This ended up being the first time Diego's been off the property since he bucked me off and I broke my arm back in April. Add to that the fact that we were going to a pretty large show grounds with other horses, loud speakers, golf carts, plenty of people, etc and this ended up being a pretty big test for him. AND HE TOTALLY ACED IT!!! =)
When we first got there, I got Diego out of the trailer in the parking lot and tied him up and groomed him for a little while. I had strategically parked where he could see two other horses that were tied up to their trailer, so he had a little extra confidence boost. His eyes were kind of big, but he was very good and stood still while I brushed him, combed his mane and picked his hooves. Unfortunately/Fortunately it was a little cool and breezy today, so he wasn't able to get a bath and elbow grease had to do, but at least it wasn't 101 like it was a few days ago.
After I bit, I put my lunge line on Diego and took him over to the area where they had the obstacles set up. They had many different obstacles: wooden fence posts in various designs (5 of these), a barrel, a big tractor tire with plywood over it, a bed sheet on a frame, a "horse wash" on a frame with caution tape, a leopard print rug to walk over, crushed cans, a small set of wooden steps with a platform the horse could walk over, two different types of bridges, crushed aluminum cans inside one of the fence post sets, etc. It was a really nice set-up. Things were pretty low-key when I went over, there was just the clinician and one other gentleman working with is roan mustang at the time. Perfect, perfect.
Diego was nervous at first so I went over to the barrel and lunged him in some circles for a while in the most open area. This gave him a chance to start to check everything out. I just let him trot for a little bit, then started asking him to yield his hindquarters, turn and face me, change direction, back-up, etc. Once he was focusing on me, we started to walk around more and look at stuff.
One of the first obstacles we did was a set of six poles set in a circle, so I stood in the middle and lunged Dig around the outside. He did well and as soon as he dropped his head to watch what he was doing, I could see him start to focus on me more and begin to really relax. After he was looking comfortable with this, we went over to the bed sheet on the frame. Diego walked up to it and started trying to chew on the bed sheet. =) Obviously our tarp training has been paying off! Yay! I let him check it out a bit more, and then sent him through several time. We then did the caution tape horse wash obstacle. This one was a bit more tricky in that there were bits of red plastic and flagging ribbons tied long this side of the arena. Diego didn't seem to care about any of that stuff - he even bit one of the red plastic flags and pulled it off - so I had to tie it back on.
We then went over and worked on the wooden bridges. Diego has done the one at my friend Sarah's house before, so I didn't take long before he was walking over both of them. You could tell he was starting to get more and more confident and braver about trying things. I took him through the two of the other wooden sets - one was a long narrow, somewhat bendy section made of railroad ties. The other was a big jumble, where the horse had to pay attention to where they were placing their feet. The poles were angled and set up on the side with one or the other end, so he really had to focus on what he was doing.
The clinician Willis Lamm came over and talked with me for a while at this point. Diego was stopped in the middle of the obstacle, back feet straddling a pole, and he stood patiently while we discussed Dig. Willis mentioned that as an Arab, Diego is breed to be extra aware of his surroundings, as battle horses, they needed to always be alert to what was going on around them and be quick enough to evade an attack. He'd noticed when we first came in, how Dig was a bit on "overwhelm" and complimented me for just working with him calmly and quietly. He mentioned how with Diego, his "flashpoint" was still very near the surface, and he was quick to react, but we had both noticed how he was also quick to stop, think about it, and settle down to evaluate the situation. He really liked Dig a lot, and told me that in about a year and a half or so, I would probably have a rock-solid, very steady mount that I could point at just about anything.
This echoed a lot of my own feelings in that Diego is just unconfident and didn't have a lot of trust in me and our relationship. I've been happy to see that trust developing more and more, and today it was very apparent at times as he would look to me and take his cues for reaction based upon what I was doing. I could go on and on, but I'll let the pictures (taken by my 7 yr old son) speak for themselves. Diego conquered every obstacle that was in that ring. He cracked me up with the aluminum cans, rustling them with his nose, biting one, tossing them around, and then calmly stepping through. I also hooked up my second line and spent some time ground driving him around and over them as well - helping to establish that "I don't have to go first" scenario that will continue with our riding career. We ended our day with going inside the big spooky indoor arena, and lunging a bit in there and then calmly walking out and back to the trailer. I was exceedingly proud of my boy today - GO DIEGO GO!!!