This morning I woke up early, before the pre-light of dawn. I must be getting old. It seems to me that this is what "old" people do... go to bed early and get up early. Not that I'm complaining. I rather enjoy being up early. The dogs sensed that I was awake and started moving about on their beds. We were up and headed down to the barn before 6:00. I finished up the morning chores at 7:00; Brett works on Mondays so it takes a bit longer when I do them solo. I didn't need to leave for work until 8:30 -- plenty of time to ride.
Winston wasn't too sure about this riding early in the morning business. I gave him a flake of alfalfa in his stall while I was finishing up the chores so he didn't miss out on hay. But, he's used to being ridden mid-day or in the afternoon; not in the chill of the early morning. He was confused but cooperative while I tacked him up.
We started walking towards the arena and that's where he got nervous. In the field behind our house and the arena, there is a big empty corral on our neighbor's property. Yesterday, one of the ranch residents put two of her horses in the corral so that was issue number one. There were "strange" horses in a corral that is always empty. The compounding issue was the neighbor's dog who was barking his fool head off at the two "strange" horses. The two horses didn't care; they were busy searching the ground for leftover hay. Winston cared. A lot. He wouldn't stand still while I tightened his girth. He puffed himself up as big as he could, put his head high in the air and snorted. The mounting block is next to the fence between our property and the evil barking dog/strange horses. I decided not to mount right away. Brett was at work and if Winston decided to bolt or buck no one would be around to pick me up off the ground. Instead we went into the arena and I handwalked Winston around and around until he got bored and dropped his head. Then we went to the mounting block and I was able to get on without any trouble.
Back in the arena, my plan was to do a review of the areas we worked on in my lesson this past Saturday. Winston was still highly distrustful of the neighbor's field so we worked at the other end of the arena. I asked for bend with my inside leg while being careful to keep my weight on my outside seat bone. This kept me straight in the saddle instead of collapsing in (thanks for the reminder Val), and Winston didn't fall in on his shoulder. I insisted that he try, which he did, and I lavishly praised him for his effort. We worked our way to the scary end of the arena with mixed results. He consistently scooted sideways in the corner and tried to bolt. I could feel that he was nervous. He was not being pissy; he was apprehensive.
I ignored the scooty behavior and kept on working. Eventually, I was able to bend him deeply into the dangerous corner despite him being concerned. This may sound minor, but it was a big step for Winston. He ceded control and trust to me. He didn't die. I was very pleased.
Yesterday seems to have been a turning point. After our ride around the community where he was nervous but listened to me, I turned him out into the pasture. When we went down to feed in the evening, I put his blanket on and Brett brought down the hay. Winston wouldn't leave my side even with dinner delivered. He wanted to be with me and I can't put into words how happy that made me. He knew I didn't have treats, and he was respectful of my space. He didn't go eat his dinner until I walked away. We now have a confidence connection. He wants to be my dance partner and he likes how I lead. I'm sure there will be more attitude adjustments in the future but this weekend we made a lot of progress.