"Look: Softness is Joy"
-- Mark Rashid
Yesterday was my first experience with a show of any kind while riding Ashke. TMR put on a "just-for-fun" Hairy Horse Show and Shot Clinic. (I opted to wait for shots from my vet, probably some time next week). Classes were $20 and some of the money went to the barn and some to the Pinto Club. They offered three classes: Showmanship, Patterns and Dressage Suitability. Just for the record, I would rather poke myself in the eye than show Showmanship. Not that I don't think we could do well, but because halter classes were my bane when I was showing in 4-H and I have no desire to do so again. The second class, patterns, I will show in next time. The patterns were fairly simple and I think Ashke could have done just fine in them. The third class, Dressage Suitability, was actually a Show Hack class on the rail. The gaits were W/T/C at a collected, regular and extended stride. Cassandra explained to N and I that those gaits are third and fourth level dressage moves, and we aren't anywhere close to being ready to attempt them. So, basically, the class was five of us walking, trotting and cantering around the arena at speed. I think N and I were hoping for a more dressagey class and less of a "all hell is breaking loose" class.
Ashke worked on his anxiety level when working in an arena with a bunch of horses between him and Cali (it's a darn good thing they are not stalled next to each other.) He was actually pretty good for the entire time we were in the arena. After he was a little warmed up, we did trotting down the long side of the arena, a turn on the forehand and trotting back. We changed it up with turns oon the haunches and a couple of really nice shoulder-in movements. Once the class started, I tried to work on some of the stuff we are doing, like getting him to go long and low at the walk and a stretchy chewy trot instead of what they were asking for. Both of those are making progress, as is any lateral movement I am seeking. Ashke and I opted out of the canter to the right in traffic. We did do the canter to the left until he slipped in the sand with his hind leg and then I pulled him out. After the class was done, I did ride him to the right at a canter for about three circuits of the arena.
He picked up his right lead and his canter started out pretty nice, but then he started to want to rush. Instead of slowing him down or grabbing at his mouth, I just said, "Let's just try for joy, son. This should be a joyous, fun canter. Just joy. I trust you." I let off a little with my hands and tried to relax. He blew out at my words and his head came down, and we cantered. It felt to me like the best canter we've had to the right. Ever.
I had spent time on Friday thinking about this issue of cantering. Whenever I am on him and I consider the canter, we both get very tense. I can feel the tension flow up my back like concrete and regardless of how I try to talk myself out of it, I feel anxiety and some amount of fear creeping in under the low banked clouds. I thought back to when I used to ride, even on crazy-ass Keili, and my favorite gait was a canter. It was the easiest gait to ride, even bareback. Queenie was awesome at the canter. I was never afraid then. Even with all of the tosses (not really that many after I stopped riding Seabisquit when I was a kid - it was like I had hot glue on my butt) it was always my favorite gait. Now it is something I dread. (Proof it only took forty years for me to learn cause and effect.) All other things aside (back strength, framing, saddle woes, ring crowding, wind, etc.) I need to refind my joy.
See, Ashke doesn't know anything about my past or what has happened to me before. He knows of my weaknesses and where my body hurts, and like a good Companion, he is helping me work on those areas for healing. He knows I trust him and that trust flows between us at the W and T, but all he can sense at the canter is my fear and inability to relax. I'm not telling him that I trust him, I'm telling him the opposite of that. I needed a way to change our dynamic from fear (distrust) to joy (trust). Ashke responds so very well to verbal commands that I wanted to tell him out loud. His responding by lowering his head and blowing out told me he was willing to try. I tried to ride with joy, pushing the anxiety to the back of my mind, and let my body relax into the ride. I did find myself clenching a bit through my knees, but Ashke didn't mind. I asked him verbally to trot and he did, bringing himself back into a frame with no effort.
Yesterday was a step in the right direction.