The weather here in the sunny South has been 20 degrees F higher than normal. The weather forecasters have been telling us that we are getting May weather, not March weather. Due to this we are now getting some bugs that are bad in May, namely gnats. Millions of gnats. Gnats in the ears, gnats flying up nostrils, gnats getting behind my glasses, luckily there is fly spray for the horses! I am going to have to dig out my ear nets for the horses. I just wish there were head nets for riders.
After not getting to ride him last week I looked forward to riding Merlin today. Due to the hordes of gnats the horses were not very cooperative about Shannon catching Merlin. Her new mare, Magic, decided to get friendly with me, in fact she got a little TOO friendly so I worked on getting her to move back from me, and when she responded she got a good neck scratch. Shannon finally got all the mud off Merlin, with dirt, mud and hair flying everywhere and we tacked him up. After I mounted he went half way through the gate and stopped, I applied a light leg aid and he consented to go all the way through the gate so Shannon could close it. Then Shannon walked into the ring with Merlin following, and I stopped him in the middle of the ring.
I practiced getting up into two-point and then sinking back into the saddle. I leaned way forward and then way back. I reviewed my turning aids escalation, and finally Merlin moved one foot to the side. Praise. Then Shannon started walking around the ring, and I told Merlin to WALK, and Merlin walked. He wanted to follow RIGHT behind Shannon, with maybe a millimeter between his nose and her back, so I worked on getting him to walk more to her side. When he consented to this I decided to get him to go past Shannon and this did not work at all. So I started to ask him to go toward the center of the ring away from Shannon, then we would circle back to her. It occured to me that when he was taught to lead Merlin may have been punished for trying to pass the trainer so I gave up on trying to get him to pass Shannon. This is a discussion we can have later when Merlin stops balking.
After this Merlin decided to stop and survey his empire. Shannon's daughter, Andrea was by the pond doing something and Merlin looked and looked at her. I went back to doing my stretching exercises. When Andrea went back inside I asked Merlin to turn toward Shannon, and after a few applications of the turning aids he did so and kept on walking. Then every time I tried to turn him away from Shannon he would stop and stand, after the third time he started consenting to going in the circle away from Shannon, and, in reward, I would tell him to go the Shannon. We did this several times, at first he was resistant to the reins then he decided that it would not hurt to cooperate since he ended up with Shannon every time. I took the opportunity to praise him every time he obeyed an aid, though a few times I gave the turning aid when I realized he was starting to turn, then I would try to do a circle. Sometimes Merlin even cooperated! I know, I know, Merlin should just obey my aids and not move where he wants, but I think that Merlin had a praise deficit when he was originally trained and I am trying to set up conditions where I can praise him for doing what my aids tell him to even if it was his idea in the first place.
At the end of my ride we were following Shannon at a distance (around 20 feet), I asked him to turn away from Shannon and he started to stop. I gave my leg aid, got one step, I gave another leg aid and he took another step away from Shannon, then I turned him back to Shannon, we stopped and we both praised him to the skies, he had obeyed my leg aid when he wanted to balk!!!! Even one step is obedience, two steps is the beginning of cooperation. Merlin earned his rewards.
The difference in Merlin's attitude is wonderful. His face is cheerful and bright, no sullen mouth, eyes or ears. Again Merlin did not stamp his foot when I gave an aid he had no intention of obeying. Now he is content just to test my patience. He did start backing up a few times when Shannon walked around him, I made sure I was not accidentally giving him any aids and I just chilled out and he stopped backing up. Shannon has been using him for "pony" rides for some little girls, and Merlin is learning to enjoy that. I am a firm believer that in an ideal world most geldings should have their own little girl to love him, mess with him, and in general simply adore him. If a gelding can't have a little girl of his own he still can appreciate well behaved little girls, and with enough loving from these little girls the geldings start opening up and enjoying life more.
Maybe someday Merlin will like being ridden if I am just patient enough not to mess him up again.