"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." That quote is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill. I couldn't agree more.
With that said, I must confess a dislike for riding in the arena. I don't think Smokey is too fond of it either. Or maybe I'm just trying to project human emotions on a four legged beast. Regardless of how hard I try to liven things up by working on this, that, or the other thing, riding in circles in a cloud of dust is, for me, a bit on the unexciting side. Except for the occasions when I'm riding alone, and I let old Smokey Joe out into an extended lope, some hand galloping, and the occasional flat out run thrown in for good measure. That gets the adrenalin flowing.
With that said, I accept that arena work is a necessary evil. It is the place to learn and hone riding skills.
Lately, I've been working on collection, which is the horse equivalent of good posture. The short explanation is that the horse keeps his head down, and arches his back. It's a little more complicated than that, but I hope you get the picture.
I know how to collect a horse. Smokey knows how to be collected. But, somewhere between my hand and the bit, there is a disconnect between this particular horse and myself. I push him up with spurs, tug gently on the bit, and his head will drop. After a few seconds his head will come back up. Rinse, repeat. It seems to be a test of who will tire first. Maybe some day we'll get there.
In the last few months he has developed this habit of tilting his head in toward the center of the arena while riding on the rail. And, soon enough, his body follows the head, and we start spiraling inward, circling the drain. I point out the error in his way, we get back on the rail, and start the whole thing over. It doesn't matter which direction we're going, we just start circling inward. Since my first thought is always "what am I doing wrong", I've made sure my legs are off and the reins are loose. No matter, it still happens. If anyone has any thoughts on this behavior, I'm certainly open to suggestions.
On some level, I think he's trying to tell me that it would be much better to go stand in the center of the arena, instead of working on this silly collection business.
I wonder if horses respond differently to riders they are familiar with. When DN3 rides him, it's all business. She is an amazing rider, and doesn't put up with any monkey business. I'm more like Good Time Charlie, preferring to go fast, run gaming patterns, and ride for hours or days in the mountains. In a large arena, I can point him downwind, make a little a kissing sound, and Bam! It's like getting shot out of cannon as he heads full steam for the other side. But he won't do that with other people on him. Riding point on the trail, I can drape my reins over the horn, and eat lunch or read a map while he keeps up the same pace. But with other, less experienced riders, he is known to stop, and refuse to move again, no matter how much kicking is involved.
If anyone ever unlocks the key to finding out how horses truly think, they will make a mint.