Tonight, for the first time in over three years, I took Cash out for a "real ride".
Ok, so maybe it wasn't THAT real. I rode bareback and we used his bitless bridle (really more of a fleece-covered noseband with side-pulls). The point is, we didn't just walk around the trails and down the road, we actually tried to DO something.
We did the half-mile trail loop at a walk with some "western pleasure" trot to warm up and get him moving out. Since it rained, the boys have been up in the barn, so I wanted to give him plenty of time to stretch out. We then did some serpentines down the road - a few steps of shoulder in on the curves, straighten to change direction, change bend, a few more steps of shoulder in, lather, rinse, repeat. I asked for "contact" for this, but we'd only do two or three before I'd let the reins out and ask him to walk on. He mostly remembered how to do everything but, as always, had trouble going forward into the contact - he tends to get sort of scrunched up in front instead. It's really obvious when he does this - for one thing, he gets wrinkles on his withers when he gets tense, so I tried to ride him out and forward while still asking for some work. We also did a little trotting in a straight line on the road, and since it was headed for home, he really got his back up and his feet under him. He felt great!
Eventually we made it back to the field right by the house. The footing was good despite the recent rain, so we did a little more trotting in each direction, focusing on long and low. He was a good sport and tried, even if his trot wasn't as forward as I might want. I then asked him for a tiny bit of canter each direction (because let's face it, my seat's not that great bareback) and volia! there it was. Ok, so I did say "can-TER!" to him when asking, since he's really well voice trained, but he got maybe 8-10 strides each way before we mutually decided it was time to trot. Yeah, it wasn't forward and round, but it happened. Oh, and bonus, I stayed on!
I told him what a fantastic, wonderful, awesome schpotted pony he was, patted him on the neck, and leaned forward to wrap my arms around his neck - so he promptly returned the favor by diving for a bite of grass. Brat. Oh well, I guess at his age, he deserves some leeway...