As far as the "life stuff," I'm still inching along in the right direction on all fronts. Interviews are happening, new opportunities appear to be on the horizon in some form or another, and all in all I think I'm making decisions that are going to set me up for being happy, long term. It might not be a perfect, smooth, easy transition, but we're headed in the right direction. As a friend of mine often says, "Bashing on, regardless." (She's chuckling to herself reading this right now.)
Things are going well in the world of Tucker too, although it's been way too cold for the past few nights for me to ride (and we're pretty much buried in snow at the moment). Tucker got new shoes on Saturday, so I got to chat with our new farrier for a while about his feet (a rarity for me since farriers are usually there during the week, when I'm behind a desk), and I was very happy with how knowledgeable and patient he was. We discussed a few minor changes, some things he had noticed,some things to try. All in all, a very informative discussion. Tucker likes him too, which is always a good sign.
As I mentioned in the "Snowflakes" post, I had a wonderful ride on Sunday. It was freezing out, and incredibly windy. Tucker was spooking at the windy noises even on the cross-ties, so I had made up my mind to turn him loose to run when we got in the indoor. It was all he could do to keep his feet still while I pulled his tack off and as soon as his bridle was off, he turned on a dime and galloped off. I took some great video on my phone, but of course they're just slightly too big for me to email them to myself and share with you. I captured the drama llama in full force though. Hilarious. I must get a still photo.
When he was done running around, I let him wander around for a bit at the walk to chill out a little, but he was still spooky and on edge while I was replacing his tack. I needed something to get him to relax and was standing by the gate contemplating what to do, and saw a set of side reins and lunge line hanging there. Huh. I rarely use side reins on him because they have a tendency to make him heavy, but I thought it might just help him relax and focus. So I got him set up (while he spooked in place at the wind outside) and got him out on the lunge at the trot, with the side reins hooked up low and loose so that he'd stretch down. I worked him for less than 5 minutes in each direction, and it was just enough. His eye got softer, he took a few deep breaths, and started relaxing through his neck and back.
By the time I climbed on, another horse had joined us in the ring, so he was already feeling better about himself. He started off so nicely at the trot that I thought to myself I might want to try putting him in side reins for a few minutes more often. He was light, and soft, and rounding through his back, and balancing off his hind end (rather than our usual first five minutes of discussion about whether I'm strong enough to hold him up, or whether he really has to do it). Springy, forward, bouncy warm-up trot. All that energy was channelled into productive, balanced, lovely forward movement... no spooking, no crawling out of our skin, totally focused and ignoring the wind.
Then we were joined by two more horses, which made Tucker even happier. One was his turnout buddy Tigger, so he started showing off. Leg yields at the trot and canter, shoulder-in, haunches in, soft supple transitions. He felt so happy and willing to be working, it felt like we were playing. I just tried to think about staying centered and relaxed, riding from my core, supporting and not restricting, and letting everything just flow forward. I just kept counting the rhythm of the trot or canter and enjoying how athletic and soft he felt.
The last thing we worked on were little turns on the haunches, keeping the forward motion going, directly into our canter. So, I'd ask him to turn left to right, and then pick up the left lead canter, then turn right to left, and pick up the right lead canter. The canter transitions were amazing. Asking him to turn on his haunches made him step all the way under with his inside hind, and then he was perfectly set up to step right up into his canter transition -- uphill, soft, and forward, without leaning on my hand or losing the connection. So wonderful. Sigh. I ended with huge pats and lots of praise, making Tucker lick his lips and look around like, "Who's the man? I'm the man."
By the time I was cooling out, there were four more horses (that's seven total!) in the ring, which basically put Tucker onto a cloud of joy and happiness. Nothing he loves more than having lots of friends in the ring -- the more the merrier, he thinks. Then he got to cool out alongside of his turnout buddy while I chatted with Tigger's rider (which Tucker thought was just the best idea ever, especially since Tigger was pinning his ears at all the other horses because Tucker belongs to him. Tucker loves belonging to someone. And Tigger is pretty much the coolest horse ever, as far as he's concerned, so belonging to Tigger makes Tucker also pretty cool, by extension).
I'm hoping that I can ride tomorrow if it's not too cold, and might just repeat the side reins routine since he's now had three days off. I don't want to use them too often, but it could be a good way of hitting the reset button over the winter when he's had a couple of days off. I'm also anxious to see if he continues to go as well as he did on Sunday. I'm curious as to whether the little changes we made to his hind shoes are making a difference for him, or whether he just happened to be having a spectacular day. Either way, I'll take one spectacular day. Those rides make you understand and appreciate why we do this, and why we keep coming back for more. You have a ride like that and realize that you'll just never get enough!