Today has been a fantastic day!! I attended the Introducing A Soft Feel Workship with Berin MacFarlane and it was a great learning experience; the whole day went well from start to finish!!
Loading Renegade this morning was a breeze; he went right in the trailer when asked and it was still dark outside...it was the first time we did trailer loading in the dark. Met up with my friend, Terri, and we caravanned to Berins arriving about 8:00 a.m. Renegade unloaded quietly and calmly, I groomed him and then saddled him up; he stood quietly through the entire process.
Once saddled, we went out to the "arena" to warm up a bit and we played with circling, sideways, and squeeze over a jump. It took a bit to get his attention on the circle, especially at the walk...he had his nose on the ground the whole time. I ignored that and went about asking for changes of direction and transitions. Pretty soon Renegade was paying attention and his nose was no longer on the ground. I was relieved about that since the last workshop we went to at Berin's, Renegade was grass diving the whole time and it was difficult to get his attention enough to get his head up for more than a couple of minutes. I was hoping today wouldn't be a repeat!!
Luckily today was very different, especially under saddle...Renegade was listening and his impulsion was good. He even offered to canter a couple of times but I had to politely decline the offer. Berin asked us to stay at the walk and trot. Freestyle FTR at walk and trot was fantastic; Renegade was following my focus and feel, I didn't have to touch the reins except for I think all together maybe 3 corrections in as many laps in each direction (and it's a LONG way around that "arena" - really a big pasture!!).
Once everyone was going well and the horses were relaxed Berin introduced the "soft feel" concept of combing the reins in a friendly manner with a bit of drag/feel on the reins until our horses relaxed into the bit then release, rewarding the slightest try. It took a bit (1/2 way around the "arena") for Renegade to "get it" the first time, he experimented a bit, pushing and pulling on the bit and got behind it a little. Once he softened a little I released and let him have some relaxation. After repeating this a couple of times, Renegade gave me some nice contact on the bit a couple of times. It's hard to describe the "feel" when this happens but I could definitely feel the difference between Renegade evading/avoiding the bit and him taking up the contact.
The technique is interesting and it looked like we were all swimming on top of our horses. We were to round our backs, and bring an arm over hand like we were swimming then starting at the mane, we were to comb the reins first one arm the the other in a slow and rhythmic way until we felt our horse relax and take contact with the bit. I could feel the difference in Renegade's body when he took up the contact. He felt more rounded for a stride or so. Once we had the hang of it at the walk, we moved to the trot and the difference in Renegade's body when he took up contact and rounded his body became more obvious; I could really feel the difference.
I have much more practice to do before I get good at this and I hope Renegade will forgive my fumblings until I get more savvy. He really was a good sport today!!
I also enjoyed hearing the auditors comment on Renegade when we rode by. They were commenting on how well he was doing, that he was accepting the bit and contact well, and of course what a handsome little fellow he is!!
We did have two mishaps today: the first was someone taking a picture of us when the flash on the camera suddenly went off (and it hadn't done that up til that point). Renegade kind of jumped sideways but I kept my seat; no unplanned dismount for me!! The second time was when we got a bit squeezed while in the horseshoe listening to Berin; Renegade was o.k. with Beau whom he knows but there were two other horses he didn't know that got a bit close for Renegade's comfort. He pinned his ears and was trying to get into a position to defend his zone 5. Of course, I didn't have my carrot stick so I moved us around a bit to keep everyone out of the danger zone and he settled down.
All in all a very successful day and I couldn't be happier with my little "Pony Boy". He was fabulous today and gave me his all!!