I have been going to the barn but only riding sporadically. Mostly, I'm really loving free longeing right now, and so is Tris. It gets us both moving and enjoying each other's company, and he is really looking substantially better from start to finish. It's not without its flaws - for one thing, he is refusing to track left consistently, which is about half brattiness and half some body soreness - but it's working for us.
That said, I did ride last night, for a solid hour, which was a lot for us. Usually I'm on for 20-40 minutes, depending on what he needs that day and at what point I see a good quitting time.
Last night, I free longed for 15 minutes (mostly walk and trot, some canter), then tacked up. We did lateral work at the walk for another 15 minutes, then picked up and worked mostly in the trot for 15 minutes with some moments in the canter.
He was feeling good from the free longing: his trot was bouncier and more uphill right out of the box. I took that opportunity to really work more on getting him to sit, and for that I pulled an old exercise out: transitions within gaits.
I'm not necessarily talking about collected-medium-extended; frankly, Tris doesn't have that kind of finesse in his gaits. That's certainly one way of transitioning within gaits, and it's something like what we did, but we did the much broader version of it.
Which is to say: in the trot, I slowed him down and shortened his stride in a gradual way down a long side, held it through a short side, and then opened him up again down the long side or the diagonal. It was taught to me by a working student some years ago as: bring him down, using half-halts, to when he's almost ready to break.
When you hit that point - when you're suspended and need to make a decision - you can do one of two things with it. When I'm working on getting Tristan forward, I then rocket him out of that moment. I drop him down almost to a walk and then make a BIG ask to go back forward. Repeat frequently, as many as ten or twenty times in one lap. It has the dual effect of sharpening him to the leg and making him really frustrated at being told to slow down, both of which make a more forward pony.
The second thing you can do is hold it, and that's when you're aiming more toward a collected trot than just a slowed-down one. Because if you hold it, what you're really trying to do is maintain energy even in a shorter-strided gait, which is the essence of collection. When I'm doing that I keep the half-halts going and a strong leg, I work on suppling and keeping him soft in his mouth, and I use my core to ask him to sit.
We alternated doing that with more lateral work, and then started combining the two into spiral circles: slower and slower trot as we spiraled in, bigger and bigger trot as we spiraled out. That had the benefit of teaching those same lessons while getting more bend activity in the hind end. At the end, we played with sitting down more in the canter for just a little bit.
After an hour of work, he was pretty tired! His respiration took probably 30 minutes to come down while I fretted. We walked around under tack for a while, and then I handwalked him in his cooler for a while longer. He cooled down reasonably well but was still breathing a bit too heavily. I finally put him in his stall and left him quiet for 15 minutes, then checked again. This time, I checked with a stopwatch in hand instead of just counting seconds in my head; it's way too easy to count in time with his breathing and think that his respiration is higher than it is without empirical evidence!
With that final check, he was down to 16 breaths per minute - still higher than I want, but for an out of shape 21 year old horse who'd just worked harder than in the last 5 weeks, I decided it was pretty good.
That said: I did all of this without stirrups, and this morning, I discovered that I might actually have abs underneath the 5lbs of post-election belly fat?