Our riding was very limited. If I was too tired or not in the right mental place, I was not getting on her. It would have been counterproductive: she would have gotten worked up and I would have taken it personally.
So we did groundwork. Lots and lots of groundwork. I've come to the point where I feel as safe on the ground with Gracie as I do in the saddle (which is a truly remarkable thing, given the concussion she caused last November, and it also says a lot about the amount of work we've done on the ground since then) and we've been having a LOT of fun with groundwork. I used to think groundwork was boring until I started working with Lily back in 2011 (a phase that I sadly failed to document on the blog) but Gracie has brought it to a whole other level. At the moment, I actually enjoy working with her from the ground even MORE than I do riding her! She always manages to surprise me in one way or another, in a good way.
I had a great ride with her with Gail and Nimo the weekend after Lily had returned home. Gracie was an absolute rock star. It was my first time riding her with someone else other than Kathy. Charles has ridden her with me + a variety of other people, but other than one TROT ride last spring, I had yet to ride her with other people w/t/c myself. On our ride, G-Mare alternately led or followed or rode next to Gail and Nimo, no problem; we explored a whole new trail that we discovered; we crossed a new section of the river she'd never seen before; we crossed train tracks and led up the hills. I was impressed with her fitness: she has come a long, long way from the out-of-shape Mareface she used to be when I first started working with her over a year ago. She was recovering within a minute or two of uphill gallops, which is a first for her and by the end of our 10-mile ride, she looked like she could have gone out and done another 10 miles minimum.
And that was pretty much the last time I rode her for most of the rest of the Lily Leg Novel.
The next time I went to the barn, I started working her in the round pen. I rarely have a plan when it comes to groundwork. I usually start and see what she has to offer. This was the first time she majorly surprised me.
|In the round pen.|
On this particular day, Gracie just wanted to fart around and play and go fast. She was completely ignoring my requests to slow down or change direction. She just wanted to gallop around and around. Not fearful at all; she was just being a goof. Any attempt of mine to get her to change what she was doing was only being used as fuel for the fire. Instead of getting annoyed at her, I finally just said, "Fine. Run as much as you want." And I stood very still in the center of the round pen, arms crossed in front of my chest and staring up at the top bar of the round pen fence. No projected energy at all. I pretended like Gracie wasn't there at all, much less running around and around in circles.
This caught her attention RIGHT AWAY. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her go, "Wait. Why aren't you looking at me?" And she started to slow down. She'd speed up every time she passed in front of me and I saw her looking at me, trying to get my attention. I continued to ignore her. She finally came to a stop at the fence behind me, then walked up from behind and touched my shoulder with her nose.
I burst out laughing and turned to face her, telling her what a good girl she was and rubbing her forehead.
|"I iz a good girl?"|
|"I can approach you, yes?"|
|"...or I will eat your phone!"|
I tried sending her back out to the wall so we could do more focused work. Except she didn't want to go out to the wall, she wanted to stay with me. So when I shooed her away to go towards the round pen wall, she actually moved laterally away from me. In a perfect shoulder-in. At liberty. My jaw dropped. It wasn't what I'd wanted but it was something BETTER. So I tried to see if I could get it on command. I cued the shoulder-in with my body the way I do when she is at the end of the lead rope. She repeated it. So we did it in both directions. We went through the set of exercises we've come up with that I documented in this post...all at liberty. Including the one where she stands in front of me and mirrors my movements.
I later set her free in the big arena and discovered that she was happy to repeat all of these exercises all over again in a larger space, still with no lead rope to connect us.
It was magical.
Every day I was at the barn for extended periods of time (aka not work days) I either longed G-Mare on one of the many hay field hills for fitness or took her out to the big arena to play, often to kill time between Lily's treatments.
|Not a hackney.|
|And not an Arab.|
I have the papers to prove she is full-blood RMH/KMH! :)
A beautiful idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. She was dragon-snorting, flagging her tail and doing this huge airy trot that made her look more like a carriage horse...or full-blooded Arabian...than a Rocky Mountain mare. I laughed and laughed at her and took a million photos...and if you look closely, as I did at the time, you will see that despite being all worked up about the Shetland, her inside eye and ear are still on me pretty much the entire time. Even with her being at a whole other level of "up", I could still get her to stop and turn and change directions with minimal commands.
