Sometimes I think my biggest challenge, other than losing weight and getting back into riding shape, is relearning how to ride without fear. I don't trust that I will stay on if something happens and Ashke spins or bolts. I know this is due to past crashes and the two times I have been thrown since I started riding him. I can say that he no longer feels like he wants to come out from under me. He feels like he wants to do more and more - mostly outside the arena.
Yesterday was T's first day of 7th grade. J and I took the day off so we could take him to class and pick him up at the end of the day. That left time during the day to play with the horse (and run errands). Ashke was scheduled to be in the pasture with Stoli from 11 - 1pm, so we ran errands first and ended up back at the barn at 1:15. That didn't leave a ton of time. I groomed Ashke and spent some time playing with his mouth. He almost suckles on my hand, pressing his lips, teeth and tip of his tongue against my palm. Then he opens his mouth widely and tries to bite (not seriously tries - more like trying in slow motion). I keep my palm flat against his upper lip, which prevents him from getting his teeth onto anything, and then he starts to lick. He licks my arm from my mid-forearm to my palm. Silly boy. It makes him relax, as does rubbing his ears and the sides of his face.
We are still having issues with tightening the girth. I have started rewarding him standing still for the girth check with peppermints. I don't expect it to take long to get him exhaling heavily in order to get his peppermint. He was great in the round pen. There were some high spirits, but no intense argument. Walk, trot and canter on command. When I moved up to him to ask him to back, he took the carriage whip in his mouth and held it while he backed up.
We moved to the big arena. He is getting more and more steady under saddle and responds so well to positive re-enforcement (read: peppermints). He stands at the mounting block without moving until I give him his cue. We are working on moving away from my leg pressure and I have him able to turn his haunches while leaving his front feet in place in both directions. I had J put up some poles so we could work through them. I am weighting my stirrup on the side I want him to turn toward and he is beginning to get it. We worked the poles and around the arena. Our canter was fairly smooth and although he turns his ears back when asked, that is the only sign of grumpiness he has. He does tail swish when I use my heels, but I am trying to make the cues as small as possible, more of a turn in of my heel, then any real pressure. My saddle is very close and the contact is good between my legs and his sides.
I finally relaxed at the canter for one circuit around the arena. We are doing great at the trot and I am sitting it (what I am used to) even when he gets a little jiggy. Now, I just need to get real comfortable at the canter. He moves differently than the last horse I rode. We just need time to get on the same page and I am much more interested in adapting to him as much as having him adjust to me.
The only other issue we are having is his leads. I tried to work with him on it in the big arena, but everytime I asked he was cross cantering on the right lead. I am going to have to move back to the round pen and work on my cueing for the right lead. He will automatically pick up the correct lead in the round pen because it is small enough to force him to canter that way. Once he has the cue down, then I can move him back to the big arena and work him in that space. A forsee lots of peppermints as reinforcement.