Its been interesting. He has progressed through sighing...blowing out Online* at the walk..then at the trot...then at the canter.....same progression Freestyle* and now at all three gaits in Finesse*. We've been playing with The Game of Contact (as Linda Parelli has been teaching recently). Over the last few sessions, after he's undressed and relaxing as I pack up the tack locker he's been yawning. And yawning. And yawning.
This "Game of Contact" has been very helpful to me in a few different ways. First and foremost, it has put the idea of making it a GAME right at the front of my mind. This is sooooooooo important for a mostly Left Brained Introvert* horse like Nigel who really needs to see the point in going around and around in circles.
The thing with Nige is that he can get a lot of things done without really using his body to the fullest. (as evidenced by his passage with a hollowish back and head in the air. lol) So The Game of Contact, for whatever reason, reminded me that it is not just about a rounder topline and having the horse compress his body...not even just flexion like a bow...but ENGAGEMENT through the hind end. Really and Truly "Impulsion". Power from behind.
I know what this feels like because Lil is spectacular in the trot moving this way. She's not usually very uphill, more even front to back, but she sure uses her hind end to power the forward.
Now, reminding myself that this is the new game I'm playing with Nigel, I can fuzz out what I'm seeing with my eyes as we're going around, and feel for him to really push himself up and forward, powering it all from his hind quarters. When he does it, I've been releasing him with my whole body. At first it was a step or two of engagement then release and stretch for nearly half a lap or so, now even just a few sessions later, he's really getting the idea...the feeling of it himself too I think, its the reverse...release for a few steps then engagement for almost half a lap on a 20m circle.
He seems to be interested in the whole thing too which is amazing. I remember when I first started really spending time with him (about 9 months ago)...he had no idea that there was a point to anything. Not even something obvious like putting a foot on a stump or his nose on a cone. For him to "get the game" with something this subtle is really cool. Its not that surprising anymore I suppose, I'm more getting used to how smart he is...how much of a super Left Brained learning genius he is......but its still waaaay cool.
Anyway, this yawning thing is a great sign I think. Sometimes a horse yawns when he's coming of stress and adrenaline but they also do it when they've achieve a new level of relaxation like during a good massage. I really don't think he's tense during the exercise...he's blowing, ready to stretch...when stopped cocking a leg, head and neck loose. I think the yawning means we're making progress gymnastically!
Its a crack up to see him out in the field after these workouts. Like yesterday. I let the whole herd out to run and play in the sunshine. Which they all did (even our 27 year old was cantering around doing changes)... except Nigel. He' play lip wars and "move your feet" if another horse came around...but he mostly wanted to eat and relax. Hehe....its very gratifying to see that I've been able to satiate him mentally and physically. And he looks happy afterwards, tracking me with interested ears forward and soft eyes.... Yay!