Speedy's hollow side is his right side. I do not know why (mental, physical, genetics), but he wants to be bent ever so slightly to the right. It is more difficult (relatively speaking) for him to bend left which requires him to stretch the right side of his body. Speedy is very flexible when compared to most horses; he can touch his nose to his tail if he wants to. But still, he's stretchier to the right than to left. I am too.
He has seen the chiropractor many times. His teeth are done each year, his saddle has been adjusted by a professional fitter, and I'm fairly straight and balanced when I ride, etc. You get the drift. There is no one thing that makes him hollow to the right; he just is. This is not new information for me.
At Monday's lesson, I finally understood what effect this slight c-shape creates while we are working. I have read all the right books, watched the right videos, and seen the right clinics. Hearing it and feeling it are two completely different things. Before the lesson started, I explained to JL that I am finally feeling where Speedy is stiff, resistant, or heavy. I shouldn't imply that I've never felt these things before, but I have started feeling how these things are impeding our progress. Before, they were the end; he's stiff to the left, he's heavy on the left rein - how do I fix it? Now, I am feeling why he is stiff, and I am seeing that I can't do this or that until he's not stiff/resistant/heavy.
I know this sounds like a small thing, but it was huge, absolutely huge, to me. This tendency to be curved to the right explains a whole lot of the judges' comments: needs more bend, stiff, bracing, more activity behind, and so on. When I was able to tell JL what the problem was, she was ready for some exercises to help me stretch his right side.
First: As we track left, I need to be VERY aware of maintaining a left bend. I have been allowing Speedy to slowly take the left bend away (the crime of opportunity. When he does this, his left ribcage bulges out to my inside leg and he ignores it. My warm-ups will now include trot and canter to the left with my hand planted on my left thigh so that Speedy can't "steal" the bend back. As we trot or canter, I am to move his haunches out, out, out. We did a bit of this on Monday, and I was rewarded with a much softer horse. As a variation on that exercise, I can also track right in a counter bend which will also serve to stretch his neck and rib cage.
Next: I am also going to work on moving his haunches right and left while using the long sides. JL had me focus on WHY he was resistant to moving his butt. Was he ignoring my asking leg, or my slowing hand? Almost immediately, I was able to recognize that he couldn't move his butt OVER because he was ignoring my slowing hand. Once I was able to slow down his shoulder, he was able to move his butt.
JL had me focus on feeling for one or two correct steps. When I felt him move over, I was to straighten and go forward. The point is to let him feel successful so that it isn't always MOVE, MOVE, MOVE with no reward. By the end of the lesson, I could accurately feel when I needed to focus on slowing the shoulder and when I could allow him to move forward again.
I wish I could convey how big of a lightbulb moment I had on Monday. Knowing that a horse is crooked/stiff/braced is great. Knowing why and being able to fix it is a gigantic difference. I really feel like we just moved on to some new level. Every time I have a big AHA, I realize how much more there is to learn. But rather than finding that discouraging, I find it to be pretty exciting!