I am so proud of my big goober. He might be a little too playful at times, but when he settles into "work mode" he's golden.
Last night we tried the idea using Calypso as incentive for him to walk forward off my leg. I started him with a quick longe session, about 10 minutes, of walk/trot/canter/halt. There was no messing around on his part this time, not like Wednesday when he behaved like he had a screw or two loose. Immediate responses to my commands, no attempts to run out, no bucking, no ducking, pure workmanlike behavior.
Robert brought Calypso in and we both mounted up. We started by just letting Gabe follow her around the arena, circles, serpentines, on the rail, lots of transitions between halt and walk. His halt is spot on, I don't even have to go to the reins: Tighten the abs, sink my heels and stop moving with him and he stops. Fabulous! To start I'd say "Walk," give the leg cue and Robert walked Calypso so Gabe would be inspired to follow and hopefully associate the leg pressure with the forward movement. About 10 minutes of that and I started halting and walking him independently of what Calypso was doing. He didn't get it at first, especially when I asked him to walk while she was halted. So we tried a different tact...Robert kept just walking around the arena on Calypso while I halted and walked Gabe, figuring her constant forward movement would inspire him to also move forward when I put the leg on. It worked! He started getting it, slowly but surely. I think a few more sessions just like that and it will be cemented in his brain and we can start introducing more concepts and ideas. His steering is still a bit sticky, but nothing that more hours in the saddle won't improve.
Calypso was such a champ. Gabe kept trying to bite her butt at the beginning and left huge swaths of white foam all over her booty. She laid her ears back at him a few times but never offered to kick, what a good girl! Notice I said white foam? That boy was FOAMING like mad and really chewing the bit, all with no contact at all from me. While this is a good thing, he was playing with the bit so much and trying to suck it up into his moth and get his tongue over it that I am considering switching to something that will stay a bit more stable in his mouth rather than the eggbutt snaffle that kind of lays on his tongue. I have a Baucher bit (snaffle) that is designed to hang and be more stable in the mouth than a plain snaffle. It is designed to put more pressure on the corners of the lips and not so much on the bars or tongue. My old mare, Star, adored that bit and seemed to favor the stability in her mouth over a more "wiggly" snaffle of any kind. She also had a low, narrow palate and I imagine the joint of a regular snaffle could become rather uncomfortable on the roof of her mouth. I know it shouldn't matter what bit you use, but I'm willing to try different styles of snaffles until I find one he's less inclined to play with the entire ride. We've already discovered that he is NOT a big fan of the full cheek snaffle!
I also discovered that I really need to get a set of reins that are about four to six inches longer than my current set. When he stretched his neck down (also a good thing!) and really relaxed into the ride I had to lean forward and stretch my arms out or risk losing those reins. He's a BIG boy and when he stretches that neck, there a LOT of neck there. I'd really rather a few inches too much rein than a few inches too little rein, especially at this stage when I want him to go long and low and really learn to use his back well.