My plan for yesterday was to work on our canter. I need to reduce my dependence on the reins for guiding her and to convince her she can follow my focus at the higher gait.
When I arrived at the barn, another boarder was taking advantage of the remaining daylight to take a little trail walk. I decided to join her figuring Cricket would enjoy the grazing that always accompanies these little jaunts.
We headed out to the pond on the neighbors property. My friend wanted to see how her horse would handle the water. Cricket has never been a big fan of swimming or even getting her feet wet, for that matter. I thought it would be a chance to at least play some approach and retreat. Cricket is not fearful but I want her to trust my leadership.
We found an entry point that had some grass growing in the shallows. Ever motivated by her stomach, Cricket offered to step into the water to reach the more tender grass. When she indicated that she was concerned about having to go further, I asked her to back up a step or two. After a short pause, I asked her to go forward. She willingly went into the water and we had a lovely, confident squeeze game through the water. I repeated it a few times and she went all the way in until her belly and chest were wet. I allowed her to graze while my friend was doing some approach and retreat with her mare. I then asked Cricket for a circle game, going up the small hill, down into the water and continuing the circle up the hill. We did both sides and she was so calm and willing.
Darkness began to fall and the mosquitoes were out so we headed back. I asked Cricket for traveling circle game and then some Z4 driving. She was so good. I figured that was a good warm-up so when we got to the arena, I saddled her up. I decided to saddle completely at liberty. I'm working on Cricket's responsibility to stand still. We're doing a little target training - I'm using cookies but only giving them to her when her nose touches the wall. It's helping keep her with me instead of backing up hoping to align her nose with my hand to get a cookie.
In the saddle we started with trotting the rail. Cricket picked up a nice working trot to the left and I took her an entire circuit of the arena without touching the rein and posting and she maintained excellent rhythm.
We moved to the Question Box for some transition work. I started with the walk and then added walk/trot/walk transitions. Cricket is beginning to assume that coming into the box at a trot means leaving the box at the canter. While I'm happy she's so willing, I want her to be ready to go either way. It actually makes for a more collected transition. Once she was more tuned in, we started some cantering. She was relaxed and I'm just IN LOVE with my horse.
After only about two circuits to the right, we turned around to go to the left. Starting with the walk and trot, I made sure she was checked in before asking for the canter. I'm still having problems relaxing into the left lead. My friend, who was now riding her mare, watched and she assured me Cricket has a clean upward transition and a nice true three-beat canter. So I now know it is all me!
I decided that was enough and dismounted. I know I need to canter more but I also know I need to keep good feelings so I quit when I feel good. I unsaddled Cricket and stayed in the arena at the request of my friend.
I'm still hesitant about playing at liberty in the big arena. Cricket developed a pattern of leaving and I'm doing everything I can to increase her confidence and break that habit. I played with increasing her energy on the draw. She was very motivated by pushing energy behind the drive line. When she put for effort I rewarded her with cookies and scratches. It wasn't long before I felt her very with me. I played with some circles inside one of the question box circles. Cricket seemed to accept the cones as a fence and gave me a lovely trot circle. Hmm, might be an option for our liberty audition.
I had a great session with her and I just cannot believe how much fun we're having with cantering under saddle. I've never felt my canter improve. It's always been good once or twice and then slowly goes down hill. For the first time, I am seeing continual improvement. My happiness is nearly indescribable.