To access the dirt road, I have to continue along a paved, single lane road that passes along a tall brick wall beneath a heavy canopy of trees. This is a lovely route in the summer as it is deeply shaded, but on a horse who wants to spook and run, it feels like a funnel. The neighbor also has two large labs that love to bark and play when I pass through. It takes every ounce of self control not to choke up on the reins.
I rode Speedy through there a few weeks ago, and for the first time I trusted both of us not to spook at the dogs. Speedy walked through with a loose rein, although he gave the dogs a bit of the one-eyed ogle. Building on that successful ride, I rode Sydney through with the same "relaxed" body posture. Damn, trust is a hard thing to do. The dogs were kind to us that day as they chose to just watch us through the fence without vocalizing.
Once we made it to the dirt road, I decided to test whether Sydney was listening enough to trot down the road. It's maybe 200 yards long, so it wasn't going to be much of a test. It didn't matter though as he earned a big, fat FAIL. The good thing about this stretch of road is that it borders a massive grass field that used to be part of the property owner's small golf course (never seen it used).
Up until recently, the field has been a perfectly manicured fairway so I've avoided even stepping a hoof onto that grass. The owner has let the grass die as he is preparing to plant an orchard there. The grass has been mowed short so it is quite the inviting riding area. Up until Saturday, I've not trusted Sydney enough to even think about working in such a large, open space.
When my request for a decent trot was ignored, I flexed Sydney's neck and put my spur on. We worked along the edge dirt road in the grass doing a variety of 10 - 15 meter circles always remembering to NOT PULL BACK. I can not tell you how hard it is to resist doing that. Instead, I made sure the inside rein was loopy, but my spurs were making sure that inside hind leg was taking great big sideways steps.
At one point, I actually got a nice, relaxed trot out of him, but then he remembered that he didn't want to be listening, and he tried to squirt out from under me. No biggie as the circle was there to catch him. By the time we circled our way to the end of the road, he was dripping wet, but listening. As we entered our driveway, the neighbor fired up a chainsaw and Sydney spooked hard. Again, no big deal. We circled again until he decided that was much harder than just standing quietly.
As we stood in front of the barn, I asked for a halt but got a jigging, head tossing thing so we worked on halting for a bit. I made him stand in a "frame" until he quit rooting against the reins. As I unsaddled, his face had a slight Holy Hell expression, but he was quiet and compliant.
I'll continue the discussion as many times as possible this week, but I suspect it's going to be a case of too little, too late. I imagine I'll be able to get through next Sunday's show warm-up just like we've been doing, but I don't think he'll be ready to actually ride through a test while listening to my aids. It's okay though, as we are still definitely making progress and addressing the issue.
And if nothing else, my own confidence is increasing!