This is my second day in a row where I've felt myself shorten the reins and get back because I've got a lot of horse under me and the brakes aren't 100% responsive. Not in a bad way, mind you, but it's still a very strange sensation. I just don't associate Theo with being forward thinking. Up until pretty recently, I only saw glimpses of that behavior. Yesterday we were jumping and Theo was in 'game on' mode. Right on the bit, ready to make that long distance work. Today I'm not even sure what got him up on his toes. I could canter with ZERO leg. No kicking, reminding, begging, pleading. None. I got my canter and held him together with my seat so he wouldn't rush or get downhill. I practiced cantering with my leg completely off and it worked! I used nothing below the hip and he kept cantering! When I shortened his stride to practice our simple changes, I had enough forward to actually do it. I even got told to not be so conservative and to not shorten up so much.
Someone described him as looking like a carousel horse. Lots of lift and an arched neck while cantering.
I can work with that
This is my new reality. It's happened enough times at this point that I have to accept that this is now my horse. This forward, energetic beast is Theo.
Of course he's not suddenly perfect. He still wants to fight at times. He didn't like my very picky work on the simple changes so he decided he'd just canter in place and stomp his feet instead of stepping forward into the upward transition. Which is not good for him physically and wasn't going to do a thing for him mentally, so I had to boot him out of that. We trotted on a loose rein for a minute so he could reset his rather temperamental brain. At one point he swung his haunches and pinned his ears, letting me know that I'd crossed a line. He doesn't like being wrong and being corrected for fine tuning can tick him off. He did it right, he knows he did it right, why am I correcting him? Stupid human. I had to go back to the adjustment with a more delicate touch, even when he was trying to bulldoze his way through the exercise. Such a delicate little flower.
But I'll take those moments of rebellion and the moments of curling and playing with the front feet in exchange for this new sense of forward. It's even translating to other riders now, though not in the same way. He filled in for some twelve year olds that wanted to have a lesson bareback. There was much delighted giggling and bouncing about while Theo looked saintly and marched along. When the young lady asked to canter correctly (he is awfully picky about that these days), he stepped into it with no fuss or theatrics. But when she asked for more? She got it. Trainer A said 'not so much!'. The girls were tired at the end of the ride since he takes more leg and seat than they're used to on their ponies, but he cantered around the ring for them with no encouragement other than their seat and leg. Gave one of the moms a heart attack, though. That's a long way up for her little girl and was he really supposed to be going that fast?!
On Saturday he filled in for a lesson with a lady just coming back into cantering after back surgery. He was described as saintly.
I'm glad he's tempering his new enthusiasm with other riders. He can be quite powerful and he gave me a couple of transitions today that made my pulse jump. While I think it's amazing and wonderful and to be encouraged and not at all a problem even in a fat snaffle, it would freak out a less experienced rider. When I ask him to trot or canter and that entire front end lifts, it's very impressive. It may be time to invest in that little pelham for when we start doing fitness sets on the trails in the spring.
But I think I'm seeing the difference in his nutrition showing up in this steady shift in energy level. As I check my notes, it's increasingly consistent over the month of January. He has enough in the tank to make it through a whole lesson, I'm not cajoling him at the end for just a bit more. Powering along is fine because he's got energy to burn. He comes into the ring with some extra swing in his walk. I made his grain changes at the start of December and then added his alfalfa at the start of January. He's starting on Cocosoya this week to replace the top dress he's currently on, hopefully that will take care of some of his dry skin issues. As of next week, I should have his diet dialed in almost exactly where I want it. We'll see if I've overshot a bit on the available energy, might have to dial it back down in the spring, but I'm seeing the world of the possible.