Aspen had a good day today. I put the saddle on her for the first time. She did pretty well--only a couple little bucks when I first asked her to lope with the saddle on. I left it on her so she could get comfortable with it. I'll go take it off in after I'm done writing here.
Horses are a flight animal--in a potentially dangerous situation their first instinct is to run away. As a horse trainer, it's my job to teach the horse, "No, you shouldn't run away. You should stop and wait and ask me what to do." Aspen has a highly developed flight mechanism, so I've got my work cut out for me!
I'm really pleased with how she is starting to focus more on me and ask for direction instead of just reacting. It will take a while for her to totally overcome her desire to bolt, though. She thinks just about everything is a cue to "CHARGE!" Just the other day, I was giving her a second to rest as a reward. She lowered her head in submission, and then got distracted sniffing the grass. I started to take up the slack in the lead rope, something she's seen me do hundreds of times now, but she wasn't thinking about me in that moment. She was thinking about grass, so when the lead rope started moving, she jumped and started to run away before she caught herself and faced up to me again. I'm glad she's starting to stop herself instead of dragging me with her! She's a young horse so it will just take time and exposure to extinguish that instinct to run anytime she is startled, scared, or uncertain.
I've found Aspen does much better when I slow things down for her and give her more time to "soak" in a successful experience. Most horses are ready to move on once they lick and chew. Aspen licks and chews fairly easily, but if I move on to the next thing at that point, she tends to get more nervous with each new thing. If I wait a bit longer, she will usually give some other sign of relaxing (blowing out, softening her eye, lowering her head, or my personal favorite, a long groan like someone flopping down in a recliner after a long day--she's so funny!) At this point, she is truly ready to proceed.
She has really started to shed out--to the point where neither my hand nor the curry comb could contain all the hair. A few clumps floated down and landed partly on her hoof. She snorted and picked up that hoof like "EEEWWW! It's TOUCHING me!" She did that twice. It was pretty funny.
For now I plan to continue to move forward slowly with her, repeating the things I have taught her so far only with the saddle on this time. I want to get her bolting behavior more under control before I actually get on her. I also want to do the Jefferies Method with her some more--I did other things with her the last bit while I had the flu, cuz it was too painful to jump up and down and climb all over her while I was sick.