Yesterday, in my lesson, Inga recommended a much firmer contact on Neuf, particularly when he becomes inattentive and gets that spooky-might-bolt feeling. So today, once I finally found motivation to go out and get on a horse in the rain, I went ahead and picked Neuf first. I am decent at acknowledging my fears, but I am also pretty good at stepping up and facing it when there is no real reason, beyond a “what if…” for the fear. So, nobody was outside, nobody was coming to ride either, the weather was miserable, but everyone was calm and Neuf was happy enough to get tacked up.
I hopped on and heeded the instructions from yesterday. More bend, get his shoulders out of the way, shorter reins, take a firm contact and ride forward. Early on, he had a momentary attention lapse, but those shorter reins and a tap of the whip and he was back to work fairly quickly. When the chickens wandered over, he wanted to be a giraffe, but that was much later in the ride and also easier to deal with the lookiness with a better contact.
He seemed quite happy with it, I am realizing that part of the reason my “go to” reaction to a startle or spook is to lengthen the reins is because often, the thoroughbreds, straight off the track, think of firm contact as something to pull against, to go faster, as if they were racing. With all the ones I’ve retrained, slipping the reins a bit longer has always led to a calmer horse, much more quickly than holding fast. Neuf, on the other hand, seems to escalate and get more worried when I do that, and so the firm contact seemed to make him feel better and he liked the direction. He is not a super-sensitive sort, so this does make sense. He also was rounder and felt like he was pushing into the contact much earlier in our ride.