And then I saw the small riding ring. Puddles! There were puddles and standing water everywhere and one large body of water that was about three inches deep and nearly as wide as the ring. Yes! We could actually school through puddles. It is not like I am eager to go to another show in a downpour, but at least I had a chance to work with something that was clearly uncomfortable riding conditions. I still planned to work on stretching his frame and assessing his obedience to the contact and connection, but now we could do this with the added challenge of water under our feet. I was seriously excited.
I tacked up Harley. I marched him over to the ring with the puddles. I pointed him at the first puddle and asked him to walk through and what did he do?
Just that. He walked right through and even reached down and dragged his lip in the water. He came up with water droplets on his face.
After we moseyed through all the puddles in the ring several times in both directions, I asked Harley to trot right in the biggest, ankle deep puddle. I asked him to stay on the contact and keep the stretch in his frame as he made the transition. With only a moments hesitation, Harley was trotting and stretching his neck down toward the water.
I trotted him all around the ring, puddle after puddle, with the same relaxed horse. The only puddles that he even tried to avoid where little shallow ones that he could easily step around, but I still brought him back and made him ride straight through every one. I didn't just tell him where to go. I told him how to go there.
After lots of "Good Boys" and neck pats it was time to canter through the water. Again, I asked for the first transition right in the middle of the lake. As Harley picked up the lead, I was careful to remind him to keep reaching to the contact by sponging the outside rein, like the long lining lesson the day before. He was good about it and complied for nearly every canter depart. Once, he popped his butt up instead of lifting his withers. I immediately stopped him and asked for the transition again. The second time, he did it correctly. I used the same full halt strategy when he tried to surge forward in trot, blowing off my half halt like the day before. After one halt, I had my half-halt back. He shifted his weight back in trot after the canter on the very next request. I no longer had twenty pounds in my hands or an anticipating horse. I finally felt justified in the previous days work, but I need to remember that once does not make training. I need to build the consistency and work in the lines regularly.
A little bit of tension creeped in while cantering through the puddles. Finally, something to work on! I put my outside leg on and held the outside rein, insisting that he let his back go. We continued to canter circles through the same puddle until he stayed in the same body position, before and after the puddle. Strangely, he was much easier to canter through the big puddle than he was the smaller ones, just like in the trot. I guess the large puddle was big enough that there did not seem much point in trying to go around it. It did make some exciting splashes though. I enjoyed the "ker-plunk" sound as Harley's feet met the water. I was delighted by the cadenced feel of his gaits as he moved through the largest puddle, even circling within the water and practicing transitions.
And we did the stretchy trot in the deepest, biggest puddle! Harley stretched his neck down and forward in a lovely fluid way. He did not speed up. He kept contact with the reins and he felt supple over his back. It did not take much effort on my part and it certainly did not feel difficult.
I have only ridden Harley three times since the horse show which was two weeks ago on Sunday. He had one long line session and seven days off since then. I am not a magical trainer. I know that riding through puddles at home is not the same as riding a test under pressure in an unfamiliar setting, but based on the extreme displeasure that he demonstrated in the waterlogged ring at the show, I expected something similar as we splashed through the puddles in the small ring yesterday.
Harley was a completely different horse. He did not resemble a horse that has a disdain for water. He did not spook, sidestep, or invert through the water. I am not sure that the small puddles that he did try to step around would have even been noticeable to a casual on-looker. It was more a slight crookedness that I could feel in his body and it was pretty easy to remedy.
I am starting to think that the water was not the major problem at the show two weeks ago. There is just no way that I could have made that huge a dent in a serious evasion in that short a time. I also do not think that I could have improved my effectiveness as a rider or my horse's training that quickly and without any outside help.
So what was it Mr. Harley? Show nerves? The trailer ride? The thunder and rain combined with the new environment? A lack of proper warm up letting you relax your back (or mind)?
At two shows a year, he is not a seasoned campaigner. Maybe I underestimated how stressful that entire situation really was for him. I am so proud of him for sticking with me and trying to go everywhere that I asked, even if he was not going the way I wanted him to.
|"Neener neener, puddles"|
I just knew my horse could do it. That was the Harley I was expecting!