This last week it occurred to me that I have been asking the wrong question, especially when it comes to Speedy G. He is already round, too round in fact. It's a little like sitting atop a giant beach ball. He's also too soft, or more accurately ... he's too light in the bridle.
Rather than asking for soft and round, of which I am getting plenty, I think I should be asking, How do I get him working through? And by that I mean, pushing off with his hind legs, lifting his back, and seeking the bit rather than trying to duck behind it. Until he starts working more through, our canter work will never improve.
At a lesson a week ago, we finally got there, or closer anyway. JL had us working to the right, our limp way. She had me think about riding a pentagon, or an octagon, or better yet, a dodecagon.
By straightening him up, he started listening to my outside rein. We did some very gentle pulley-halts, basically a firm halt with just the outside rein. To my surprise, he stopped square and his nose quit popping up. Somehow, by straightening him up, I was able to get his butt working underneath him.
The next problem we worked on was getting Speedy's nose up to, or even in front of, the vertical. Every time he dropped behind the bit, I was to lift with my outside hand. I was allowed to give him a few chances to come up, but if he ignored my request, it meant that he was running through my hand. I halted him firmly with the outside rein.
Once I started to develop a bit more feel, I was able to keep his nose at the vertical while still keeping his hind end active. And there we were: put together, and working through.
When I rode later in the week, I was able to recapture the feeling of thoroughness. I was even able to play around with a little bit of lengthening. To the right. Tracking left is a different story. This is his stiff side, if he has a stiff side. When his nose begins to drop behind the vertical tracking left, I am not nearly as effective at correcting him. We obviously need more trainer help.
Back to the idea of thinking aloud. I so want Dressage to be about do this, get that. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. (Preaching to choir, I know.) Instead, I think Dressage is much more about developing feel. Some have it more naturally while others, like myself, must work much harder to develop it.