So we continued practicing this in future sessions.
Our next session at liberty in the big arena Gracie again surprised me, this time by closing the circle around me. She was trotting and cantering at liberty in a 30 meter circle as if she was at the end of the longe line. I realized that if I lined up my shoulder with hers and modulated my movement and energy inside the circle, I could get her to close the circle even more, so that she was basically trotting and cantering a 10 meter circle around me. Project my energy out and stride out larger, and she would move back out again.
This is the type of stuff I have only ever dreamed of achieving with a horse. I just didn't know how to ask for these things, but Gracie is teaching me how.
I asked her to stop and come to me. I rubbed her forehead and then walked away. She walked with me. On a whim, I took off running...and she trotted with me! At liberty! Staying right at my shoulder. I stopped, she stopped. I took off running again and again she trotted after me. I was grinning like an idiot.
I later told Charles about it and he said, "I've done such a great job training her for you! You should thank me."
Cue major laughter from me. Sure Charles. ;)
In future sessions we have been able to repeat all of these things. I've tried videoing but my phone is at death's door and has repeatedly crapped out before all of the really good parts. Have some video stills:
|Driving her out towards the fence.|
|She had closed the circle here. Note my outside shoulder: it is lined up with hers.|
|I'm holding the lead rope in my hand but it is not attached to her halter. I'm gently swinging the end of the rope in my left hand to move her away from me in a shoulder-in.|
|..and "whoa; come to me!"|
Charles's work schedule in July was all over the place. His weekday schedule varies greatly anyway and he works every third weekend but in July he was working part of some weekends to get extra overtime (because vet bills $$$$$$) so we weren't getting as much time off together. About 2 weeks after Lily was home, he was able to come out to the barn with me on a weekend.
I convinced him to tack up Gracie and bring her to the big arena while I mucked Lily's stall (by this point she was in the stall with the run, which was located in the "old barn" next to the big arena.) The plan was for me to do some groundwork with her and then hop on for a quick tune-up (since she had been worked but not actually ridden in over 2 weeks) before Charles took her out on a solo ride.
|Yes, sometimes we ride in shorts around here.|
Because sheepskin saddle cover.
Because stirrup cages.
|Who says gaited horses can't do a collected canter?|
|Letting her work in a more lengthened frame.|
He came back bubbling with stories about the trail and his ride and Gracie. I listened to him and grinned on the inside. I think someone is hooked.
The next day, he was still talking about Gracie.
"I hadn't realized I had missed her," he said. "I missed riding her and just hanging out with her. Like really missed her."
I looked at him with the biggest grin on the planet and before I could say anything, he realized what he'd said. "This is YOUR fault!" he exclaimed. And we both burst out laughing.
The next time he was out at the barn with me, I asked him to do the same thing. Except he forgot and tacked up Gracie and rode her over to the old barn. I was standing inside the barn talking to a former boarder who is an avid trail rider and still helps out at the barn when Charles canters up, Gracie's mane flying, and comes to a halt in front of me. Inside the barn.
I shooed him back out from inside the building, because we all know you're not supposed to be on a horse while inside a barn building (though the ceiling in the old barn is really high) and couldn't help thinking, "My knight in shining armor just arrived." :)
"What was the plan for today?" he asked.
"Same as last time," I responded. "Except you're already on her and it looks like she's behaving, so go out and ride."
"Yay!" he said. He turned Gracie and they gaited away.
That day he would do 1.5 laps around the farm, mostly at a collected canter. I didn't know about the cantering until after when he told me about it. He cooled Gracie down appropriately and she looked like she could have gone out and done it all over again.
Note: The route he took was about a grand total of 7 miles. He did it at the canter! I think a certain mare is VERY fit right now!
The whole reason why we did Gracie's joint injections was to prepare her for Ride Between the Rivers in Elkins, WV. It was going to be her debut and Charles and I would ride together in the LD, and get to hang out with Dom, Liz, Sara and Mary. But with Lily's bandage changes and extra care, I ended up cancelling. As it was, the ride coincided with her starting full turnout, but she was still on antibiotics twice a day, which required twice daily barn visits. I also didn't want to just dump her in the field and leave for a long weekend: I wanted to monitor her leg closely during her first few days of turnout.
