Red has been working very, very well. After his warm up at the walk, he's completely sound in both directions and really using himself well. His last low-dose depo provera shot has clearly worn off - he's still on chaste tree berry - he's much more vocal about Pie and about demanding attention from me, and is more lively under saddle, as well as a bit more distractable. If he continues to be the way he is now, I won't give him another shot - he's perfectly fine to handle, comes right back to me if he's distracted and isn't aggressive towards the other geldings in the pasture. His "full" personality is pretty cool, and he's a blast to ride.
The wash stall issue has pretty much gone away. He sometimes hesitates for a moment, but is pretty much marching right in and having his legs hosed every day without a problem - our mud is just awful right now and we're about to get several days of heavy rain. He doesn't like or enjoy the wash stall, but just does it anyway.
Today Red had another triumph. We've developed a routine - I ride him in the afternoons after bring-in. That's well and good, but sometimes he needs to come in in the morning from turnout - for the vet or farrier - and it's good to mix things up now that his foundation is sound. I gave that foundation a pretty good test this morning, thinking that Red could handle it, and he proved me right. After riding Dawn (another very good ride), I slogged out through the mud to bring in Red and Pie. I had meant to bring them both in and leave Pie in the stall while I worked with Red, thinking this would make things easier on Red. But Pie was a long way off in the pasture, and Red was much closer, and the mud was very bad. No way to find out how Red would be by himself without trying . . .
Red came in with me with only a little reluctance, allowing me to hang on to his neck through the deepest mud - it's so bad I was worried about falling. We marched through the arena and into the barn aisle and I put him in his stall while I got our things out. At one point he tried to push on the halter - this was one of his old behaviors - and I told him no and asked him to back out of my space, and after that he didn't try anything like that again. His eyes were huge and he spent every moment in the stall screaming at enormous volume, presumably for Pie. One very important thing - if a horse is upset, that's fine, but behavior when I'm handling the horse - leading, in the stall, or anything else - has exactly the same requirements and boundaries. We followed exactly the same routine we always do. I went into his stall and led him out, after asking him to step back from the door. On crossties, he fussed and fretted, and all I did was pretty much ignore that, asking him to move over when needed if he'd swung too far one way. Foot picking was just fine - I didn't wash his legs this morning as they were mostly just wet, not caked.
We saddled up and led into the arena - the only variation in our saddling up routine was to leave him haltered on the crossties while I put his bridle on over the halter - just in case he might think about heading out when his halter came off and bridle on. His leading and ground manners were impeccable, although he was still very nervous. And we were all by ourselves in the arena - he's gotten used to that but it's not his favorite condition. I didn't do any ground work - I knew he was pretty revved up but thought he'd be just fine for me - his good ground manners were a sign, and he didn't disappoint. He stood perfectly still on a loose rein for mounting, which is what we do every day. We did our normal walk warmup, mostly on a loose rein. He was really moving out, but was extremely well behaved. His trot work was outstanding - very forward and soft, with excellent transitions - he was pretty amped, so there was more "spring" that normal, and I had to ask him not to extend too much - he's not quite fit enough for that. There were innumerable distractions - various arena doors must have opened and closed 20 times as people and horses came and went. He was distracted from time to time, particularly when other horses left the ring, but every time he continued to listen and pay attention to me and we kept right on working. When I asked, he stood still on a loose rein for as long as I wanted.
I think the fact that I just followed our routine for grooming and riding as if nothing was different or worth being worried about helped him, and he also settled into the work we were doing and that helped as well. He was certainly never relaxed, but there were moments when he came close - he did some nice stretch down work at the trot, and when we were standing still, he did some licking and chewing.
At the end of our ride, another horse came into the ring and he felt a little bit better about things, even though it wasn't a horse he knows. We didn't ride all that long - probably about 30 minutes or so - but he'd been so good I wanted to reward him. I took him back into the barn - he screamed once on the cross ties when he discovered Pie (still) wasn't there. His ground manners continued to be perfect while I led him back out to the pasture - I even led him partway out into the pasture, hoping he'd not gallop off through the mud when I let him go - no such luck, although he stood perfectly for me to take his halter off he was off like a shot through the mud - sigh . . .
I couldn't have been more proud of him, and told him so many, many times. The fact that he was able to be so good for me even when he was very nervous was just plain wonderful - he's a very fine horse. I think we'll be doing this morning ride on lots of days until it becomes yawn-worthy. He's also the type of horse that, as he becomes more fit, may benefit from being ridden twice a day - he likes to work and has a lot of energy and get-up-and-go.