I spoke to LA about putting Gem under 30 days training. I see this all the time at our barn. LA is kept quite busy through the fall and winter months, fine-tuning reining horses and getting them ready for competition. LA kindly said that my confidence and riding skills have improved quite a bit, but she understood where I was coming from and she confirmed that she thought that Gem would benefit from 30 days of training. He already knows what he has to do, he just needs a bit of a buff to bring back the shine and get rid of the dullness. However, she told me that she was not going to invest the time in working with Gem if I wasn't willing to commit to some private lessons afterwards so that I could learn how to maintain what she has worked on. I readily agreed. Then, she told me that I had to approach this exercise as if Gem had been sent away for training. What that means is that I can't see him AT ALL for at least two weeks. Gulp. After that time, she will assess whether or not I can come out and groom him only....no riding until after training is done. Double gulp. She offered the use of one of the school horses if I went through severe withdrawal. I signed up. Fortunately for me (Gem might disagree), LA's August was quiet-ish and she was able to start right away. I have not been on Gem since August 1st.
Jean and I had already planned a trail ride for this past Sunday prior to Gem's boot camp commitment. It would be her first time out on the trails since last fall, so rather than cancel, I asked LA for a lesson horse to ride. She told me I could ride Sally. It had been 11 days since I had been out to the barn (not that I am counting!), so I asked if I could see Gem. LA said I could, but it would be "hi" only - that's it. :-( I was chatting with LA's mom outside of the barn when I first arrived while Jean went in to get the halters for the horses we were going to be riding. According to Jean, when Gem heard my voice, he stuck his head over the stall door, looked at me and nickered. When I finally did get to him, he pushed his face into my hands. I gave him a little scratch. I didn't stay long. It was hard walking away from him.
I found Sally in the forest with the other horses, enjoying the cool of the shade. I had no issues putting the halter on her and she walked quietly behind my shoulder back to the barn. Sally's in her early 20's, an ex-dressage horse now in semi-retirement, but is used in lessons fairly regularly. She is a steady-eddy and a good teacher. Strangely, my saddle fit her perfectly and I didn't have to use the risers at all. Even though she, too, has high withers, she is rounder and the saddle fit her curves nicely. Cleaning her feet made me laugh. They actually fit in the palm of my hand and were so dainty compared to Gem's! Occasionally, I would glance down the aisle and there was Gem, staring intently, his ears forward, watching..... I felt guilty. I felt like I was cheating on him with another.
Sally stood quietly when I mounted (nice!) and waited for me to ask her to move off. All we did was walk around the easy trails. Riding a quarter horse after riding Gem seemed weird at first; I was so close to the ground! :-) Tree branches hitting me in the face? Not a problem! LOL What I appreciated about Sally was her responsiveness. The slightest squeeze of my legs would increase the pace to a more purposeful walk. Light pressure on one side would get her to move over instantly, but in a soft, subtle way. Turning her in small circles using only my legs was a piece of cake. Resistance to backing up out of a tight space in the forest? Nope. Being able to stand under a tree and chat without having to put up with impatient head bobbing was, well, lovely.
When I got back to the barn and started untacking Sally, Gem watched my every move. Was he jealous? Perhaps, in his own way. I felt a twinge of guilt for enjoying my ride. However, this ride, although it was not extremely challenging from a trotting/loping or terrain perspective, validated that I do know how to cue and I am getting better at using my legs. I realized that simple things that I experienced with Sally that make a ride so pleasant have been inconsistent with Gem. I am glad that I rode Sally. She made me feel better about my skills and she set the bar for what I want and deserve from Gem. I am doing right by Gem and myself by having LA give him a brush up on his skills and attitude. Now that I have had a taste of what it could be, I am excited and looking forward to the day I can get back on him. Thank you, Sally.