I managed to get a few pictures today.
This is what Bella looks like when she's a little stressed:
It's a state of denial, introversion, checking-out.
Whatever you want to call it, it bears paying attention to. She's the type of horse that a person might say is super quiet and then explodes out of nowhere. Luckily I know that the above look is not relaxation, and she's not just a laid back horse who doesn't care about a thing. Far from it. She's a very sensitive girl. Everything touches her more. So far we're doing well, with no explosions, and I have no reason to think we won't continue to do well as long as I don't push her too hard.
Just putting a bit in her mouth was such a stress for her in the past that she could barely keep herself together with a rider on. It was just too much input, too much pressure all at once. She did try to comply, but it was hard for her to remember what she was supposed to do, and very hard for her to unlock her body. I think she likes this bit better. The introspective period you see above doesn't last long. We go walking to warm up, and by the time I mount up she's back to normal. As we ride she responds to it naturally with just the slightest change of position, much more intuitively than in a halter, without any undue emotional stress or bracing. Sometimes, if she's stressed or there's boggy water grass that looks tasty, she'll brace into it, but don't they all have their moments? I don't know why this bit is better for her. It's got to be something about the noseband, because I've tried another bit with the same mouthpiece on her before. You'd think the noseband wouldn't come into play much without the use of the shanks, but maybe it offers just a bit more support to the cue in a way that doesn't overload her senses. I'm sure there's info on it online somewhere.
I think I'm going to institute a bit of a routine for us. Today we saddled and bitted up, then walked briskly up and down the driveway, probably about a quarter mile in all. When we got back to the mounting block I mounted up and we did some figure 8s and circles to establish some communication, then we cruised up the driveway and back again. We made a little detour into the trees (where we came across the almost irresistible marsh grass) and circled trees until her mental state leveled off. She just gets a little rushy when she's nervous. We made our way back to the driveway and did it all again. Then we went almost to the road, which was scary because... I don't know why it's scary. Tonka always thought that stretch of driveway was scary too. Trees on both sides, old farm machinery, little birds, big birds, the odd cow every now and then... Yeah, I guess that might be scary.
Speaking of scary, the whole time we were riding there were big snowballs falling out of the trees all around us. They make a lot of noise when they hit the metal roof. Once a big glob fell right next to us. She didn't care. She's so rock steady about some things. I think she just has to get used to them and they become a non-issue. Someday she'll feel that way about carrying me into new places. I think she's going to be a pretty amazing horse.
Blue was like my little pilot fish the whole time. I'd be in the zone, feeling my body move with my horse's stride, and I'd hear the pitter pat of his little feet right behind us. He's very unobtrusive, but he's there. It's kind of sweet. Although once he did let out a big bark right behind us, the little fart. I don't know what he thought he saw. Bella didn't startle but I kind of did.
We ended our ride by going up the hill behind the house. See the palomino horse? No? He's kind of right in the middle, just a little dot. That's old Dyno in his huge pasture all by himself. I think he's definitely benefited this winter from having all that space to roam and a little grass to nibble on. I like feeding him too, he gets so excited at meal time. He's pretty spry for a 30-something horse. I'm glad I don't have to pay for his senior feed though. He probably costs at least $120 a month to feed. He might go back home to be a lesson horse soon. I'm hoping to talk Liam into riding him at least once before he goes.
Blue found a vole and played with it until it died, then he ate it. It would be really funny to watch if I didn't feel bad for the vole. But then again I don't really like voles. They kill my baby trees by eating all the bark around the bottom.