My attitude has changed as I've decided to do this 7-day program with Gem. Our goal? To haul to the trailhead 7 times and get him comfortable being alone with me, his human partner. If we can get down the trail - great! But the main goal is to find a place where he can understand that I'm not going to push him off a cliff. I'm his partner and I respect his thresholds.
So, we got there and he unloaded fine - he was calm. I tacked him up and did a minute or so of groundwork to get us connected. Then I hopped on and asked him to start down the trail. There's a sign on the trailhead that gives a little trail info and I felt him hitting his threshold before we even got to the sign! Poor guy. I honestly didn't know his confidence was that lacking about riding on the trail. I haven't been listening.
So, with the goal to build him up, we played on gaining confidence in the parking lot and towards the sign. We never once passed the sign. I also responded to his thresholds by retreating every single time. We rode for about an hour doing figure 8's, lateral bending, canter/trot transitions, sideways, half pass, whatever I could think of to keep the trail head interesting and help him understand that he's safe with me and I have a plan.
About 20 - 25 mins in, he had what I'll call a "temper tantrum". He lowered his head, bucked a few times, and seemed generally annoyed. I rode it out then asked him for forward again. I wasn't worried about this and honestly, I was expecting several more tantrums from him than just one. He called several times during our hour, too. When he seemed calm and relaxed, we calmly walked to the trailer, loaded up and went home.
We'll see tomorrow if today was a success. Can't wait!