Aslan and I have had our first two outside rides. I didn't really have expectations except, "Let's see how this goes." I kept him in the yard, on the grass. Nothing new happened except a few spooks, which he did in place (yay!). It still feels weird to have him "drop" unexpectedly from underneath me. But at least, this time, I have a saddle and shorter reins (duh!). I also tried to freak him out by taking him near the miniature donkeys (who were intimidated by us and galloping around). He thought they were neat.
Behind the leg: I don't know why suddenly he has regressed with, "go forward". Not that it has ever been stellar. But now he has been ignoring a gentle cue to walk forward, or tries to backup when I ask him to start to walk. I've upped his reward schedule for "go forward" but to no avail, so sometimes I have had to use negative reinforcement using "escalation". In this case I don't reward him, because I don't want to accidentally train him to wait until I escalate.
Walk to Trot transitions are "ok" but the trot itself still needs some work. He goes forward into the transition when asked, but I don't like that I have to escalate to stage 2: he half listens to my leg cue but goes to the cluck. He doesn't listen to my seat yet. After we get trotting, he does not want to maintain, or does this weird front end toss that feels like we will canter (I have to push him forward out of it). I am not sure what is going on, other than he is saying "no", despite being provided with +R for a yes. I can do transitions 5 times in a row with +R and see very little improvement. Yet I discovered if we trot toward another horse in the yard, he has zero problems going forward. With great gusto. (I come flying out of the seat at the rising trot.) This whole "No" business is confusing.
I did consider vet issues: He just had his feet trimmed a week or two ago, and she said his soles were soft and one had a bruise. I've been putting hardening oils on them since he is standing in a lot of soft mud. The small bruise is now gone and wasn't very big to begin with. He wasn't over trimmed either, so that isn't an issue. He has a tiny bit of thrush also, and I have been treating it. Since then, I made a point of only working him on soft ground like the arena and grass, no gravel or cement until he gets boots. And the fact he will trot like a devil towards a preferred location makes me think it is not pain, or at least not severe.
I researched the issue a bit further and have some things I can try but most of them are Negative Reinforcement based. I don't want to go back to -R exclusively, because of the side effects. I did find some stellar info from Shawna as usual, regarding more forward thinking, so I'm going to try this!
Now in an effort to be positive, here are some things he remains good at!
6 Buttons: He definitely knows how to respond to side leg pressure, with either side pass, leg yield, yield the shoulders or yield the hindquarters. Granted, he is a twit and uses some of these as an evasion of going forward, but he knows them a lot better and is still improving. Occasionally he ignores these cues if he wants to go somewhere of his choosing, but I escalate to the rein and then he follows through.
Dressage Buttons: He is also learning the more "dressage" way of going with cues; these usually start with a half halt and sometimes a leg behind the girth, so he has to pay attention to all the signals to figure out what the eff I'm asking. Ok leg behind girth, does that mean turn or does it mean canter or does it mean bend or "all of the above"? Well, pay attention to my seat and my hands and I will let you know. Poor horse, we will get there.
Circle game: He hasn't been so sassy with the game since I got after him for it, he knows when to trot, how to change directions, lower his head, and so on. His confidence has definitely come up though! The fact that he gives me sass on the lunge line and sometimes in the saddle makes me laugh and shows his personality, but he doesn't get away with it.
Square corners: doing fairly well at this, obviously we need to work on it a lot more but otherwise it is coming along.
Contact: Less nose tossing, though I have eased up a bit on the strength of the contact until he gets more used to it (plus we still haven't received the new bit yet). I especially ease up if we are working on something else, like move forward; I will tend to be very very loose on contact so that he can't use that as an excuse or get frustrated with all this pressure from 3 different directions (seat and legs and hands).
Straight lines: Way better, but I still have to stop him from gawking and wandering. It helps when I take up contact because I can immediately half halt to get his attention back or head straight. A loose rein gives him more time to wander before I can correct it, especially if he decides my leg aid means nothing.
Another thing I noticed was when I asked him to trot and he was behind the leg, he is way worse about going straight Part of it is not wanting to go in that direction, (he was trying to steer), but part of it is also balance; he was resisting going forward, and this pushes him on the forehand, because obviously he is not reaching underneath himself for power. Yet, when he is very forward, like going toward another horse, straight isn't as big of a problem. Moral: if you are slow, you better be collected in order to get straight. He doesn't know collected yet.
Head position: Nothing new here. The head toss is still there, but I reward a good head set and bump a nose up in the air. Still waiting on the new bit.