If Ben had his way, he would request immediate retirement. As much as he loves his people, he loves his long days of doing absolutely nothing even more. If I were to put him to pasture now, at the ripe old age of 8, he would not bat an eye.
Unfortunately, for Ben, I am not independently wealthy and therefore cannot finance his dream of a life unfettered. So imagine his surprise when I show up to the barn after a 5 day absence, expecting him to, gasp, go back to work.
Now, the return-to-work ride is one I dread, as readers of this blog may know. Even the first ride after a 2 day absence can be rough. I had been giving it a lot of thought, trying to pinpoint why it feels so terrible, and therefore how I can make it better. I've also been thinking of our next show, the annual benefit show(last year I took my mare). I've decided to take Ben, just to get him off the farm - and have a crack at the 1st level dressage tests again. Because he is the Rescue Horse Champion of 2013, I also decided to put him in a few more classes to see if we can amass enough points to defend the title. Which means we need to practice a few things - like side-passing over a pole...you know, just in case we need to do that in the trail course.
So I decided to take a different approach to our first day back to work. Perhaps a bit gentler on the both of us. There were raised poles set out, and a single pole on the ground. I decided to use those and do a lot of walk work, getting ben to lift his legs up rather than the ground cover-out. Re-introduce the side-pass. Shoulder in. Small circles. Large circles. Turns on the haunches, turns on the forehand. Transitions to halt. Back up straight. I then began to mix in transitions to trot. And when it felt icky, transition down. Halt. Sometimes back up, then trot out or walk out. Basically, I focused on sharpening responses vs physical limbering like long sets of trot and canter. I did let him do some stretchy trot. We did some canter transitions. But everything was very fragmented, the focus of the ride was purely on quality of transition, softness and straightness.
And what do you know, it was a relatively nice ride. No, not perfect, but much better than we've had. Easier on both of our bodies. I certainly felt more centered, and strangely more accomplished. Ben felt limbered up and much more responsive, too. Afterwards he got some nice carrot stretches in, and we called it a night.