Plans have been finalized, packing lists made, epic laundry begun. It's t-minus two weeks until I leave for Florida, and the horses are in the final stretch of training preparations. I want them to be as ready as they can be to "hit the ground running," so to speak.
It's meant lots of trot sets for Midge and Ella, as here, on 135 beautiful, rolling acres of nice solid turf, trot sets are way more fun than on 5 acres of Florida sand. Days of trotting in the field - Ella's up to three 8 minute trot sets, Midge to two 9 minutes - are interspersed with ring work and, when the weather's been nice, "real" dressage work outside on our hills. Fender, too, has been spending a lot of time out on our hills, though in the last few weeks it's been quite chilly, which makes our grass a little slick, and the LAST thing I want for ANY of them is a tweaked leg.
All three are, funnily enough, working on essentially the same thing: engagement. Midge and I are in pursuit of a more "under" hindleg in the passage. He has wonderful activity and so much energy, and is getting better and better at making the passage smaller and not-so-open, which is making for incredible transitions in and out of piaffe, but I would just like his hips and low back to yield the littlest bit more. I think there's another half a point, maybe even a whole point, to be had if I can just tweak his shape in that one movement.
Worst case scenario, I make it absolutely no better, but improve his strength and adjustability, and that's hardly a bad scenario, so onward I trudge. He's been a great sport about it all, and it's making his trot better, too, which is neat.
For Ella, it's more about strength. She's perfectly capable of outstanding engagement, but:
a) sometimes she chooses not to, and
b) once she's there, sometimes she gets stuck.
Post-injury muscle rebuilding takes an absurdly long time, and I actually think I'm doing a better job the second time around than I did the first, but it's not yet finished. The trot sets have actually helped, and when we're in the ring, I alternate canter days (her canter is really quite good, and I just touch on stuff, keep it sharp, strive for sharper, etc, so we don't do the same thing every day) with days where I think almost of "passage sets," half a lap or so of passage, then a walk break, then passage again, then break, and on and on.
Last but not least, there's Fender, whose pursuit of engagement is more about coordination. Strength too, sure, and definitely a little bit of a lack of comprehension sometimes. But in truth, it is mostly about not tripping over his long, lovely legs. Fender's the tease of the bunch. He will come around the corner tracking left, and the corner is BRILLIANT, hind legs under, withers and neck up, equal in the reins, and I set him up for shoulder in and… splat. Body parts everywhere.
He picks himself back up fairly expediently and then makes really beautiful work, but one out of every 40-or-so steps is usually pretty klutzy. He's more organized at the canter (though far from perfect), and less organized at the walk, and at the end of the day I don't care because it's all going to be just fine in the end, but it is almost comical. I do a lot of laughing, mostly because I actually do find it funny, and occasionally to keep from being sad, because while I know I need to enjoy the journey, I just want him to be GREAT already!
I'm spending a lot of time with Allison, Molly, and all my students talking about their plans for each horse over the next few months. I'm back monthly for a weekend to teach, and I'm always available for video lessons or to chat about a problem on the phone, but I think strategy, strategy, strategy is the way to go for the next two weeks, so they're the most prepared. For Allison and Molly, I have complete faith in them to run the ship in my absence, but another important mission is to convince THEM that they are as capable as they are.
Then, it's just packing (which, unlike last year, we've started already, as opposed to three days before… lesson learned!), laundry, eating all the food in my kitchen, more laundry, an oil change for the truck, packing the trailer full of hay, and busting loose. I can't wait!