So we got to Alicia's early and walked around for a while, and the first time we passed Bean sleeping in the shade, Tucker scooted out from underneath me for a few steps as though sleeping dog = terrorizing monster. I laughed it off.
Then when we started to trot, Tucker stopped dead in his tracks spooking at the sleeping dog, from about twenty feet away. Okay, now he was just being intentionally silly so I reached back and gave him a good whack with my hand (which, of course, sent him into a blind panic for a few minutes), but from then on he was great for our flat work. So, I was willing to forgive a little ridiculous behavior. Nobody's perfect.
We worked on getting him to accept the outside aids with some shoulder-fore, some leg yields to and from the rail, counter-bending circles, then some turns on the haunches to get him stepping underneath of himself. Our canter work was really good -- he felt forward and moving off my leg, but it was light and balanced. He really feels like his fitness level is back to 100%, and I think our canter is better than ever now.
Then we started jumping, working on a big cross-rail set in the middle of the ring. I love cross-rails that have steep rails, I feel like they make him jump so well - round and tidy with his front end. It was set on the center line, so we were making a big figure-eight of the ring. Since Tucker thinks he's clever and will always land the lead based on whatever direction you landed last time, we had to keep getting a lead change, which he never missed. The changes feel so solid these days, it's hard to imagine how much trouble we used to have with them. Amazing what happens when I stop twisting myself around like a pretzel up there!
Then we put together what was going to be a very cool hunter derby-like course. Inside bending line, then outside line in a forward five, then short approach to another bending line, riding off the eye instead of a set number of strides, then trot jump through the middle, and then diagonal triple, a four to a one, and the out was a 3'6" oxer which actually looked like it was going to be fun. When I jump something bigger, I like to do it out of a one stride or a two stride, since then I don't have to do much to get us there except stay out of his way, so that was perfect.
So, the first fence is a vertical end jump, landing and turning inside the oxer on the outside, to a vertical wall on the diagonal. Cantering toward the first jump, Tucker's eye is completely fixed on the horse that has just appeared to hand graze by the ring with her owner, wearing a navy scrim. I close my leg to encourage Tucker to pay attention to the fence that is now two strides in front of us, he takes his eye off her just long enough to jump. He does a beautiful inside turn, and I notice that his right ear is cocked to the outside as we approach the diagonal wall. He is still transfixed by grazing horse. I know that Tucker happens to think she is beautiful, and at one point was stabled across the aisle from her, so I assume that he is simply lovestruck and continue toward the fence.
Apparently, however, while this is what we all saw:
This is what Tucker saw:*
Don't ask me why sweet little Juliet grazing by the side of the ring and her mother sitting on a bench spelled "doom," but apparently, they did. Tucker jumped that diagonal wall so hard that I was cringing before his feet even hit the ground. And then we proceeded to bronc and twist and leap all the way around the end of the ring. VERY un-Tuckerlike behavior. I managed to get my butt back down in the saddle pretty quickly though, and knew I wasn't falling off. So we halted, and backed a couple of slow steps, and then trotted around the ring a few times before we tried to jump anything else. (Tucker exhibited some really impressive Drama Llama poses as we passed
It actually ended up being a good learning experience for me. He rattled me a little when he did that (naturally), but I forced myself to remain calm and not have a death grip on him and we jumped a bunch of jumps, piecing together the course until he finally was landing without feeling like he was balled up and ready to explode at any moment. I was actually able to force myself to be soft and relaxed, and as a result, actually managed to settle him, instead of escalating. The last line we jumped was a bending line that I had to ride off my eye, and I saw a longer distance out and just softened my hand and gently closed my leg, and he took the bigger gap without gunning at it or jumping it like it was eight feet tall. Getting a nice soft jump after our little explosion was a big accomplishment for rider and horse, so we quit on that note. Didn't make it to the big oxer, but that's ok with me.
Could I do without the little bucking fit? Yes, absolutely. But do I feel a little more secure that if that ever happens at a horse show, I'll be able to calm myself down and deal with it? I'm getting there.
*Tucker insisted that I NOT turn this into one of those stories where I commend his bravery but secretly am making fun of him. You'll notice I didn't do that here. Just a little visual aid....