We both had all of this time off (we had both changed schedules in advance to accommodate the long weekend so that we would neither miss work days nor need to use up vacation time) so my mom was able to come visit at the last minute, which was awesome because we got to do stuff and give her the tour of the Frederick area. We had a blast with her, especially since my mom and I are super close and I hadn't seen her in 2 years.
Of course I took her to the barn and showed her all the stuff I have been doing with Gracie at liberty. This was the first time showing anyone what we have been doing. It's still not documented in detail with photos, but the fact that we could re-create it with an audience is pretty major. I usually get nervous/distracted when people are watching me work a horse at liberty but G-Mare loves extra attention, so there's that. ;)
I rode G-Mare in the rope halter, w/t/c and transitions canter-halt-gait. I then slipped the bridle on her and had Charles get on so Mom could see him ride. She's seen photos of course, but it's different to see it in person.
|City Boy rides like he was born on a horse.|
I mean, dude! Look at Gracie's engagement at the canter in this photo!
He chose to ride her back to the new barn (the new barn is the boarder barn) while Mom and I drove back in the truck. This was Lily's second day back on full turnout in the field with the mares.
Charles took the back trail through the hay field towards the new barn. As we pulled out into the driveway we saw all of the mares running towards the fenceline. Towards Charles and Gracie, who were zooming up the bridle path alongside the mare field at a canter.
You know Dom's profile picture, of her galloping Ozzy by a fence line with two horses on the other side of the fence line galloping up behind them? It was like that. I had a second where my heart went into my throat, thinking Gracie might bolt or act up, but then she didn't. And then I just wished I had a camera with a long lens with which to capture the moment because it was so beautiful!
Charles and Gracie rounded up by the grass berm next to the driveway at a rack, while Lily and the other 4 mares cantered along next to them on their side of the fence, Lily broncking away, bucking and kicking up her heels (her leg was fine afterwards). G-Mare was completely unfazed. She listened to Charles and came to a stop at the hitching post, where he dismounted, loosened her girth and then walked her out on foot.
Ummmm color me impressed. Majorly.
Gracie graduated in the Taking Care of Charles Department, right then and there.
The next time I was out at the barn, I worked G-Mare in the big arena. I had this idea of riding her bareback and had brought her bridle with me. Her brain was in a good place and so was mine, so I slipped the bridle on and hopped on.
I was in shorts. This is the second time I've ridden bareback in shorts out of the water. We used to take the horses swimming to Wolf Lake in the summer in FL, and that was done in shorts, bareback.
|Me on Lily at Wolf Lake in Davie, FL, with my friend Diane on Mark's gelding Beau.|
We had a great ride that day. But I ended up with a MAJOR rash on the bare parts of my legs from Lucero's sweat and hair. Thus why I had only attempted it again in the water, with no issues.
On this day, I climbed up on G-Mares back and was surprised by the fact that I stuck. With bare legs, I felt Velcroed to her back.
We did some walking to warm up and for me to find my seat. But I realized I didn't need to "find" my seat because I felt so secure. So after a few turns around the arena with circles and figure 8s at the walk, I asked her to gait. Gracie stepped out into a trot instead...and I had no problem sitting it. We did several turns around the arena in both directions at the trot...and then I cued the canter.
I have not cantered bareback since I was 16, and even then, it was never on cue. Lucero did not canter: he could speed rack up to 30 mph but "canter" was not in his vocabulary. If I wanted him to break gait I had to point him up a hill. Then he would gallop...which is the closest thing to a canter that I had been able to do bareback with him. But always going uphill in a straight line.
This was the first time in my life that I cantered bareback on cue. Gracie stepped out into her collected canter and I realized that it was even easier to sit bareback than her gait and trot. So we cantered and cantered. And then we halted, changed directions, and cantered in the other direction.
To say I was grinning from ear to ear is an understatement.
I walked her out and then swung off to open the arena gate...and then decided to just ride her bareback back to the barn.
She was absolutely perfect.
Oh, and her bridle? No bit. She was wearing the flower hackamore. :)
|Bonus: did not get a rash!|
She's come a really long way.