I found myself with no returns I could actually work on today so did a little project in my laundry room (putting up doors across the washer/dryer cubby and using my new Lint Lizard to get you wouldn't believe how much lint out of the area beyond the lint filter) and then decided to go ride Dawn.
My riding buddies were all gone for the day so I decided to ride her in my own arena and MAKE HER CANTER. I put the treeless western saddle on (you almost have to throw yourself out of this saddle to fall off) and her usual bridle that I ride on loose rein (not the dressage bridle) and took her to the arena instead of the round pen.
I cleared a path so I had the full circumference of the arena -- there are logs and barrels and other obstacles for trail training out there -- and did some ground work, mostly emphasizing the voice commands I've been teaching her. When I had her going from trot to canter and back to trot on voice command pretty well, I got on her.
I had the "buck stopper" on her, which is a rope that goes under her upper lip and over her head with a rope attaching the whole thing to the saddle horn. If you've read my book, this is similar to what I used to keep Sandar from putting his head down to roll. What it does is punish her if she tries to throw her head down to buck. I've used it on her for her recent cantering sessions to ensure she wouldn't be able to buck like a rodeo horse.
I started out trotting around the arena (which is about 100 feet in each direction) and when I had her settled and going well, I asked her to canter. She swished her tail and pinned her ears but launched into the canter and I felt her hind end go up but her head never went down. This told me the buck stopper had done its job the times before when I had used it and I didn't need to worry about her actually throwing a bucking fit so I pushed her on through it and made her keep going. I did this several times, asking her to canter in the same place in the arena and making her go on past the point where she kicked out (because by now I knew she was just kicking out, not bucking, and it was not unseating me in the slightest, and she was not escalating into any other undesirable behavior). A couple times after she had been snarky, I doubled her and made her turn tight circles as punishment, then asked her to move out again with no break.
Every time I asked her to canter in a circle to the left she kicked out but eventually I got her to where she would go almost all the way around before I would ask her to stop. And, boy, can she stop! She'll be doing slide stops before too long.
When I asked her to canter to the right, however, she did not kick out at all and would keep going until I asked her to stop. I know she needs to be adjusted and I thought maybe something was pinching her when I asked her to circle to the left. After doing a full circle to the right, I thought I would test that theory and turned her to the left again.
So much for that theory. She took the canter without protest and went the full circle. I told her what a good girl she was and got off.
I'm still going to get her adjusted, but either the cantering and tight circles popped something in place, she learned to canter through the discomfort, or she really was just being snarky all along.
Anyway, this was a real milestone for both of us. After all those years trying to overcome the damage Dutch had done to my nerve . . . I have found it again. Because with all the kicking out she did, it never made me afraid, never made me want to get off her or stop -- it made me determined to make her do it. And that's how I used to be, way back in my youth and early adulthood. I always sought out the difficult horses and never got off them when they acted up, and if they got me off anyway, I always got back on, more determined than ever.
And it feels so good to have found again what I thought was lost for good.
I still credit my dressage lessons for improving my riding enough to enable me to do this.
At the end of the session, Dawn was sweaty and I was tired, but I had had FUN, even though she had swished her tail and pinned her ears and kicked out and not wanted to do it -- I had made her do it anyway, and it was fun. And I look forward to our next session, maybe tomorrow if I'm lucky.
And that's the latest from the Ranch.