I was so nervous heading out to the barn after work today, that I couldn't even eat dinner. I was a total jitter bug, chewing my lip to pieces and just anxious.
A friend from up the street, S, wound up following me down the highway (she lives a couple miles from where Moon is boarded), so she stopped by briefly to meet him. Which was awesome, as he's a total highlight for me, and she's so often invited me over to trail ride when I've been horseless. She had a nice meeting with him, and then was off to pick up her little boy.
I pulled my breeches on and gave Moon a thorough grooming. He's shedding out beautifully, and is such a lovely rich brown color. His loving attention has made his coat glisten, and I made sure he was looking top notch for his journey. If nothing else, I wanted Coach W to say "Wow, he's well cared for". On went the bell boots, and by this time, T and M were hooking up the trailer and a group of girls showed up to work with some of the younger horses. Which is awesome, cause there's nothing better for young girls to be doing after school then working horses.
Moon'er loaded like an ABSOLUTE dream, giving me just one look of "Are you sure?" before hopping in. T gave me the keys so I could have a practice drive, and off we went towards the arena and training!
We arrived in no time, and I was still crazy nervous. Moon offloaded RIGHT onto my right toes, not his fault or intention, just me not realizing I was kind of in his way as he lept (instead of stepped) off the trailer. Reason #3 why step-ups are NOT as favorable as ramp loads! Oh well, I didn't need those toes anyway!
He was snuffing and woofing like crazy, taking in all the strange smells. Even calling out as well pulled into the driveway.
He was excited, which for me, with my past experience, was a little tough. I suffered a severe head injury while holding a nervous horse on the ground, and it still brings back some bad memories. The last thing I needed was him rearing up on me at my first lesson, and that being the end of riding all together.
Instead we walked into the barn, an entire aisle of horses greeting us. Each reached out and said "Hello" to Moon in their horse-y way, and he exchanged breaths with a few. I got him into the cross-ties, realizing this was not only his first time in a barn, but his first time in cross ties!
W showed up with dogs in toe, and suggested I lead him around the ring to calm down. This was after she did some gentle excercises with his head to help him relax. He took the arena like a champ, even the crazy fighting dogs. After 3 laps he was Mr. Mellow, and she said "Let's tack him up!"
So I did!
We did some quick adjustments to his bridle (she likes a loose nose band), and she gave an a-okay for his bit (the KY double jointed). Even better, she complimented our bridle!! And which one did we choose to bring? The old bridle I bought at the tack swap a couple years ago for $15!! No joke! She thought it was uber supple and had a really nice nose band! Who would have guessed!
Out in the arena, I told her about how he shifts away when being mounted, and she said she had some solutions but we'd deal with them next time around. Right now, he's too nervous to concentrate on any lesson we might try to teach him in that regard.
We started doing circles, and we found Mr. Moon bends to the right. Curled to the right in the womb, and therefore he always walks around bent in this direction. Our intent was to supple him, and straighten him out by bending him the opposite direction. We'd do this by opening our inside rein, keeping our outside rein constant, and giving a little pressure with the inside leg to keep the rump out. At the same time, the outside leg would maintain holding resistance, and when necessary if he was avoiding what I was asking, I'd give a brief lift to the inside rein.
It was AMAZING. After a couple of circles, he has dropping his head and really moving into the bit. She was thrilled as he gave head shakes and really started to stretch out his neck and reach forward. She did say that while he mouths the bit a lot which is great, sometimes he curls his top lip up, which is something we need to work away from. She spoke a lot about building a partnership, where he learns to trust and seek out contact of the reins from me. I told her how PARANOID I am about being too rough on his mouth, and she complimented me for having really soft hands, which is a bit rare at times. She said it was one of the more valuable riding habits to have, as you can ask for anything harder, but it's hard to ask for something gentler. Add to that, she said my body position was good, though I still forget to close my fingers on the reins, my legs flop a ton due to lack of muscle, and I sometimes get bird wings with my arms.
Correcting my position comes later she said! And correct it she shall! But it was great, and we got him moving in both directions and flexing. Moving to the right was more difficult, as he's more likely to cut in, and this requires more steady outside rein. We worked hard on it, and after awhile managed to get a nice bend going.
So she had us trot!
And trot we did. She said that when he gets nervous, unsure of what I'm asking, or when I confuse him or something is difficult for him, he stops. That's his thing, and it's a wonderful thing in a horse. It means he's safe and level headed for riding, instead of choosing the opposite which is to bolt. I love my Moon'er!
So it took some coaching to get him to maintain his trot rythym, especially when I was asking him to bend as well. It came easier to the left then the right, but we managed it to some degree in both direction. What did improve noticably was his transitions, where instead of banging on his bum or flying forward, I was able to stay centred in the saddle. She said he has a beautiful trot and is very energetic and full moving in, despite being a long horse, with limited topline, lack of neck muscling, and a really stiff neck. Can't complain!
By the end, we had achieved some movements and body positions in him that she said you'd be looking for for introductory dressage shows. She complimented him, saying she's have him in her barn, and that these little 15 hh fellows are at times, more capable then the leggy ones. More to that, the western horses sometimes have that soft touch that makes them wonderful for it.
The class ended beautifully, I was sweating and sore. And Moon was a little warm too. But it was AWESOME. He did so wonderfully, and I was beyond proud of him. He even trailered home perfectly, along with loading and unloading from the trailer.
But the rest of the story will wait for tomorrow, as I'm tired and sore. A+ Mr. MoonSox!