After driving half-cocked around the city buying supplies for the camper repair, I managed to get out to the barn around 5 pm, and find that when I got out of my car, Moon was standing in front of the gate, staring at me. Hmmm...does he ACTUALLY know it's me when I pull up??
Brought Mr. Muddy over to be groomed, and in no time he was back to being shiny. T hadn't arrived yet, so I filled all the water troughs and buckets for the other ponies, and prepped everything in the trailer and truck. Finally, needing SOMETHING to pass the time, I grabbed my 'roper' reins (the type that clip on) and attached them to Moon's halter. He actually stood reasonably nicely to mount (maybe last week's tantrum had an affect), and I climbed aboard bareback.
At first he just wanted to GO, but before long he had settled down nicely, and much to my chagrin...or pleasure...he was lowering his head and stretching out. WHY can't he do that in a bridle!
We did some nice turn-on-the-fores and some very sloppy trot work (MUST learn to relax!), and I decided it was well enough. He was moving and listening well, including giving me nice stops.
When T showed up, we headed out to Coach W's, and I always enjoy the conversation along the way. Coach W was her usual spunky self, and complimented Mr. Moon in his new saddle pad, claiming that white and black looked very sharp on him. Why was he in a new saddle pad? Because SOMEONE forgot to wash his purple one (yes, my boy horse wears pale purple), and it was the only other one kicking around the tack room. Okay, the old blue "Griffin" one is there, but I HATE that pad. It's not shaped, and I've found with his prominent wither and dropped back, it tends to pull down at the wither which to me looks rather painful. So I've decided it just won't be used anymore. I wonder if someone would be interested in it?
Anyway, Moon looked fabulous, and we got tacked and headed into the arena to start working. I told Coach W all about my frustrations and Mr. Head-in-the-Sky, and how I felt like our practice sessions were WORSE then anything before. As she is wonderful, she decided we'd take a different approach...
She started by working with the bit in her hands, encouraging him to lower. As she worked him into it, she slowed moved back to using the reins and finally, told me to mimic what she had done to get him to lower his head into the bit. At first I couldn't figure it out. She pointed out one big issue, was that I was narrowing my hands, and Moon really needed them further apart. It really did seem like when I took this wider approach (felt awkward to keep my hands so far apart), he was more willing to lower.
I worked and worked and worked on it, trying to get the right feeling to get him to drop his head. Coach W suggested doing it at a stand still where I was a lot more able, and then moving out into a walk, getting him to keep that head position. And if he didn't, trying for a lap to get him to regain it. Should we fail, bring him back down to a walk, and get it there.
At first it was difficult. W sometimes would come over when we were stopped and work his head down herself. Sometimes he'd resist, throwing his head up or opening his mouth. Sometimes he'd try to back-up, or throw his haunches over. Sometimes, he'd stick his nose in the ground.
Slowly, bit by little bit, he would drop his head sooner. And with less rein pressure. Eventually, he would move from stand still to walk without raising his head, and keep it there as we went around. We did it in both directions, and I was a little taken aback by how quickly he seemed to be grasping what I wanted of him. Yes, he still would open his mouth at times, but he was quicker to close it and chew.
After awhile, W suggested I try moving out to a trot, and still maintaining the lowered head carriage.
Our first go, by some miracle, he kept his head low, and for once, I wasn't popped forward in the saddle. It was awesome! Of course, it didn't last long, and I couldn't get him to come back to me. We stopped, fixed it, walked on, kept it, and then trotted. Once or twice he'd throw his head up, or shoot me forward, but after awhile, I could get him to lower in the trot too. That was super special to me. W said you could see him really start to round, and he looked so much better. Not only that, but he was moving better, and some day, despite being the stocky, thick necked horse that he is, he'll achieve some beautiful movements. Which is the whole purpose of this.
We worked in both directions, ironically, going to the right was actually BETTER for him. Sometimes he'd lose his balance, or fall on his face, or stick his nose in the dirt, but it REALLY felt like we were actually starting to achieve what we wanted. And he felt a lot less resistant!
W called the class to an end, and Moon got some sugar lumps (which he spit out) and some peppermint treats. Mmm, he loves those peppermint treats. She gave us some ground work to do, such as from the ground while he is bitted, to work on getting him to lower and move out. It was great, as he was now standing with his head lowered, and really did seem a lot more relaxed.
I told W about how some people were suggesting we try a different bit, or dropped noseband, etc. The thing that hit home to me, was that we're working towards acceptance of the bit. She assured me that we could get him to lower in any number of harsh bits or clamping their mouth shut, and achieve something that looks very similar to what we want. You can 'fake' acceptance. But you're not going to have a relaxed, calm and willing horse in your hands. You're not going to develop that bond that we so desperately desire. My choice is either to focus on achieving a certain "look" as quickly as possible, or to focus on creating a certain "feel", which might take two, three or twelve months. Some people want to go fast. That's okay. But you have to decide what you want.
Moon and I, we want to do it right. I want him to trust me wholeheartedly on the bit. She said, someday, we'll be so in-tune, that on days when I'm off, he'll cover for me. And I for him. THAT is equine partnership. That's what we're going for. Yes, this is new and awkward for us both. Yes, it's tough, and we'll have struggles. But my Moon'er is ALWAYS trying, and always wanting to give me his best. Sometimes, yes, he has a tantrum. So do I. It's hard to change, and he's been moving in that way for so long, developed those muscles and behaviours for so long, that this is difficult. And I need to give him the time to redevelop. I'm changing how he moves. That takes time.
So I think, despite my "new year's resolutions", that we'll forgo the competitions for this year. This year, will be all about movement. We'll spend the time developing a relationship and a way of going that is relaxed, flexible and balanced. For both of us.
I actually think, that I'm going to love dressage more then jumping in the end. It seems you have to work a billion times harder to make the slightest change. You could probably whip a horse into popping over a jump, but let's see you whip a horse into a piaffe!
Now to find some practice time. : ) Mr. Moon and I are re-focused!