My next visit to Speedy wasn’t for a month after the Sheryl clinic, when we headed back to MIL’s place for Christmas. I was only able to get three rides in over nine days, since California was getting a much-needed dump of precipitation.
MIL and HJ friend had decided the best way for me to spend those rides would be to keep working on gymnastics with Speedy. So we set up several poles so we would have the option to trot through, canter through, and then raise them to bounce through. And the next three days we basically just went back and forth over those poles, after a quick warmup.
The first day we kept it to a trot, going back and forth over placing poles on either side of an itty bitty vertical. The goal was to keep it slow and easy, and help Speedy find a steady pace to the fences and a quiet arc over the fence. I was instructed to stay out of his way, grab mane or neck strap, and use just verbal cues to slow the tempo as needed. The only things I cared about were that he went (relatively) straight and woah-ed when asked. Other than that, he got lots of praise and pats as he went, and I talked to him a lot to keep both me and him breathing. Unsurprisingly, Speedy was great.
On day two, we advanced to two raised poles about 9′ apart. A bit on the short side, but MIL was really trying to get Speedy to think about compressing his stride and body, and we were still trotting in. Speedy came out like we were picking right up where we had left off the day before. He trotted right through the trot poles like he knew where his feet went, and didn’t try to pull me down to the grid as fast as he could. No footage from day 2 since my phone ran out of space, but I left the ride feeling really positive again.
Day three, we tackled the grid at a canter. We bumped the pole risers up as high as they went and trotted back and forth a few times. Once we were trotting through nice and calmly, I asked Speedy to canter in. We kept it on a short approach so I didn’t have to negotiate the corner, and I kept up with the verbal cues to keep Speedy slow and steady.
I had new homework on day three — grabbing mane. Like, really grabbing mane. Way up there. WAAAY UP THERE. Like basically HJ friend wanted me to grab Speedy’s tiny adorable little ears and use those to balance on instead of his mouth. Okay so maybe not that far up, but really, grab mane Nicole. I maybe grabbed mane.
Speedy was super at the canter also. He managed to slow it down and stay steady to the fences. It still wasn’t perfect with the distances and I had a hard time riding to the placing pole, but HJ friend and MIL assured me that wasn’t the point. The point was to get a steady canter and let Speedy figure out the rest. So that’s what I (tried to) did.
Over all three days, Speedy spent a lot of time processing in between each go, dropping his head almost to the ground and chomping on the bit. I was worried that we were making him anxious, but at the same time I didn’t think there was much I could do about it at that point. I figured it was the change in how he was expected to go that was stressing him out, but being able to jump from a slower pace and a steadier tempo is necessary, and shouldn’t be stressful overall. Now that I know him a bit better, I know that he probably was stressed out, but the chomping and head dropping were also signs of Speedy thinking about the new information.
One of the best moments of the “week” was when MIL accidentally reset the placement poles to the bounce waaaaay too tight. She rolled them out to 6′ (I think we had rolled them in to see how he would do without them, but liked him better with the placement poles) and it wasn’t until I hit the first pole trotting in that I realized they were way tight. I grabbed mane and yelled “too close! way too close!” Speedy just compressed his stride even more and carefully pinged through. It was a huge accomplishment for him, since I’m pretty sure even just three rides earlier he would have been inclined to rocket through the bounce as an oxer, or take it all down in a rush.
It promptly started pouring in the afternoon of day three, so there were more rides over Christmas. But Speedy and I spent some quality time together cleaning his paddock, taste testing candy-cane peeps, and playing with balance pads. I am well on my way to an unhealthy obsession with this hony.