I went into my lesson determined to try something new. After reading all your lovely comments and not having seen the pony in two weeks, I was hoping we'd be starting fresh. So, here's how that went.
I walked into the barn and found Tess in her stall. She didn't really look at me. I haltered her and led her to the cross ties. We hadn't taken two steps before she swung her head into me, her mouth tight and her eyes hard. I backed her up, fast. She was still tense and seemed angry. She was filthy, not having been groomed for two weeks. She was cranky, swishing her tail, pinning her ears and swinging her head into me constantly. I took her off the cross ties and backed her up when she got aggressive. She would lick and chew, but her eye stayed hard and her mouth was a tense, unhappy line. I thought maybe she needed to stretch out and move, so I put her in the arena and asked her to move out. She sauntered around a bit, cantering and trotting and occasionally spooking but it wasn't an excess energy thing. She got tired of moving and looked to me, licking and chewing. She followed me around the arena and I decided it was time to tack up. She was still unhappy looking.
I got her tacked up while she fussed and grouched, her body tense but not with energy. I wish I could describe it better. It was that she was hard all over. Her eyes, her mouth, her tail. Everything was stiff and resistant. I put her on the lunge and she went quietly walk, trot, canter without bucking, spooking or getting angry so it was time to get on.
Here's where I am going to give myself some serious kudos. My horse had not been worked in two weeks and I got on. First. With nobody in the arena with me. It took a few circles of the mounting block, but she settled down and stood and I got on. And then I walked her around on a loose rein. She had a few little spooks, but was good for the most part. I focused on feeling her back legs hit the ground (and totally had to cheat to look in the mirror the first few times) and seeing if I could get her to walk freely around the arena. Now, for you Western riders and those of you with calm horses and no confidence issues, the long rein might be a given. But as recently as two weeks ago, I was afraid to give her a long rein. I would get on and immediately want contact and since my fear ran from my head all the way down my arms, it was more of a death grip than contact. So riding on a loose rein for ten minutes AT THE BEGINNING of my lesson was the first step towards changing my relationship with my horse.
I felt it was going well enough that I should ask for trot. I asked, she hunched up, swished her tail, pinned her ears and got ready to buck. I shifted the saddle back and forth suddenly. She stopped. I asked again. She hunched up again, I shifted the saddle back and forth, hard. She stopped. I still wasn't getting trot. I asked her to walk. She swished her tail and pinned her ears. I sighed. A big, giant sigh of defeat. I slumped my shoulders, let the reins go and just sat there thinking 'What the hell am I doing?'.
Laura came out and I told her that I just couldn't gear myself up for a battle. That I knew I was causing the problem and that we needed to find a different way to do this because the idea of 'getting it through it' wasn't working. I asked if she would get on Tess and ask her to trot so I could watch how she did it and see Tess' reaction. So Laura gamely hopped on. At the walk, the pony was resistant and sucked back. Laura spent a good ten minutes correcting the walk. No, you can't be crabby when I put leg on. No, you can't flip your neck away from the contact. No, you can't push your shoulders out. No, you can't spook to get out of this. Then she asked for trot and got a soft, forward transition. Such was the rest of the ride, besides two nasty bucks when she really got after her about cantering. But Laura said her hips were out and that it was probably uncomfortable for her to canter in that direction. She's going to give her an adjustment and take care of it.
So then I got on. Our game plan was to have me make sure I had obedience AT THE WALK before going to the trot. And to make sure that when she was walking forwarding into the contact that I kept my hands SOFT and STILL. And....it worked. We had no bucking. I kept my ride short so we could taste real success together, but we walk, trotted and cantered both directions and did lots of transitions and change of directions. Laura showed me how to put all my weight in the stirrup irons when I asked her to trot, so that if she did buck (she's a hind end bucker) it would just put my weight in my irons. I didn't end up needing that.
After the ride, the pony's eye was soft and her mouth relaxed. She stood quietly while I brushed her and even let me hose off her green legs with minimal dancing. I'm looking forward to see if we can get the same ride tomorrow by concentrating on getting obedience at the walk first. I sure hope so!