Last night was my lesson. The arena was unusually quiet and one of my fellow students was stuck home with a lame horse. Outside of the arena there were plenty of distractions. A tent had been put up in the yard. A car was being worked on in the back, complete with random banging noises. Dinner had just been served and the princess was not happy about having to leave it. She pinned her ears and snaked her head at me. A year ago, this would have started my heart racing and I would have mentally put a for sale sign on her stall. Last night? I flicked the end of my lead rope at her (and by flicked, it was more of a whip) and pushed her away from her hay. She still gave a little snarly face as she reached for the halter, but it was more of a teenager bratty face of "Ugh, do I have to?" then a demand for me to move.
Once in the arena, the pony was a giraffe. Neck up and inverted, working that big under muscle that she STILL has, Tessa ignored my leg, ignored my hand, ignored the whip and proceeded to come to a crawl at every open end. There was sunshine filtering in one corner, the tent could be seen in the other, a car being worked one and someone must have moved on the of jump standards in the corner because that corner was bad too. By the time Linda showed up and asked "Is everyone warmed up?" we had accomplished nothing, except walking around like a drunk person. Make that a paranoid drunk person. I could feel the tension in Tessa's body. I tried inside rein, outside rein, more leg, shoulder in. Nothing was working.
Linda watched us go around for a few minutes and then said "She sure wants you to fuss with her, doesn't she?"
"Uhh..." I grabbed my inside rein as Tessa's attention wandered towards the tent. She tipped her nose in, but bulged her neck and shoulder out, one eye still on the scary tent. I pulled back on the outside rein to try and capture her shoulder. She slowed down. I squeezed with both legs and she pushed a hindquarter randomly out and threw her head in the air.
Linda smiled. "She gets fussy and she wants you to get fussy too."
"I'm trying to get her attention back on me and nothing's working." My voice was a bit on the whiny side. It was hot and I was frustrated and we hadn't even warmed up properly.
"Put your pinkies on the saddle. There. Now ask her to go forward. Keep your hands down and ask her for more forward."
I set my hands and squeezed gently. Tessa continued to stare at the tent outside. A sharp kick resulted in a head toss, a side step and a few shuffling steps forward while keeping her head strained to the left to look at the tent. My hands came up, grabbing the inside rein. My seat shoved with frustration and my legs kicked repeatedly. She threw her head again and stepped over with her hindquarters.
"Forward!" Linda yelled. "And put your hands down and keep them there. Do NOT play this game with her!"
I set my hands back down and looked ahead. I asked for forward. We went sideways with headtossing.
"Stay right there! Do not let her think that YOU need to fuss because she is. You've set your boundaries, now let her figure that out."
I stayed still with my hands quietly resting on the saddle. I asked for more forward. I got tail swishing, head tossing, a half a step of canter. Still, I stayed quiet and focused on forward. I asked again and with a deep sigh, Tessa reached forward.
The rest of my lesson was just reminders about this concept. To stay quiet when you move from straight to a leg yield. To stay quiet and focused while crossing the diagonal. To stay quiet when you do a serpentine. To stay quiet when her head comes up and her attention wanders. Staying quiet is my next 'aha' moment. Our lesson was mostly full of lovely forward trot on the bit.
The other shining moment was when we were down in the corner by the goat and something spooked the princess. She did a sideways Arab teleport and started towards the other end of the arena. I lost my stirrup. It took three steps for me to get her back under control and trotting on the bit again. Then I rooted around for my stirrup, a little frustrated at at how long it took me to find it. Then I circled in that corner until I could do a fifteen meter circle with me being quiet and her paying attention and moving off my leg. At NO time was I afraid. Cue the trumpets and the angel choir here while I repeat that sentence. At NO time was I afraid. That sentence looks so good to me. That sentence feels so good to write. My name is Mona Sterling and yesterday, I was not afraid.