I can not begin to tell you how happy I am. . . .
The stables held a non-judging event tonight. They started with halter classes, then English, then Western Pleasure, Western Reining, barrels and poles. Ashke and I rode in everything from Western Pleasure on. He did fabulous!
We got there late and the Halter and English classes had already finished. I did a very brief groom (basically brushed the dust off), got him saddled and headed for the round pen. I wanted to do the Walk-Trot Western Pleasure class, but wasn't too excited about riding it without warming Ashke up first. Ashke was very excited to see the other horses and was very interested in what was going on. There was much head shaking and nose flipping as we worked in the round pen, however he did maintain his focus (pretty much) and walked, trotted and cantered for me. After a few circles in each direction in the round pen, I put the stirrups on the saddle and headed for the arena.
I have to tell you that since the night he threw me off I have felt scared on a very deep level. Cantering in the round pen has helped with that, but my underlying hesitation has been that he will suddenly explode on me and I won't see it coming. I want to be able to trust him to do what I ask, but have really been afraid to. The plan from this week has helped, because it has been safe and mostly calm and gave us both something to focus on. And I didn't feel the need to push it.
Tonight was an opportunity to push it for both of us. Ashke has never been ridden around seven other horses at one time. And I haven't had the pleasure of riding in front of so many other horse people in 40 years. To the outside eye it may have seemed like a low pressure environment but to me at least, it was anything but. And, my biggest fear was that Ashke would suddenly rediscover his bronc-atude.
We started with the walk-trot Western Pleasure. Ashke did very well with everything except backing. We still need to work on backing with me on his back. He does great from the ground, but tenses up and fights the request when I'm riding him. He picked up the walk and trot on command and stopped quickly when asked.
The next class was the regular Western Pleasure. I was very hesitant to ride it, and Chris came over to tell me that I could do just the walk and trot part of the class. I finally grabbed my fear in both hands and rode Ashke into the ring. There were eight of us. The other seven were doing a slow jog and a slow canter. Ashke and I weren't slow. Although the second time around at the canter, Ashke was on the right lead and in an easy lope. Grace (who was calling the class) said later that when we first took off it didn't look like I had control, but there was only one time (barrels) where I didn't feel like I had control of either speed or direction. Ashke just hasn't learned to settle into the stride and allow me to rate his speed when we are moving at the canter. He does that at the trot and I know he will learn it at the canter, we just need a little more time to work on it.
Grace broke the WP class into two groups and let us do it again, since there were so many horses. It gave each rider the opportunity to spread out and gain some ground. Ashke didn't pick up his right lead, but that's not surprising, since that is the direction he hates to work when we are in the round pen. It will be something for us to focus on in the next couple of weeks. Overall, I was very pleased in his focus, his willingness to listen to me, and how he did performing in front of the other horses.
After that class, we stood outside the arena and Ashke played with the lawn chairs that were set up by the fence. He kept picking at it with his mouth and managed to tip it over several times. He was also interested in trying to figure out what was in the empty cans of soda sitting around and what was inside the pizza boxes. He's so darn curious!
The next class was a Western Reining class. He only backed a couple of steps, but I was pretty happy with that. We trotted to the first pylon, which was directly in front of us. Stopped. Turned on the forehand (which is where the hindquarters move by the front hooves stay in the same spot) which he executed very well for something we'd never done before. He does understand moving his hindquarters away from heel pressure and he did that while standing still. We then cantered in a quarter circle to the next pylon, where he slid to a stop when asked. That turn was supposed to be on the haunches, which we kind of did, (eventually I would love for him to have a rolling spin on the haunches- but again, something to work for) and then we moved in a half circle at the canter. I knew he was on the wrong lead, but was more interested in him doing the pattern than trying to correct the lead. At the final pylon he slowed to a walk and walked out of the arena. I had such a huge grin on my face, it hurt.
The next event was barrel racing. I decided we were going to do everything, since it was all good experience for my boy. I was pretty impressed he was willing to walk the pattern around the barrels, since he has acted like the barrels, which are bright blue, are horse-eating monsters in disguise. We walked the pattern and I gave him an opportunity to sniff and shy at the barrels prior to trying to run them. He watched the other horses intently when it was their turn. When it was our turn he took to the gallop right away, but ran completely past the first barrel. His nose was up and it was the only time I didn't have control of his direction or speed. He calmed pretty quickly when I asked him to go easy (easy is my verbal cue to slow down without stopping) and turned back to the barrel. I was laughing breathlessly while we did the first two barrels at a trot, then an extended trot to the third and then a gallop back to the starting line. Our time was 49 seconds, which isn't bad considering we went through Siberia to complete it. Grace said later she was wondering if we knew the pattern when he first took off.
Finally, we did the poles. We had actually walked and trotted the poles one evening in the indoor arena so they were somewhat familiar. By this time there were only four of us competing. Ashke watched the other horses do the pattern and he was pretty excited to get out and gallop. The pole bending part occurred at a trot, since we are still working at our control at a canter. He did great! At the end of the pattern, I slipped off and loosened the cinch, then walked him out of the ring.
Ashke handled everything last night with poise (except one shy, when J picked up the pizza boxes and the other horses had all disappeared around the edge of the barn) and a willingness to listen to me. We attempted things we hadn't even considered in training and not once did he balk or refuse to try. J said she was watching him and his ears were up, he was engaged and interested in what was going on and even though he wasn't sure of what I wanted, he was willing to give everything a go.
Everyone congratulated him and me on how well he had performed. Most of the people there saw him when he first arrived nine weeks ago and can't believe he is the same horse. I fall in love with him a little more each day and marvel that an animal that was neglected so badly could turn around and grow into this relationship with me. I love his eye and his incredible intelligence. And I have to give a shout out to Arabians Ltd, who bred him, for giving him an optimistic view of life and an innate trust in humans.
New plan for this week: work the round pen for fifteen minutes and then move to the big arena for the rest of his work. Hopefully, Chris and I will get to do a trail ride later this week!