A break in the rain for two days and I’m up on Encore! We do a few natural horseman turns and two back-up requests. I wave the flag with the flat helium balloon attached and she’s ready; it’s our safety-check. On the way to mount up from the tiny deck attached to the workshop, I pass a large tarp I spread out to dry. I encourage Encore! to step on it, but she avoids the request. I circle her and ask again. She’s hesitant, but co-operates. I walk her back and forth a couple of times and she relaxes. It’s important to mix things up with the unexpected for Encore! It’s the best way I know to keep us safe; practice surprises.
We do our usual routine with a walk up behind the geodesic dome, around the circle drive and down to the small rectangle between the paddocks and retaining wall. We do some circles and halts, rein back and rein forward exercises, side passes along the fence, leg yields and figure eights ridden only at the walk; the ground is wet and soft. Encore! is quiet and agreeable. I have discovered feather fingers are the way to gain co-operation; it’s also the most pleasant way to ride. With Encore! the lightest touch on the reins prevents resistance.
Warmed up and feeling secure, I take Encore! for three or four loops around the five acres. Trees and bushes, open grass meadow, a walk around the shelter and makeshift nursery with a jumble of pots, on to the circle drive and back down the driveway to the front gate and we’re ready to take on the evolving dressage arena. The arena is in a rough form; ridges, puddles and small gullies cut out by the storms. We go round and round, ride diagonals and serpentines and a few figure eights at the walk. The ground is sand; it dries enough in a day to offer a safe ride at the walk.
Encore! is more dog than horse. If she wagged her tail, I’d register her with the Kennel Club. She loves people and her curiosity matches our late golden retriever, Mozart. Perhaps it’s allowing her to roam around the property with Daubry, or on her own, that makes me think of her as a dog. This is a thing good, because I approach her training with a different mind-set. I think of dogs as domesticated. Seeing Encore! as a twelve hundred pound dog is not a bad thing. I can expect her to stand, square up, move over, head down, stretch, back, walk, trot, canter and halt with my voice. Translated, these commands become invisible cues, like feather fingers and body tickles. Sounds like a plan.
A horse moves a fly with a single muscle twitch; they understand a feather touch and tickle.