I am long overdue on this post (both in the writing of it and the events it entails), and I don't want to put it off any longer.
As the title suggests, I finally, Finally got back on my horse. A real ride and everything. I had a lesson on Sunday, and I told my trainer that I was really wanting to start riding again. Jazz was ready to start working under saddle again. I intend to keep working on strengthening her groundwork, but not full time. It's time for us to start working back up to regular riding again as an added challenge on top of her ever-improving ground manners.
So, that's exactly what we did! We started with a quick drive/lunge/whatever-I-ought-to-call-it like I've been working on and Jazz was much more attentive right off the bat when I started her. The last few weeks whenever I've first started with that exercise she's been pretty inattentive and bent away when we start out, with occasional shenanigans and rearing in there to spice things up, but with a few quick reminders from the rope, she found her manners again. Then the usual quick work through of shoulders and backing straight, and after that we quickly moved on to lateral flexion with both the bridle and the halter to help with linking them. Then we tied the rope around into reins and I hopped on. Jazz did awesome!
It occurs to me that I mostly started writing this blog after my last ride on Jazz, so I haven't really talked much about where we are or were at in terms of progress and goals with riding. Jazz has a solid w/t/c, she's nice and soft on her mouth, and she's fairly responsive to leg and seat aids. However, she's pretty straight, and has yet to grasp the concept of contact on the bit. Our lessons up until around mid-November resolved around primarily exercises at the walk and trot to encourage her to bend more, and some walk/trot transition work. She has an okay canter, but it's not particularly balanced or collected, and she generally can't turn well at the lope, so we did the vast majority of our work at the trot in hopes of eventually fixing that.
You may notice I said mid November, and that's because in late November or so, I started having a bit more trouble with Jazz. She had long had a habit before of... I'm hesitant to describe it as head tossing, because that really isn't what it was, but head tossing. She would just start wanting to run, but she wasn't being particularly rude about it. She'd sort of try to break into a slow lope, but wasn't able to really break forwards because I was usually ready for her, and the result was a fairly up very funny dressage-y sort of lope for about a stride and a half before I could bring her back, and the way she did it always made her head sort of pop. She just was very excited to run, but generally easy to bring back. She had for the most part gotten past that late last year, and it was never a major or serious issue.
Anyway, in late November, she started actually head tossing. And trying to turn right pretty abruptly when we were circling left at the wall after the open side of the circle. We also did a lot of work on spiraling in and out of circles at the trot, and she was getting more and more resistant and head-tossing, especially to the left. As time went on, it seemed to be escalating, to the point were we were doing one rein-stops almost every five minutes, and even those weren't helping really much at all. The last lesson I had in November I just got off, because even in the one rein stop I felt very close to being separated from my horse at any minute. Her head tossing and evasions were just getting worse and worse, until I started wondering if it wasn't just resistance.
I had her vetted as soon after that as I could arrange, and she had big hooks on her teeth, which were worst on the left side. I had her floated, and she was an absolute champion (a relatively heavily sedated champion, but a champion nonetheless). The vet said that she had some lacerations on the inside of her left cheeks, so it would probably heal totally in the next two weeks. The difference in her after the floating was huge. She was practically a new horse, almost completely back to her old self. I had a few good, gentle rides on her at the beginning of December, and then went away over Christmas to see family. By the time I got back, she was acting out a bit, and I started up on our groundwork re-start.
Back to Sunday, I got back on, using both the reins and the rope-reins. I did what my trainer calls follow-your-nose circles, which are basically just very tight circles until she really bends nicely around my leg. Those went really well, and then we worked on yielding her hindquarters, which was a little sticky (which was somewhat expected based on her last experience doing so under saddle), and rollbacks against the wall. We had been working on those a lot last year, but she just never really had that breakthrough. Now, since we've been working so much on them from the ground, there was a very modest improvement. My trainer suggested we might try to get her to use her shoulders by having me in the saddle cuing and someone on the ground cuing at the same time, and I think that might work well for her. The best part was her backing. She moved nice and soft and straight! Yay! She used to be very huffy whenever I asked her to back straight, and my trainer told me that she had never worked with any Arab or part-Arab that would back straight without significant work.