Today's ride was awesome!!! I wish my camera was working properly (battery isn't holding a charge for long enough to take a video) so that I could show everyone the improvement over the last few rides! I don't know if it has just taken Boomer a few rides to get back into the swing of 'arena riding' or if wearing a martingale really made such a noticeable difference. To me, arena riding is basically back yard dressage. I don't have any formal dressage training yet, but I pretty much ask Boomer to bend, soften, have contact with the bit and work off my legs. When we trail ride, he gets a loose reins and as long as he goes where I point, he is allowed to be a horse and take care of us.
It seemed like every part of our ride was better. As we warmed up at the walk on a loose rein, he was very relaxed and wasn't looking suspiciously at anything. His bends and circles were good, he was offering frequently to stretch down into my hands. His leg yields are getting better, especially to the left. We mostly stayed on a large circle for the trot work and I worked on speeding up and slowing down using my seat, which he rocked at! He also showed great improvement with moving out on a circle. He used to spiral in because he was so heavy in the front and seemed dead to my inside leg asking him to make the circle bigger, but today he was able to move right off of my leg as soon as I asked. I think that wearing spurs has helped his lateral movement and responsiveness. He was bending well and accepting contact without tossing his head or banging the bit. We worked on the canter more and that is where I saw the biggest improvement. I kept him on the same big circle as the trot and he really seemed to balance better. There were a few moments when I felt like I needed to really open up my inside rein and pick him up, but mostly he was balanced. He was really slowing down more than he ever has before and he even started seeking contact and stretching down!!! I did encourage him to speed up in the canter with my seat for a few strides and then slow him back down to make sure that he understands that there are variable speeds that I can, and will, ask for. We did a few canter/walk transitions and those were much better. he felt lighter and didn't slam onto his forehand and throw his head up. He kept balanced and I kept a leg on him to keep him moving forward as he slowed down. After the canter work he was a little excited, but did well at more small trot circles, backing, sidepassing, etc.
I am super excited with how well our ride went! I think that the 'speed up and slow down' at the trot, plus focusing on cantering only on a circle were the main things that helped with the canter speed. I think that the martingale really helped with the head tossing and kept him from slamming his head up, bracing his neck, and falling forward. I don't think I'll use it very often, but I can see where it could really help us. I didn't use it to pull him down, he just didn't try to toss his head. I never felt him brace against it either, so I feel like we are using it safely and without depending on it or being forceful. I think it will be interesting to see how much of a difference it can make. Right now, it is hard to tell because Boomer has been adjusting back into the routine of 'arena work' and has been continually improving with every ride, so it is hard to tell what is natural progression and what is benefiting from the training tool.
After our ride I put Boomer under his cooler and let him relax a little. I worked on picking some scratches scabs off of his fetlocks. It rained a lot the last week he was in training and he had some scratches on his heels. I have been trying to loosen them as much as I can without water and today they have finally stated to fall off, so I spent some time cleaning up his legs. I also tried to give him his first candy cane. The barn has a tree up in the lounge with candy canes on it for the horses and I couldn't resist! I broke it into pieces and tried the force feeding technique, but he just kept making faces like I was trying to poison him! I tried 3 or 4 times, but he just kept looking offended and trying to spit it out. I ended up just giving him a horse cookie and eating the candy cane myself! My old horse, Fire, used to LOVE peppermints. I always kept a bag of the green ones in my locker and when he heard me unwrapping one he would start to nicker and bob his head up and down. The green mints are better than the red ones, maybe Boomer would like those better too!
I am really looking forward to our next ride and can't wait to see how much we improve before our first dressage lesson! T minus 21 days!