked him around the arena first in both directions - when things are to his left he tends to worry more - this may be a permanent neurological effect of the Lyme disease. In fact I did this with all three horses - there were wet areas with cones and also banging doors, to approach and examine. No one was overly concerned, but everyone appreciated the chance to look a bit before we rode. Pie and I worked today on him not "diving" at all three gaits. Pie came to me as horse who held his head and neck inverted - upside down. We've been working on softness and relaxed carriage, but his first impulse has been to go very low and even behind the vertical with his head when asked to soften. It's time to get this adjusted - I don't believe in messing a lot with a horse's head position, but Pie's was interfering with his ability to move, and he was falling on the forehand as a result. So today I started asking him to keep his head and neck a bit higher, so he didn't dive or fall behind the vertical. To do this, I kept my hands somewhat higher than I have been doing - that's all. He figured it out pretty quickly, and we had some wonderful work at all three gaits, with softness, but no diving. His bending was the best we've had yet, and his canter work was wonderful - he was able to do the corners and sustain the canter better than ever since he wasn't falling on the forehand by going too low and falling behind the vertical. I also told him he was outstanding - he seemed satisfied.
I couldn't be more delighted with all three of them. All four of us have our challenges from time to time, but we're a pretty happy crew and enjoy our work together, and our time together when we're not working. People sometimes ask me which horse I like best - it's an impossible question to answer - they're all special because they're each precisely and exactly who they are, different and delightful in their own ways. The relationship I have with each of them is deep, and full of trust and respect - in both directions - and the fact that they're each so different in personality makes it even finer - they are each so real and present to me it's hard to describe the intensity of our relationships.
Days like today make everything good - horses are about life, and life is about horses.