Ryker is going very well, his walk and trot work have come extremely far. He's figured out how to move straight and forward, and has been doing more work on stretching forward and down and then coming back up. His canter work, has been exciting. Last night was a true breakthrough, and I am now full convinced he has a grasp of both leads, and the aids to get them. Since my last post however, it has been quite the bumpy ride. We had one day where the focus was to work on picking up both leads correctly, he felt ready for it. We went around almost getting his left lead, but would fall onto the right. So, instead of continuing doing the same unsuccessful attempt, running and eventually picking up the wrong lead, I got a little firmer. Firm in the sense of he had to be straight, and he had to move forward off my leg. We worked on picking up the canter, regardless of the lead, without hesitation from the aids and called it quits.
The next day we continued on the canter work, it was a few days later, we worked on getting the left and right leads consistently correct. He has the right lead down pat, but the left was still difficult (a little plug for Kait, it is always extremely helpful to have someone's eyes on the ground during every ride! Since we tend to ride the boys together, I can rely on her to catch thing I don't automatically feel). In my attempt to not make the lead a big deal, and keep him straight, I had become crooked - it is not fair to say the horse has to be straight when the rider isn't! - big oops on my part. Kait picked up on it, and we finally were able to get our left lead - the first time he picked it up was great. The second time, he took-off.
Now, I'm an Event rider, and I love to gallop (I've been secretly dying to gallop Ryker - don't tell him that); however, this took me by complete surprise, he has some serious power! My first reaction was "Oh %$^&! I'm not wearing my vest!" (I've been wearing it, just as a precaution, since until this point, I didn't trust what he was going to do when he was pushed a little too far). My second reaction was to bring my shoulders back, sit down, and pull up - this reaction would work wonderfully on a trained horse, that is simply being bad and may or may not buck (emphasis on avoiding a buck). But, I was riding a racehorse, it took my brain a second or two to register that my plan of action had to be different; when it did, I stood up in my stirrups, shortened and bridged my reins and planted my hands on his neck, all while careening around the indoor. From there I used my upper body as leverage and our handy-dandy "whoa" button to bring him back to a nice quiet canter, where I gave him some slack in the reins and let him lope around. We walked around for a bit, and then picked up the left lead again, the first few strides were quick, and then he settle right into it! Success! :)
Last night was our true breakthrough in the canter. My intention was to give him the day off from riding, but to walk him around the indoor to let him stretch since the footing for turnout is so hard. When I went to grab him from his stall he greeted me by the door with ears pressed as far forward as they could go, and dove his head into his halter. Needless to say, he wanted to work! Bringing him from his barn, into the main barn was also a production. He was a racehorse again, prancing and snorting, albeit very politely not invading my space or trying to pull me around, all the way to the barn. He jigged down the aisle of the barn, and when I stopped at my locker (where we typically ground tie, or tie with bailing twine - yes, my crazy OTTB ground ties!) he stood patiently. So I groomed him and tacked him up, amidst lots of licking a chewing and just general "happy horse" behavior - he even grabbed for the bit.
The beginning of my ride was typical warm-up, stretching and moving forward before bringing him back and doing a little lateral work at the walk and trot. He was focused and responsive, despite a lot of commotion in the ring (there were people working on roping - gotta love OTTBs, they don't care about much!) so I went for it. Our right lead depart was sharp and just generally spectacular, and our left was a huge improvement- I had to be very conscious about not letting myself get crooked. As well as staying up and forward enough, without getting in his way, so that even if he took-off there was no reprimand for picking up the lead. He did to take-off once but only for a couple strides, and came right back (yippee!). We went back and forth across the diagonal and the center of the ring picking up both lead consistently - the best lightbulb moment ever, everything felt clear and correct and I got off to a horse who looked very pleased with himself.
And as promised, an updated photo: