We cantered today! And we took our first ride outside the stableyard!
Side note: Yesterday I longed Starbuck old school style, using just the rope halter and while it took a while for her to chill out and tune in to me, in the end I got her listening to me well enough to ground drive some figure eights and do some nice lateral work. It was fun to go back to basics and have to focus more on our connection than on her posture and way of going, or just on getting the crazy out before riding. I think she had more fun, too. Anyhow I'm not sure if that had an effect on our lesson today or not, but I think it's important to keep things mixed up.
So this morning we had a lesson with Marina and right from the start Starbuck was working nicely - really focussed on me and responding to my aids but relaxed and soft. Today was the first day we joined in with the rest of the girls trotting in two-point and sitting trot, and also the first day we didn't cut the corners so as not to pass the scary side - she didn't even seem to notice when we rode close to the bar. We worked over a cavalletti square in the center of the arena, too, crossing it in every way possible - straight through the middle, from corner to corner, in one side then making a 90º turn to go out the next, etc... Marina complimented us on Starbuck's posture and then later on on how well she was working. And it's true, the last two weeks have made a huge difference!
When the other girls had their turn to canter, Marina asked me once again if I wanted to try the same exercise they were doing but at a trot. They were cantering in a 20 meter circle around the cavalletti square twice, then cut in to cross the square through the middle, then changing leads and do the same thing again in the other direction, returning to their "place in line" at a canter. So I nudged Starbuck into a brisk trot and on our second circle around the square she broke into a canter for a couple of strides. It was so quick and easy I almost didn't believe it, but when Marina told me to pet her and keep going I knew she had done it! We repeated the same exercise a couple of times and each time she cantered just a little while longer - the second time we got three good strides in and the third time was long enough for me to really sit into the canter and enjoy it - maybe six or seven strides! Each time, Marina told me to pet her, then cross the cavalletti poles immediately afterwards and trot her back to her place in line and let her walk for a while.
Later Marina explained her logic to me. The whole concept is for the trot to be fast enough for her to get a little out of balance, so that these first strides in canter are her idea - making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. Then as soon as she canters, taking her across the poles takes her mind off it by giving her another task to focus on right before I reward her by letting her rest. This is why I'm so thankful to have Marina's support - I never would have thought of doing it this way but it works! I was so proud of my little girl and so happy about our progress, Marina had to really get on me about going across the poles the last time I was petting her so much.
At the end of the lesson we joined my friend Belen and her horse Cancunen on a walk around the stableyard and into the parking lot. Starbuck often spooks there when I'm leading her, so I was a little apprehensive, but she did great and was so cool with all of it that we decided to keep going past the stableyard gates and down the road a ways. Not too far since there are some very noisy dogs at the end of the road, but we went about 300 meters and back, then doubled back through the almond grove next to the road and rode a few loops inside the almond grove. Since she had done so well I didn't want to push it, so we left it at that and rode back to the stable. Not bad for a morning's work, huh?
Oh and also I got my saddle back afterwards, I took it to Manacor to have some of the stuffing taken out since it's always been a little tight on her and now that she's starting to fill out her topline I think it was starting to pinch her withers. And I also asked them to put some D-rings on the back to be able to attach saddlebags to, so we're ready to roll! I'll try to remember to take a picture :-)