I got to spend quality time with both Dara and Limerick this past Saturday. And I rode both of them!
Dara had been under-saddle a few times with Christine, and she was quite relaxed so I wanted to try riding her, too. Even though Limerick is not a horse I would ever put a beginner rider on, after over 16 years on her back, I am downright comfortable with her antics. Besides, my legs and seat are practically molded to her. So while I'm always glad to hop on another horse, I don't ever expect to be good on that horse!
I didn't really need to worry about that on Dara. Despite having a very pleasant and adaptable personality, she has only been off the track for a couple weeks, so I was expecting at least a bit of "go" in her. But instead I found myself on a very relaxed horse. She was so chill that it took a lot of leg to get her moving. Once she did, she went along at a nice pace as long as you reminded her to keep going with your leg. She had a pleasant, long-strided walk and trot. She had some difficulty picking up the canter, but I am so used to asking for the canter on Lim with nothing more than sitting deeper in the saddle, so it was partly "user error". I did get her into a canter at one point and it was quite smooth!
She was such a fun horse to ride. She responded to me when I petted her neck or said "good girl", and her long, feminine ears were always forward, only flicking back to listen to me when I talked to her. She tried hard to do what I asked of her (leg yield, straighten out, etc) so of course I rewarded every effort. I walked her on a long rein after--no problem. What a nice horse....I so wish I could keep her.
Afterwards, we gave her a bath and 'hand grazed' her (if you can call it that--Christine unclipped the lead shank and Dara grazed in place until it was time to go in).
Christine has done a wonderful job with Dara so far. And most importantly, Dara is clearly happy and content with life. It's very rewarding to see that.
Later the same day, I rode Dara's auntie, Limerick. I was struck by how different they are! They are both very fun to ride, but unlike Dara, Lim is incredibly responsive, like a little sports car--you don't need much if any leg on her. If anything, Lim's gas pedal often accelerates itself, and all I can do is apply the brakes a little at a time (half-halts)!
In fact, on this evening, she picked up a canter on her own and I let her keep it up. As she normally does, she began putting on speed as we went, so I would half-halt her to slow her down. At a couple points, I wanted her to downshift to a trot but instead she slowed herself into a very collected little canter, then sped up again when I opened the reins.
I thought back to all the transitions I did in our last ride (because of this post) and I was struck by how quickly and easily she remembered applied lessons. Just one session of transitions helped 110%! I suppose that may be a common thing in older horses, especially those that had countless hours of training in their younger years. They may goof off if you let them, but after just one little refresher course, they remember everything again.