After much back-and-forth, I finally decided that yes, Sparky is getting clipped again this year. So Sunday was the big day. Armed with a clean horse, quieter clippers, new clipper blades, Show Sheen, Kool Lube, Blade Wash, earplugs (for the horse), and a bunny suit (science nerd term for full-body protective suit), I set about my mission.
I have definitely improved; the first time I did a whole body clip, it took me 8 hours. Yes, 8 hours. This time I think it only took about 2 1/2, partly because I had to spend some time hunting down an extension cord, and I also had to let the clippers cool down a few times. It's not a perfect job - there are definitely some track marks, and I forgot about the hot water/baby oil rinse - but the reason for clipping Sparky was not to make him show-ready. For once, I had truly only a practical purpose in mind, and that was to prevent him from getting so hot and sweaty as we work through the colder weather. Yaks sweat a lot when worked, you know. As an added bonus, Sparky is now BLACK again! Two weeks from now and he'll be gorgeous.
I also did a sort of mini-lesson with Susan, to get some outside input on asking Star to work off her back end. Star did well, and Susan's feedback was pretty much what I had been working on: transitions, working over the back and lifting the abdomen, shoulder-in, spirals, transitions within the gait, etc. It's a bit hard for me right now, because I feel like I don't know how much I should be asking of Star - I'm always worried whether she's actually comfortable, or just pushing through - and I'm lacking any sort of goal or direction. Yes, I can perfectly well enjoy riding my horse with no set goal in mind, but it's much easier for me to have a constructive, purposeful ride if I feel I am working towards something. While I still don't have any actual long-term goal, talking with Susan did give me reassurance that I just need to keep working with Star at a normal load (but be careful about the footing on which I jump her) and gave me the short-term goal of really improving Star's transitions, especially up into trot from walk, as that one, in particular, is pretty much crap right now.
Star is going to another IEA show on Sunday; she was absolutely wonderful at the last one. She was nearly perfect, just trucking along and doing her job, while other horses in the ring were leaping and bucking. I was concerned for a time when she had a loose, floppy rider and looked off in the deep footing, but that went away once she had a better rider. At one point the steward thanked me for bringing her. =) The one other moment that was less-than-perfect was Star's random stop at a crossrail; I really don't think her rider caused it, so I felt bad for the rider, because they'd had a good round up to that point... but you know you have a pretty neat horse when the first thing out of that rider's mouth as they come out of the the ring is, "I LOVE this horse!"