I kind of miss having a horse I can drill on endlessly and she was okay with that. Shoulder in not quite what I was thinking I wanted? We can do it again, no problem. Lengthen across the diagonal? Oh, yes please, as many times as you want. Most of the TBs I've ridden have that 'yes, work the body!' flavor. They like to stretch and work and be challenged. Nothing happier than a TB that's worked hard in a positive way. Every day she came out looking for work. Even when we were having trouble with cramps, she wanted to work. She just didn't want to use that part of her back.
Mi papi? That's a different discussion. I slithered out of the saddle yesterday with hips and abs and thighs all aching. Mostly abs. Theo is now strong enough that we can work on forward being up as well as traveling forward. His hind end can start taking the weight back enough to change his way of going. That doesn't mean he's actually keen to step into this new way of working. As Trainer A put it, Theo likes to know I'm working just as hard as he is.
We also have matching concentration faces. Trainer A thinks its funny, even if we're both in danger of biting our tongues.
He doesn't really stick his tongue out or waggle it around. You can just see the tip of it between his lips when he's working very hard at something. Combine that with his soft, listening ears and you know we're having a good moment.
Poor papi couldn't figure out what I wanted in the middle of the lesson, weaving between the ground poles in a serpentine at the canter with 15 meter loops, and kept barging out or jumping poles instead of going between. We had to trot the pattern about a dozen times so we could figure it out and quit trying to make it complicated. Sure, that worked, but he shut down mentally. It was boring. He got that glazed over expression and didn't really notice when I half halted. We've gotten pretty good at identifying when he's checked out and when we need to hit the mental reset button.
Things that work for hitting Theo's reset button:
1. Big canter
2. Random, quick transitions in all three gaits
Big canter and random transitions work, but they take some goading and nagging to get started. He can get pissy. Jumping is a sure fire way to get him lit back up in the good way. We've been known to zip outside, jump one or two things, and then trot back to the arena to go back to work. It changes his expression, his frame, his stride, everything. He goes from being a sullen, emo teenager to content in about five minutes if he can just canter and jump. Some of our best trot work has been out in the Ritz between cross country fences. For our lesson, there was a random cavaletti set up in the middle of the ring. We did figure eights at the canter over it. 12" isn't much of a jump, but Theo was clearly in the mood because he was really using his back and giving it feet of clearance. We scrapped the serpentine idea in favor of figure eights over the cavaletti and counter canter work. Just having that 12" hop added enough energy to make huge progress in our counter canter. It had three beats and everything!
Some horses just have their own agenda. We've really had to adapt to the idea that our 'plan' needs to be flexible when it comes to mi papi. Some days he comes out loosey goosey and ready to roll. Other days he comes out like a teenager that just had a disagreement with his parents: angry, resistant, and looking for a fight. There's no way to tell. I've been keeping a journal and I still don't have a pattern. For all I know his mood is determined by the alignment of the stars or the gossip he heard over the paddock fence.
I miss having a horse that comes out ready to get to work day after day, but this has been an important learning experience. Sometimes Theo just has to do Theo.