Even before I got to the barn today, I decided we were going to take it easy. Either there's something wrong with my riding or there's something wrong with my horse, or we're just not connecting well. If we had access to trails, it would have been a definite hacking out day. (Alas, we do not.) When I got Izzy out, I tacked her up and put her on the lunge line. I haven't been lunging her lately, but I wanted to see if she would be stiff under saddle. If she was, then I was going to take the saddle off and see if it was a physical stiffness or if we were having saddle problems yet again.
To my surprise, she actually went better to the left than she did to the right. Ok... at least that pretty much rules out a saddle problem. She still did try to lean through her left side a bit, but we can fix that. We did some walk/halt/walks in hand to get her a little more responsive. We're working on lining up at the mounting block, and she did a pretty darn good job of it today.
After much contemplation yesterday and this morning, I think that part of the problem might be my approach with Izzy. All along I've said that the advantage to starting an older horse is that they can physically go as far as you want to. This is true. I don't need to worry about interfering with growth and development. HOWEVER, her brain still isn't quite grown up and just as important, her muscles probably aren't ready to do quite as much as I was asking her for. Yes, she can bend and stretch and push from behind, but it's hard for her.
So, today I made it a point to keep her on a loose rein and just do some walk/trot transitions. I didn't worry about her head or her bend or anything like that. I made her stay out on the rail and change gait. It didn't have to be immediate and I praised her when she did what I asked. As usual, she was very good to the right. When we went to the left, I was kind of at a loss. I don't just want to do a circle in her happy area of the arena. She needs to go through that sticky spot, but I didn't want to stress her out. That got me thinking. Her mother, my old OTTB, hated pressure. Even the thought of heavy contact was enough to cause a meltdown. Izzy can cope a little better, but there's still that side of her. So, how was I to get her through the sticky spot without any pressure that would make the problem worse?
Then I remembered years ago when I used to read cowboy training stories and books. They were usually funny and not written as technical manuals, but they got the point across. I remembered one book (can't even remember the author or the character names) in which they got a horse that was afraid of water to cross a stream by making him stand by it until he got bored enough to go forward. I decided to give this method a shot. The worst that could happen was that Izzy would like standing in the sticky spot and not want to go forward, but she already does that.
So we did. We trotted down the long side of the arena, then I brought her to a walk before the spot. About 10 feet before she would have stopped on her own, I halted her.
And we stood there. We just looked around. I didn't let her turn her head too much, as I wanted her to think about going forward, but I didn't ask for it. We watched another boarder grooming her horse. We listened to the droning of flies. We stared at the grey mare next to the arena.
After a minute or two, I clucked and asked Izzy to go forward.
She didn't move.
That was ok. I wanted her to think about going forward, but I wanted her to go forward when she was ready and without any pressure from me. We stood a little while longer, then she took a step forward. I praised her, clucked, and we walked off. The next time around the arena, we did the same thing. She stood for slightly less time, then off we went again. After that, we went right through with no trouble at all.
Pretty amazing, if you ask me. I'd have never even thought to do that if it wasn't for that book all those years ago. I'm sure we'll encounter this problem again, but at least now I have a strategy to deal with it.
God bless you, old cowboy.
PS My pony is absolutely gorgeous. I <3 her.