Didn't I just say the other day how well he was doing, but that he wasn't offering the piaffe or anything? Well ha ha, the joke's on me. Izzy CAN piaffe. It isn't very relaxed and it lacks rhythm, but it was a lot of fun to see that my green bean has so much potential!
As we headed out of the driveway, Izzy gave his what is now typical beginning-of-the-ride squeal and pseudo bolt. In fact he did it a few times, but I simply laughed it off and patted his neck. We've ridden this little loop a few times now, and he's been really good, so I figured that with the heat and familiarity of the route he would quickly settle down.
He didn't. He was tense and "looky" for nearly an hour, BUT, he listened and he didn't check out. Instead, he took his tension and balled himself up into a knot. Instead of marching forward, his stride got shorter and shorter until there was no forward movement - just a tense piaffe. Instead of fighting with him, I just tried to ride through the movement.
The rein was actually draping because he was being so light up front. I just kept my seat moving and kept asking for anything that resembled forward. He eventually opened up his stride, but came back to that little piaffe idea over and over again.
Even though he was being a bit spicy, he never made me feel like he was going to explode out of control. And even as his hind end tried to fish tail past his front end, he responded to my aids as I pushed his haunches back in line. For the whole ride I focused on forward and straight. We really were doing dressage on the trail.
None of it is actually horribly scary, but all together, it's a lot of different visual stimuli for the horses to take in. Even Speedy gets a bit spooky along this route. Izzy handled all of it like a total pro. In fact, it seemed to take his mind off his tension. Instead of being so balled up, he started looking around and marching forward. When we got to the tepee property, he barely looked at it even though we walked just to left of it.
Just passed the tepee is a little dirt road that I use as I cross the next property. It's not maintained, but I've always been able to get through. As I came around the corner, I discovered a dead tree had fallen across the path. Other than this dirt road, there isn't an easy way to get back to the barn without back-tracking a ways.
Let me just say that bushwhacking is a very familiar idea for most endurance horses. They learn to stand pretty patiently while their riders drag branches and other debris to the side of the trail. Speedy never really grew comfortable with the process, but he'll be fairly well behaved for an easy job. This one wasn't.
I picked up branches that were thin and light, but long and crackly. I shoved them to the side of the trail as Izzy just stood there. None of it bothered him. If anything he kept trying to shove his way through the mess so that we could get on with it. I couldn't remove all of the branches, but I stamped them down as best as I could while looking for any that Izzy might get hung up on as we crashed though.
He let me lead him through without a single mis-step. I was beyond thrilled with him. And all of this was happening with a horse who just minutes before was slick with nervous sweat and having trouble relaxing. The cheese on top of this whole enchilada came when I realized that I needed to get back on.
Izzy is 16'3. I am 5'3". I can't get on without at least a little berm or a rock or something. I started looking around and saw a huge pile of junk - think American Pickers style. The guy who owns this property is probably a welder or something as he has all sorts of metal ... stuff piled up. I carefully climbed on to a metal block that used to be a ... refrigerator and asked Izzy to sidle up closer. It took two or three tries, but bless his heart, he eventually pulled up alongside all of that junk and stood still long enough for me to settle in the saddle.
I'd like to say that that was the end of the tension, but it wasn't. In fact he got a little naughty once he could hear Speedy calling for him. He humped up his back a little, gave a teeny tiny little "up" in the front, and did some head tossing. None of it felt dangerous. In fact, I used the naughties to ask for right and left flexion and moved his haunches around.
By the time we were on our street, the tension finally oozed out and he walked through the driveway quietly. He was slick with sweat, so much for an easy "hot day" ride, but I think it was an invaluable experience for him. He got to work through being out in some scary places alone (first time!), and he made a HUGE deposit in my trust bank. Knowing that my horse can handle wading through thick branches, and that he knows how to use junk as a mounting block is worth a lot to me.
I am really happy with this horse. He gets better at something every single day. I wonder what he'll show me today?