Specifically, I wanted to lope some circles, and I have been missing that on Vaquero. Since Vaquero is a paso fino and a gaited horse, loping circles isn't his strong suit.
The last two days, I hopped on Woody. I used my usual bit, and one with which I am intimately familiar, and is easier than the bit I usually have beginners use when they ride Woody. We went back to the basics. We worked on lead departures on the correct lead, forehand and hindquarter transitions, side passing, and backing up. He was rusty yesterday, but today he was ON. He was getting his leads on cue, and his forehand transitions were brisk and quick. I concentrated on unloading his front end with good body position, and it made all the difference. You see, with the QH, I have more things I can work on and do, and I get to be a more active rider. With the paso fino, I sit more passively, because being active in the saddle sets him off because he's so sensitive. And with the paso, the emphasis is on smooth, not really athletic activities.
Woody's stop in just two days is MUCH better. He damn near jammed my back on one of his stops today. So in two rides, we went from a drifting kind of stop, to jamming my spine. I just persisted in working his back up, and being very deliberate in asking for the stop with my body BEFORE I pulled on the reins, and it made a big difference. I also have been riding him with a little more bit pressure, something I picked up from riding the paso, and it seemed to make him more responsive, I think because he is already "on the bit" even before I ask for the stop. He'll never be a western pleasure horse, so riding on a completely loose rein may not have been working for him.
It was awesome. I was opening my gates from Woody's back (he was doing all the work for me, no struggles), loping big circles, and running through the front pasture. I was in the front pasture, running him strong for long stretches, when one of my neighbors walked by. She is someone I'd never met, but I'd seen her horses from the trail. She stopped and we talked for a bit, and she marveled at how Woody would just run and run, and how even after just stopping, he didn't seem short of breath. That's my Woody.
It was quite a thrill today. One of those days when you know exactly why you love riding, and makes up for those days when you wonder if it's all worth it. It is DEFINITELY worth it!