Yesterday I rode Arabee again. The last time I had ridden her was a week ago Monday, so I wasn't sure how she'd behave. She was very good, although on Friday and Sunday I did walk her in hand around the woods (on trails and in places she'd never been before...with the hope of expanding her comfort zone) so I am sure that helped a lot.
The ground was very frozen, and it was clear that her feet were tender. I know eventually I am going to need to get her some hoof protection in some form, but for right now I believe Arabee's feet are still "in transition" so I am wanting to hold off on that until I think her feet are in the shape they want to be in. She's got beautiful soles, they have changed shape a lot since I started putting the mustang roll on her feet (nice concavity and a well-defined toe-callus), but I am still working out some slight flaring, you can see in her white line where it keeps getting tighter and tighter. I need to update the mustang roll on her fronts again. She seems to need this about every 2 weeks right now. I am hoping that once she gets in the right shape for her feet that this will slack off.
I think that for the most part we are right on track for both my comfort zone and her foot hardiness. We are doing short distances of trotting in places where it's comfortable for her to do that (and when it's frozen hard like it is now there aren't a lot of places to do that). She is getting the chance for her tendons and bones and structures to get "legged up" with all this walking so hopefully her whole body gets fit at the same time, rather than her aerobic fitness first before the rest of her. It won't be perfect, but I think it will help prevent lameness rather than if I tried to do all trot/canter all the time. Adding the trotting has really helped with her attitude. We start with about 5 minutes of walking, then trot a little while, and then she gets much more focused and is calmer at the walk even in new territory. I am blessed with a wonderful mare - she's got a great mind. You can always tell when she's bored - she "invents" things to spook at.
I think we both are ready to really increase the trotting, but I know I can't until the ground thaws a little bit - right now it is so uneven I really need to keep her slow so she can pick her footfalls better. She had fun yesterday we rode in the woods across the road, her ears were alert to what was around her but she was relaxed. First time over there under saddle, but that was where I'd taken her on our walks Friday and Sunday.
I am also antsy to start re-affirming that we can canter safely. Back (in 2002!) when I was riding her regularly and showing, Arabee was always good at throwing in little crowhops at each canter stride. I posted about her breaking into the canter from the trot a few weeks back and her bucking, which I think was accentuated by the presence of the crupper. She wasn't out of control, but it isn't the way I like to travel! She has a nice canter, and once the footing is good I need to practice it under saddle so that if she breaks gait and starts cantering on her own she is used to what the crupper feels like at that gait, and we can avoid unnecessary bucking!
I am still not 100% sure that I NEED to use the crupper, but my thinking is that 1) I already have it, 2) she's used to it now (mostly), 3) I ride with a pretty loose girth, and have experienced the saddle slipping forward on a downhill without it, so this will prevent that from happening, 4) If I do my training rides with all the tack she will be ridden in on rides, then it won't be something new the day of a ride.