Brett wanted to try riding Flash this morning. Tex and I have reached a place where we are very comfortable with each other; and maybe a bit bored. He looks at me like, "What's next?" I've asked Tex how he feels about riding and the answer I get is: "yes, but I need to be safe." So, I told Brett that I was going to work with Tex while he rode Flash.
My plan was to have no plan and no expectations. I wanted to groom him at a minimum but I didn't know how saddling, or mounting or riding would go so I gave myself permission to stop at any point. I also didn't know how my foot would feel -- I obviously can't ride in a walking cast.
Tex is fearful of the tie rail, and panics when tied, so I dropped the lead rope to the ground about ten feet from the rail and groomed him there. He stood perfectly still while I thoroughly picked his feet, curried and brushed his auburn coat, and got the tangles out of his mane and tail.
Brett, meanwhile, put trail boots on Flash and got him groomed and ready to go. I asked Brett to hold Tex while I put on the saddle pad. Last time I put a saddle on him, he didn't like the pad coming at him. I let him smell it (which I also do with each of my grooming tools; I show it to him before I use it so he knows what I'm doing). He took one big sniff and then was fine as I settled the pad on his back. I asked Brett to swing the saddle onto Tex's back -- Tex is tall, the western saddle is heavy and I wasn't sure how my foot would feel. Brett got himself disorganized somehow and it wasn't exactly a smooth landing, but Tex was pretty good despite the less-than-perfect execution.
Brett and Flash mounted first. I didn't want to mount until Tex nailed the mounting block line-up skill I taught him back in March. I figured we might not get past line up. Flash was so happy and excited about being ridden that a he forgot his manners and marched off as soon as Brett was in the saddle. He walked out fine in the arena sand and looked more animated than we've seen him in years. Brett retired Flash before we moved here so he had never been ridden in the dressage court before (but he has walked through it on his way to the top pasture a ga-zillion times). Brett kept it to a walk, but he and Flash had a grand time together.
Meanwhile, back at the mounting block, I stood at the top of the block and asked Tex to come over. Tex lined himself up almost perfectly on the second try. I said to him, "I could probably get on you from here, but it would be a stretch, not graceful, and not good for either of us. Could you move just two steps forward for me?" And he did.
Once I was in the saddle, he marched off. You know, the cowboy style -- they swing up and, before they are solid in the saddle, they are off and running. I stopped Tex and said, no, we do things more chill here. You wait while I mount; we take a few minutes to get comfortable; and then we walk off at a relaxed pace. Tex flicked his ears at me -- I don't have to rush? Or perform? Or go, go, go?
Nope, we just chill.
I asked him to relax at the walk -- he was rushing and worrying and not sure what he was supposed to do. Walk, I said. Walk and relax. And halt. Relax. Walk. Back. Turn. ...Tex relaxed and stayed relaxed the rest of the time. He doesn't know how to halt from my seat; he barged through my hands the first time. But, he was definitely softer by the time we finished. Today we worked on relaxation and halt.
He looked around a few times while we were riding; at the dirt road, or the trees, or trolls. But, that's all he did: look. He didn't tense or worry or spook. He just looked, curiously and calmly. I have to learn to relax about that and trust him.
After our work in the arena, I rode Tex back to the barn. He liked that. Me, too.