1. Consistent Riding Time - I am really good at consistently getting five rides a week on Ashke. Typically, this means Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It sounds like a lot, but I manage to combine my ride times on Saturday and Sunday with some sort of activity with the fam. Mondays, for right now, J is taking lessons, so we do the barn together, which leaves the Freshman at home with his Xbox. That's right, T is now a Freshman and well on his way to making his goal of entering the Colorado School of Mines in the Fall of 2019.
Ashke is really good about accepting five rides a week. It has been months since I needed to lunge him or do anything other than tighten the saddle and step on. Sometimes he is a little up, but if I walk him around the arena in both directions while asking him to use his back, he settles right into work. If we are on the trail, he's perfect. He likes to go. He seems to like the work. He is always eager to see me and happy to be out of his stall.
2. Walk and Trot - These gaits are very solid. Ashke has a free-swinging walk and he can really cover ground when he wants. His transitions to trotting are solid when we are working in the arena and his extended trot is big enough he can keep up with Cali when we are on trail. (I can't, however. I need more stamina.) Six months ago, when he anticipated the shift into a canter, the trot was difficult to steady and he would lose his rhythm, becoming choppy and rough. That has gotten so much better as we have cantered more.
3. Back Pain - This is a thing of the past. The Alta Escuela was the best purchase I have ever made and I am so glad I was introduced to this saddle by Saiph. We are both incredibly comfortable and Ashke is very receptive to leg pressure and seat aids in it. My confidence is bolstered by the knowledge that 1) he's not going to deliberately try to get me off, and 2) I can ride out a major spook or temper tantrum.
4. Cantering - Both in the arena and on trail, this gait has become so much more balanced. Ashke has gained strength in his back and hips, so much so, that the cross-cantering is much more of a habit now than a necessity. I really believe his resting his LH and the cross-cantering (always to the left now, when his hip becomes tired and he doesn't want to push off on the right hind leg) is do to habit. He doesn't do it on trail, unless we are cantering and I neck rein him to the right and he switches in the front.
The other thing that has gotten so much better is cantering on trail with someone in front of us. The ride I had after dark with Michelle, she took off in front of us at a canter. For the first two strides Ashke wanted to gallop off after her, but when I asked him to slow and listen to me, he did. I rewarded that wait by allowing him to hand gallop up behind Voodoo once we were in the clear. He is beginning to understand that I am not holding him back out of fear, so much as I am holding him back for safety reasons. He is so much more rate able than he was three months ago.
In the arena, we have been working on balanced circles, balanced on the long sides of the arena, and canter transitions. I bounce between "canter for long periods of time" and "do lots of trot-canter transitions". I figure both work. We have started adding in the smaller (10m) circles we will need to be able to do if we want to compete in L2. We are doing the first circle to the right, then a simple change and a circle to the left. He has figured out the size, we are just struggling to keep our impulsion without rushing, because when you rush a small circle, it becomes decidedly bigger.
Winter is coming . . . this will be the winter of canter.
5. Wash Stall - This is no longer a deal at all. He walks in behind me like he's been doing it for years. There is no hesitation (except when the horse that was just in there has peed a river or there is standing water over the drain). Even with a slight hesitation, he still follows me in and stands comfortably to be rinsed off.
6. Hoofs - Ashke got ten days off with no riding and he is back to not being ouchy on his front feet. I ordered new blue boots from his hinds and I can tell you he is so much more comfortable in them. J says he is breaking over much more quicker and not landing flat when he strides forward. He is tracking up very nicely. We did a long ride last Saturday and he played in the arena on Sunday with no issues.
7. Trailering - Saiph was right. Ashke figured out that trailering was fun (although he is always happier to ride with Cali than alone) and walks on the trailer like nothing. Walks off without panic. Seems to enjoy our little adventures.
8. Body Condition - Despite the dip in his overall appearance earlier this summer, Ashke has responded well to the adjustment in his feed. He is working hard when we ride and just needed more groceries. I hope to be able to keep the pace of his work outs up, so he remains the ripped beast he is today. Although he could do to fill in behind his left shoulder.
9. On Trail - Ashke has improved so much in his ability to traverse trail, whether it is singletrack or mountain draw, that many rides we don't even have a single stumble or trip. He is very sure footed and although I am not confident enough to trot down a steep, rocky trail, I am sure he would be fine. He has proven over and over again this summer that he wants to take care of both of us. He knows now that I will let him take care of us on the trail, and I know he will listen and let me decide the speed we should go.
He still spooks at the same things though - rocks and strange bushes. I have gotten really good at feeling the strain come up through his body and I just tighten my outside leg, sometimes adding a little heel, to let him know I have "heard" his concern and he can just keep going forward. I keep my focus on what is in front of us, instead of looking at whatever he is looking at. The amazing thing is, he does. Especially at the canter. We just breeze by and look for the next thing.
Can we just take a moment and appreciate how good he looks?