I had been to work. I had endured Physical Therapy. I'm still not back to 100% strength, failing at a few pieces, so the weights were all increased, and a few of the body drills made more difficult. After almost two hours of holding the couch down watching TV, absorbing any kind of strength I could from a snack and my water jug, I stumbled outside.
Harley didn't budge as I approached him with his halter. A serious improvement. When I reached up to tie the halter, he lowered his head, licking and chewing. A great start. At the trailer, he stood almost perfectly still for leg wrapping and saddling. I thought I had everything I needed. Saddle, wrapped legs, longe line, side reins, longing bit/bridle, helmet, gloves (riding Myler bit left at the barn). When I realized what I'd forgotten, it was already too late, and I wasn't ambitious enough to walk back to the house.
At the arena, I longed him on the line (no side reins), just to see what sorta baby I had for the day. He was phenominal. He trotted out over the poles, the three in a row, and a single on each side of it. He almost looked proud of himself, only knocking one pole off the rail razor once. I cantered him over the two singles, but wide out around the three in a row. He quickly figured out where his feet needed to be, and behaved accordingly. Over one pole, he switched leads incorrectly, but after a quick correction, was back on the correct (left) lead. His halts, and waiting patiently were amazing as well. He'd stand there, and not even try to walk off if I moved.
So I got brave. I added the longing bit (french link aurigan loose ring), and the side reins barely touching as he was relaxed. We went to an open part of the arena, and I sent him out. Within moments, he was quietly mouthing the bit, looking for his release at the walk. Once he found it, Harley stayed in that quiet, forward, relaxed walk, head nice & relaxed low. At the trot, he stayed mostly relaxed, and at the canter, he at least lowered his head a bit, lower than he goes without the side reins. I shortened them just a little, and sent him back out at the trot. He popped his head up, and found the wrong release - head up in the sky, nose out. Only for brief moments was he long, low, and attempting collection. Yuck. I didn't even try the canter, knowing I need to reevaluate how I attach the side reins to the saddle, and rethink how I show him to accept light contact on the bit.
R arrived, and I asked that he get back into the trailer and bring me the riding Myler bit. He came with it in hand, I changed Harley's headgear, and hopped aboard. Other than a few antsy-pants moments of refusing to stand still, we enjoyed about ten minutes of relaxed walk. An engine somewhere nearby backfired loud as it shut off, and I waited for Harley to spook. Not even a flicked ear. Excellent! I rode him around the poles, over the singles, and in between the set of three (straight line). I found him wiggly rather than linear, and so I aimed for 5-7 steps straight line by focusing waaaay far out of the arena on a tree or fence post. With some success, I went back to direction changes and halts. Harley kept his head long and low, but I know that his little nose was poked out.
After dismounting, which is still the most painful activity, R asked if we'd done any mounting from the steps. No, no success there. So, I put Harley back in his halter, and R walked him up to the steps while I stood at the bottom. I climbed the steps, fiddled with the saddle, put weight in one stirrup, and after three tries, I was able to get my body into the saddle, sit about ten seconds, and slide back out onto the steps. Fantastic! Previously, Harley was terrified of the mounting steps. Now, with repeated exposure, he'll walk up to them, stand up close, and almost patiently let me climb aboard. It'll take a few more times to make sure he knows it's not a dangerous place to be.
About an hour's total time in the arena, including tack changes, and little water breaks for me. Harley has come so far, and so have I. I felt confident enough to get him through his antsy pantsy wiggle halts, and was able to focus on something other than dreaded "I'm going to fall" fear. Needless to say, the cookie bucket was depleted after we got back to the barn, and untacking looked much like tacking, with very little wiggling.
Way to go Baby Harley! You're growing up!