I haven't ridden Little Love again since that first day a couple of weeks ago. But I've been a bit worried about whether or not I can offer her the chance to move enough while K is away at Christmas, so I decided today that I really need to start riding more in preparation. It was great to ride again after such a long break, and I think it went pretty well the first time. But I was a bit imbalanced and uncomfortable in the saddle, and so I worried about getting back to the old comfort level, especially at trot.
Little Love is obviously moving more in the paddock now with the whole herd together, because she is usually quite muddy. So I set to washing her legs and trying to brush off all the dried mud, at least enough to make a clean path for the saddle and girth. She is so patient through this daily ordeal, but I wondered how she would feel when I took out the saddle. To my surprise, she seemed quite happy about it, even licking and chewing a bit after the saddle was on and I was working on the stirrups. Again, I have to tout the advantages of clicker training, because I know K has been working on this with the saddle, and I did some today as well. (Which reminds me, I used the clicker today to get her to walk out of the frozen, uneven paddock with me. It worked quite well for the most part - seems to be no limit to what you can do with this tool. :-) )
We walked away from the barn side by side, because I had decided to walk to the end of the bigger road and the beginning of the trail into the forest before mounting (it's about a 20-25 minute walk). Mounting was actually my main concern today, because Little Love is not known to stand exactly still for this exercise. And with me being in not my best shape (and not the most flexible person to begin with), this could have been a challenge. But true to her nature again, Lilo understood my limitations and, after one false start on my part, stood stock still until the moment my butt hit the saddle. Then she was ready to go, so I had to readjust my stirrup length, which I had lengthened to help with the mounting, on the move.
I've ridden Little Love a few times on trail rides before, in Switzerland a few years ago. I think at least once with a bit and once with the biteless bridle. If I remember correctly, on both these occasions she got spooked and took off with me at full speed at some point during the ride. So I had some preconceived notions about her on trails, but I also know how much she has changed in every other way since then. And sure enough, this was a different horse that I was riding today. Most of the time I had completely loose reins, and I felt like I could even have done so at trot if I weren't afraid of the reins falling too far down and hindering her movement. Speaking of trot, wow this horse has a magnificent trot! :-) I remembered her having a big trot, but it's so different when the horse is happy and calm underneath you and truly enjoying the experience with you. I had never ridden a horse in extended trot before today, but when Little Love offered it, I was elated. What an experience!
She trotted at the slightest request (basically me thinking it) and slowed down a few times before I even asked her to, when she was ready to walk. Between trots, she walked calmly forward, catching her breath and waiting for me to say when I was ready for the next surge forward. On our last trot stretch, going uphill, she asked to canter, so we practiced that as well. Gone was my hesitation and uneasiness from the first ride - this was so much fun.
At the top of the hill, after riding about twenty minutes and still about fifteen minutes away from the barn, I slid from her back and walked next to her the rest of the way home. I love this style of riding, where we mount for a short period of time, see what the horse wants to do, and then get off when the horse has had enough and her back is still alive and well. It is such a different experience from begging and/or forcing a horse to move forward from atop its back with little to no sharing of the experience or emotional connection.