Friday was a bit windy, but I was definitely going to deal with it and ride. Mort started out a bit 'up' but settled quickly. I can tell that he's not used to riding with other horses anymore. He behaves fine, but has a magnetic shoulder toward his friends and wants to speed up or slow down depending on which direction we're heading. I'm glad that I'm riding with the other barn folks so that we can work on this at home instead of a show. (It's also fun to get social hour at the barn for me.)
Both Friday's and Saturday's rides had similar themes. If I let Mort go around on a long rein he was happy and decently forward. If I wanted to work on contact or pick him up beyond long-and-low he'd get fussy in his mouth and start to lean into my leg and fall on his inside shoulder. I, of course, then got picky with my hands and stiffer in my hips which caused him to get sticky and slow. If I stuck us on a figure eight or circled I could get his body where I wanted and wrangle his outside shoulder, but as soon as I went off along the edge or to straighten we'd struggle again.
The rides weren't as bad as they probably were in my mind and I should have just focused on the figure eights and serpentines and circles and worked on the things that we were successful in, but I'm the worst so I did some of that and then got frustrated when he wasn't perfect. Meanwhile, I was crooked and tense because of that which further caused him to be unable to do what I was asking. My poor horse. But, while I may be the worst I'm not a total idiot so I went out with a different plan on Sunday. I was going to do figures and ride bareback. I find that riding bareback prevents me from being able to get stiff and uneven with my seat.
We started off in a really lovely and loose walk, but we had the same issues that we'd been having the last couple rides. If I let him trot around on the buckle he was happy and relaxed and listening to my legs and seat. If I went to pick him up he'd get upside-down or sticky or fall into my leg. I basically ignored the fact that he was getting upside-down and putting his head in the air. I worked on him getting sticky by throwing in a handful of canter transitions to get him more in front of my leg. Then we settled in for figure eight boot camp to get him moving off of my leg.
At first we stayed in the trot and I'd just barely touch the inside rein to soften that jaw. I was moving his body with my legs and seat (so these figure eights were decidedly not perfectly shaped). After he was really listening well to that and yielding off my inside leg when I asked I started throwing in trot/walk/trot transitions. I'd walk in the middle for a couple strides, ask for trot and turn into the new circle at the same time. He started off a bit wobbly and with his head in the air, but got better quickly. Eventually I got to a point where he was really moving off my legs and he was OK with contact again. We moved on to serpentines with even quicker success.
After a walk break, we hopped back into working. I tried some bigger leg yield squares. I'd ask him for a leg yield tail-to-the-rail then do a trotting turn-on-the-forehand around the corner into another leg yield tail-to-the-rail. He hated it at first because it was hard, but he did get better and better at it. Until I finally had a decent connection (especially to the right) and he was moving off of my legs as I asked, turning as I asked, and keeping a steady trot. I'd have liked the trot to be bigger and more powerful, but it wasn't sticky so I was OK with it.
We ended the ride with some walk alternating between loose rein and quietly picking him up. He wanted to be tense a time or two, but the majority of the end walk work was good.
Neither of us are 100% focused or fit right now with so much time off and it's really showing. I, as the human, need to continue to slowly bring him back. I'm planning for a lot of long-and-low, a lot of figures, and a little bit of work on a higher contact. I've just got to be patient and hold myself accountable in spite of being overly excited that it's spring and I can ride again.