Playing catch up again...
Flatwork: We've been experimenting with a better level of collection which has us running into the age-old conundrum of ruining the mediocre now in order to make the next step better. Which is HARD. And always frustrating. We're trucking along pretty well now with acceptance of the bit and some stretch and looseness and reach, really good at walk and trot, building solidly at the canter, can't I just settle in with that and have a horse that's already 200% better than he was this time last year?
No. Not really. So: really setting the outside aids, lift off the inside leg, keep the bend, teasing out more and more pieces of true self-carriage, stay there even when Tristan insists he's dying, and start to get glimpses and pieces of it actually coming together for one or two strides. Back on the uphill climb part of the training plateau, where we'd been coasting the surface for a long time smoothing out the bumps and making sure his brain was coming, too.
Riding is such a humbling experience sometimes. So many people have told me "oh, it's just sitting on a horse, I could learn to do that in 20 minutes." Yes. You probably could, I tell them. I could sit you on a horse, and if you're already a reasonably athletic, coordinated person, I bet I could get you w/t in 20 minutes, and if you're very good, canter in half an hour. Then you'll spend the rest of your life trying to make it *good.* And that's the part that a lot of people don't get, refuse to understand. It's also the part that I find completely addicting.
Conditioning: We've started actually working on hills and terrain, really putting the galloping track to good use. March up, march down, then again with leg yields back and forth across the narrow-ish track. Trot up, trot down, if not on the bit then at least stretching and using the body, keeping the march uphill and the balance downhill. Ditto with leg yields. Canter with cadence and balance and a wee bit of stretch. Gallop with my position opening and closing, rating the speed and then coming back, strong half-halts to try and lift what is still a very flat gait. He really enjoys this work, and is always quite chuffed and strutting afterward.
Short version - LOVED IT.
Long version - LOVED IT. Once Tristan stopped trying to bolt. Which really was never anything *bad*, just him expressing his opinion and me temporarily getting up in my head and forgetting that yeah, I can too keep my leg on and control that outside shoulder no matter how much he tries to convince me I can't. And it was never anything but him needing to say "I still need to say HELL NO first, mom, don't you ever forget that."
Because really, once he got over that - and it was just the initial gallop 'round - he was WONDERFUL. Even a tetch lazy, not quiiiiite dragging me to fences like he had last time, which I chalk up to a week-long effort to tire him out. And it meant I got the opportunity to push him to a few fences, which was a-okay with me to practice. Jumped everything happily, only a split-second looky at the water, popped over ditches and banks calmly and quietly, so sensible about things that the clinician said admiringly "He's really kind of cool, isn't he?" Which pretty much made my day. Another rider was admiring him too, someone who really knows her horses, and I was SO PROUD of my little mustang.
In short, not preoccupying myself with what he was going to do meant we both got to buckle down and really learn. About jumping fences downhill - leg on, open the body a bit for balance, keep his hocks under him. About really packaging the canter for an up bank. About slipping the reins and finding gravity with my feet for down banks. About softening for a bit after an uphill fence to keep momentum. About focusing my eyes just beyond, but not too far beyond, a fence to encourage a better flow for the whole thing. About trusting him to work out his distances a bit once I've found our canter and show him how to carry himself up to the fence.
Biggest "best pony ever" moment of the day might have been when we were asked to lead another balky horse through the water. Yeah. Tristan. Who thinks water is the devil, who had to have another horse lead him through this exact water four weeks ago. Marched right through in front of this little mare, only a hair-second thought of taking a drink, and then waited, standing quietly, in the water. SO PROUD of him.
In short, as always, best. pony. ever.