As we pull in, LeAnn asks if I have seen what she did in the arena. The previous weekend, we had thrown all sorts of fun things in the arena. They came from her trip to Washington, where her home is. It looked like a some kind of battle ground where the barrels were trying to put down a revolution of logs, posts, and a sturdy corregated drain pipe. Judging by the exploded innards of log (it did not fair too well when LeAnn backed over the slightly rotted wood with her horse trailer), the barrels have the upperhand.
Now, LeAnn is quite pleased with herself because she spent hours at the barn yesterday cleaning up and setting up the arena. I follow her down and see what looks like what I have always dreamed of in playground: is one corner posts lay on the ground like sleeping soldiers, rhythmically set apart from one another; a square outlined by four logs awaits spins and bounces next to Norman the roping dummy; in the center of the arena, four standing barrels mark the corners of the Question Box; next to the Question Box, a pile of logs squeezes between two upright barrels like so many books between orderly bookends; off in another corner, the corrugated pipe shoots out from the base of a lone standing barrel, waiting for symmetry or completion; adjacent to the pipe's corner, three barrel musketeers lay head to foot, a happy trio supported by rocks that keep them from rolling off into the pile of logs; marking the midpoints of each of the sides of the arena, four barrels act as sentries to all the excitement going on in the various quadrants. The insides are, in fact, quadrants because this arena is set up to accommodate the Cloverleaf pattern and follow the rail, LeAnn explains. It is lovely. I am momentarily worried that there is no empty place to play the Circling Game on the 45' line, but the feeling withers away next to my excitement about this transformed space.
Blu has been standing between LeAnn and me this whole time; he puts his nose on LeAnn's neck or nuzzles my hand, seeming quite put out by our attention on something else. He follows me to the barn and reluctant goes inside as his eyes adjust to the dark. I get the 45, his halter, and stick and string from the tack room and we head off to try out the arena in all its splendor.
First, I let him trot around me in a moving circling game so he can see all the new fixtures. He is looking at Norman, playing with Koda (LeAnn's dog), offering the canter, and generally accepting this environment. So, we begin to play. His canter is there for me and we go around the arena, sometimes over a jump, sometimes around barrels. His canter is energetic, but not panicked, and he does not lean on the end of the rope or go along like he could break gait any moment. Instead, I completely trust that he will keep going. He has gone around me at least ten times without stopping (length of the rope varies due to obstacles, but we have had a full range from 12' to 45'). I ask him for a change of direction and he does a simple lead change with propper flexion, so I aim him to a little pile of hay that I don't know anything about in the way of how it got there. We go off again and the next time I ask for a change of direction, he does a clean flying lead change and that is when we end, once again, at the pile of hay.
I take off the 45' line to play with it while munches and catches his breath. I practice throwing it out with both hands and recoiling it, then I practice throwing it out behind me. It works out so well, I am quite surprised. Satisfied with my results, I touch Blu's forehead and climb over the fence to get my riding equipment.
I come back and climb the fence again. I ask Blu to step to me and he does. When I get on, he does not toss his head up, and as we leave the hay, he does not flick his tail. I sort of repeated the wandering practice to make sure he is not worried about the new toys with me on his back. When we begin the Question Box, he is offering the canter. I am riding with two Kidz sticks and quite pleased that he is so eager to go forward.
After the beginning, Blu is attentive and does not need any prompting from the Kidz sticks to stop, go, or turn. He was so great! He was stopping nicely with his weight on his haunches from the canter in the question box (and his canter transitions were effortless and I just had to look up to get them); he walked to, jumped over, and walked away from the logs jump; we did spins without sticks; he did straight lines to leg yields to sidepass to leg yield to straight to sidepass etc. without too much trouble; he trotted over the cavalettis without knocking them, floating himself over nicely with only a few knocks; he held neutral lateral flexion without any sticks for 10 seconds. I was pleased with his performance and after a stop with a deep seat and little 3 foot slide marks (imagine if he has sliders on!), I dismounted, by sliding off his rump and onto the ground. He followed me to the gate with a couple wistful attempts to go to the little hay pile, which I negated by lifting a Kidz Stick. He squeezed through the gate, turned, faced, and waited while I locked it, and followed me up to the little pen he would spend the day in.
I helped LeAnn clean up the paddock, cleaned and filled the water troughs, and dumped the wheel barrow out. It was such a nice time with Blu, I kept running it all through my head. I considered what we could do to progress. What could we do to improve on what I had today? Here is what I have come up with, now:
- Spins at liberty in close circles
- Refine (count strides, get particular) the sidepass, leg yield, straight exercise, maybe add half pass
- Bullseye pattern with the canter
- Be particular about the size and shape of the circles in the Question Box pattern
- Ask for a change of direction from further away and without hay
Natural Horsewoman Out.