Without the saddle to start, I sent Harley out on the longeline, knotted halter. Quiet as a mouse, he walked a little in the pen. I clucked him into a trot, and immediately the saddle owner said, "Wow, I have a friend that would be drooling right now. What a floaty trot. Too big for my liking, but wow!" I didn't push Harley past trot, again due to his bigger size and the smallish round pen. Harley stayed mouse quiet, both directions. At one point, he bucked up in the rear end a little bit. We were all kind of shocked. Later, after I mounted, I realized why - loose horse shoe in the round pen, nails bent around (thank goodness). Harley had likely stepped on it funny, and was startled by it.
We set the saddle on his back under a borrowed pad. (A "Won Pad", by the way, which was wool on top, thick neoprene on bottom. I was not impressed, it didn't bend or give, and Harley sweat in a weird pattern in it.) The saddle looked to fit all around. Steady in his shoulders, even across his back, and looked to be comfortable. Again, I sent Harley out on the line. Quiet still. No overreaction, no resistance to the circle, no buck or fight.
Another prayer, helmet, and bit. And I hopped on. First thing I did, of course, was flex his nose side to side. Saddle owner asked, "So which natural horsemanship star do you follow?" I told her, "A little of all of them. Some are too weak, and some chase them too hard. I'm in the middle." I shared that I was on the HorseMaster show with Ransom, and got some "oohs and ahhs" for that. "Wow! That's really cool!" Harley and I flexing the whole time.
I asked him to walk off. Now, I remembered, "Oh Crap! I didn't put him in his neck stretcher. Oh well. I will work for bending correctly and staying forward. We'll work on collection back home." To measure what kind of ride it would be, I shortened my reins at walk.
Instant collection. Harley dropped his head, tucked his nose, and relaxed. You've GOT to be KIDDING me?! Fantastic! I glowed in pride. This is MY horse! This is MY Hard work! All those hours at home repeating and repeating and, ... it's paying off. The ladies expressed their delight as he "is such a good boy". I pushed Harley up to the trot, and again, I was astounded. Nice forward gait, with a delightful bend. He fought staying out on the circle a little, and argued with me a little about collection. But not for long. I could NOT have asked for a better ride.
I dismounted, we took the saddle off, and Harley was huffin' and puffin'. It was well over 100F outside, and in the hottest sun of the day by then (near noon). We found a hose, sprayed him down, and walked him a little bit more. After the bath, Harley's breathing eased, and he relaxed. Before the bath, though, we looked at sweat patterns. Pretty good, except for a void in the middle of where the saddle sat - pad was too stiff, not enough give.
Overall, I could NOT have asked for a better set of horses on Saturday. The friend of the saddle owner told a story of a tragic horse vs. car accident she was in, and I could relate to every pain she described. After I rode both boys, back at the trailer exchanging payment for saddle and putting my things away, the friend said to me...
"You've inspired me today. I need to go easy, take my time, and get back to working with my horse. He's a bit older than your baby, but not as experienced. It's nice to know if I take my time, work hard, and don't push for trail work right now, I can have a horse like yours. Your riding was inspiring. You're obviously a very dedicated rider."
Wow... A complete stranger. Now, admittedly, she probably watches a lot of goofy trail riding folks that don't practice at home, ride nutty hot-blooded rockets, and don't ride but once a month or less. They probably stand in their stirrups, don't really ride, and bit the horses to the moon for brakes. But still.... I'm sure each of you has heard someone say something this to you once or more in your riding lives. I haven't.. That's the first time ever a complete stranger has had sweet things to say.
And I did it, On the horse that kicked me, and the Baby. The baby, who is normally scared of trees blowing, boogers in strange places, and wouldn't consider giving to the bit. The baby, who ran from me scared in the pasture less than a year ago. Absolutely incredible.
We've come so far, yet there's so far to go. I love dressage! :)