Boomer and I have been improving a little at a time. On Sunday he really 'got it' and was relaxing his head down and striding out, increasing his speed and getting really forward for whole circles at a time. We were having some great transitions and he was really enjoying himself! He seemed to be really trying to figure out what I was asking. It was very cool to see him really get it and put forth a good effort. He really seemed to understand that 'that' was how he was supposed to carry himself for the whole ride.
Fast forward to Monday and the newness has worn off. Boomer decided that what I was asking him to do was hard work and he was a little resistant. I took it down a notch and he was compliant, if not cheerful. I still asked him to relax down and move forward, but I just gave him lighter contact and released for any 'forward' he offered, not just big strides. We also did more walk work and leg yields along the wall and kept the ride short at 45 minutes.
A huge improvement is that I have gotten Boomer in to the wash rack twice now! If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how Boomer acts when he doesn't want to do something. Lots of high headed, pulling back, and planting feet. My plan is to put pressure on the lead rope until he steps forward. It hasn't worked yet. After a few minutes, ranch manager and trainer Bill asked if I needed help. He talked to me about how the pressure and release is good if the horse responds to it, but if Boomer doesn't respond to that it is just teaching him to hang on me. He wanted me to focus on keeping him moving and to forget about the wash rack. He took Boomer and led him up and down the aisle, using the lead rope behind him to send Boomer forward in a hurry to reinforce leading. He told me not to use any lead rope pressure at all and when I ask him to walk if he doesn't respond to send him forward from the hip- doesn't matter where he goes as long as he doesn't run me over. If he moves towards the wash rack- I let him stop and stand. Then repeat the ask for a walk forward again. After maybe 3-4 tries Boomer headed right in the wash rack with no fear at all! I tried again the next day and he went in again after minor encouragement. The second day, I had cookies in my pocket and hooked him up in the cross ties and gave him a few treats. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement to lighten the load, eh?
I keep trying to tell Boomer that a real beast of burden doesn't get cookies.