Tonight when I got to the barn it was in the upper 70's, with a light breeze and cloud cover. I was ready to work on our stuff. Ashke bellowed his greeting when he saw me, eyes wide and nostrils flared. I went in and snuggled him for a bit, rubbing his head and neck right where he likes it. He was sweet back, both of us apologizing for being a bit of an asshole the past two days.
Pulled him out and gave him a good curry, working on all of the itchy spots and watching the hair fly from his belly while I chatted with the BO. A couple of times, Ashke pressed his face into my chest and heaved a big sigh of relief, while I scratched behind his ear. Melted me right away.
Then I got on and we walked for a good five minutes, in both directions, loosening and relaxing into the ride. I asked for a bit of a trot on a loose reins and he seemed really confused. I think he understands that we need some contact and he was looking for it, so I shortened my reins and we started some walk-trot transitions. We took a walk break and then did riding in a square for three rotations around the arena in each direction, while I worked on my hand and body position to help him manage a square turn. Then a break to walk again, telling him what a good boy he was being. The next trot set was serpentines, asking for contact and inside bend as we worked up and down the arena. Those were not as good as the square corners, but decent for the most part. We did a couple of sets of those, with a walk break inbetween, and then it was time to work on the canter.
I verbally told Ashke that we just needed to do a decent canter in both directions with a 15 m circle included and he could be done. He got pissy almost immediately, with pinned ears and swishing tail, but picked up the sweetest little canter when asked, which we rode about half way around the arena, where he promptly spooked and tried to bolt.
It's the same move he used at SQA in the arena there EVERY TIME I TRIED TO CANTER. And his behavior always worked. I quit asking for the canter. I was pretty lit up as I got him halted, made him back up and then trot in a circle back to the point where we lost the nice canter and asked him to pick it up again. I didn't lose my temper and I was very quiet in my ask for the canter again.
He cantered with his head in the air, fighting the bit, pogo sticking on his front legs and refusing to canter nicely. About half the arena later we fought our way to a stop and I yelled at him, then smacked him on the neck. He acted like he was being beaten to death (so dramatical) and could not believe I had whacked him on the neck (with my open hand - I do not carry a whip). I told him he wasn't going to get away with this behavior at this arena. Then I asked him for a trot. We did trot-canter transitions for eight circuits of the arena, with him changing gait every ten steps. He was begging for a break by the time I allowed him to slow and stretch.
When we turned to go in the other direction, his transition to canter was immediate and smooth. We did a couple of transitions and he was quick and responsive. I rode him in a 15 m circle and he maintained both his balance and his lead for the entire circle.
We ended on that note. He got stripped of tack and a nice cool rinse in the wash rack. Then tucked into his mash with kisses and carrots. I rode for about 40 minutes and the squabble only lasted about four of that, so I was pleased.
I think in part, Ashke is not really the most comfortable with a lot of contact. Or with a lot of leg. Getting him to do what I want without fighting is going to be an ongoing thing until he figures out that I am serious about pushing through until he gives me what I want. There is no reason why we can't get better at this except my horse has figured out how to bully me out of it. You would think that after four years of riding I wouldn't still need to argue with him about maintaining a balanced canter. He's been such a jerk that we haven't been able to do the spiral exercise except by accident. We did practice the stretchy trot at the very end of our lesson.
He gets tomorrow off and then I have a lesson on Weds. I wonder why he is so much better in lessons. . . . I wonder if its because he knows he's going to get called on his shit or if it's because I am more relaxed with someone else there.