I pretty much spent the weekend at the Bucks County Horse Park. On Saturday, I went to watch my friend Allison compete her gorgeous horse at a USDF show there. They put in two beautiful, pretty much perfect tests (at least the parts I could see, since I was her reader), scored over 70 in both and brought home two blue ribbons. It was a windy and chilly, day, but other than that a great time hanging out with some friends from a previous barn and talking horses. We've decided to do it again, over wine. Because, wine.
On Sunday I went to the Spookarama at Bucks County with two of the girls from my barn and their magnificent beasts, Goose and Keira. A Spookarama would be a hunter pace, with clues and games and obstacles along the way, in costume. (Tucker does NOT approve of any of this, so my trailer and I were available to transport these two.) As you can see they had a blast, the costumes were adorable, and their horses were perfect.
Again I've been promised wine as compensation for my (obviously) awesome photography skills. I am starting to see a pattern, but I'm okay with it.
I finally made some time for Tucker on Sunday evening. He was fresh, it was chilly and the sun was going down, and I was starting to feel like the cold I've been ignoring for a week was finally becoming something not to be ignored.
I walked for a while at the start of the ride until he took some deep breaths and started walking flat-footed, but when I picked up my reins to start working, he was spooky and tense and rooting/leaning/yanking me around. (Proving what I had said in jest earlier, that we don't need to go to the Spookarama because Tucker's entire life is a spookarama.) All my usual tactics - lateral work, transitions, over-bending away from the spooky thing - were just not working. In fact, they were making it worse.
I walked again, feeling totally frustrated and about to lose my cool on him. I wasn't feeling well and he was being intentionally difficult.
And then, of course, I laughed at myself, because horses don't know when you're not feeling well and are pretty much never intentionally difficult. And Tucker especially does not have the kind of mentality where he'd intentionally misbehave. He was being evasive, maybe, but making it personal is just ridiculous.
So I decided to change my approach. I decided to try to figure out what we could do right, instead of getting annoyed at everything that was going wrong. I started working on his stretchy walk, picking up my reins and letting them out again, working on smoothing this process out, without letting him root the reins, and maintaining contact with his mouth through the stretch, by sending him into my right rein even when he's reaching down.
Then I wanted him to lift his back while stretching down, so we worked on false halts and actual halts, and I'm pleased to say this went really well. Once he figured out the game he would halt and stay in a longer, lower frame, and then walk on, without bouncing around in the contact or coming way above the bridle. I got a little more sophisticated and practiced asking for the halt using only my core muscles (something I read in an article a while ago). It actually worked, and he stopped spooking, got a little more relaxed and started listening to me.
We moved on to our stretchy trot, practicing the transitions a bunch of times until he maintained the long lower frame through the transition, which was a challenge, but we got there. Once I had him stretching down into the contact, which took a while because he was very unsteady in the bridle to start, I worked on slowing the trot down with my posting, and then we did our numbers game (2 = almost walking, 8 = very forward) and worked on transitions within the stretchy trot. To my surprise he did a great job with this exercise, and we ended with a connected, long and low, slow trot.
We quit on that really positive note for the day, and I was so, so glad I stopped myself from getting annoyed with him and got some good work from him, even if it was just this simple exercise. Maybe his back was just tight with the cold weather, so the stretch work felt better to him? Maybe focusing on something different than our usual routine got his brain working more? Whatever the reason, we both ended the ride feeling so much better than we would have if we continued down the path we were headed at the beginning.
So, I was getting frustrated because things weren't going well, and then I changed my approach, and things started going much better. There's definitely a life lesson in there: Sometimes the difference between success and failure is a matter of perspective.