Since the end of July, he and I have just been taking it easy. I ride him for 15 to 20 minutes three or four days a week, but I haven't really been asking much of him. We do a little trot work both directions, pick up a canter and do some counter canter work, and then we call it quits.
Apparently, I haven't been asking for very correct work. That is why he's heavy in my hands and stumbling around the ring. I have been assuming that he was as strong in his hind end as he was in July. Poor assumption.
I was finally able to squeeze in a Saturday lesson with JL. She could see his lack of strength and balance right away. Her solution? Go back a few steps. Yuck. Speedy is no longer able to carry his own weight and mine at the bigger gait that I need for the show ring. With a longer topline, he simply falls onto his forehand since he doesn't have the strength in his hind end to lift us both up. So, I went back to a really short neck and a very slow little trot.
Speedy hates this kind of work because it's well, WORK! When we do this exercise, I have to be hyper vigilant about not letting him change the rhythm (speed up to outrun his butt) and not letting him drop the contact by curling under in the front (slowing down his butt). It's hard work for me, too since I feel like I am doing my job and his.
When he increases the rhythm, the fix is easy; I resist through my core and use an outside half halt. If he's being a real pain in the patootie, I might have to get really firm with that outside rein, but that doesn't happen too often at such a baby trot.
Correcting the curling under is much more difficult to do because I can't always feel that he's slowing down behind until it's already happened. When I feel his head begin to duck under, I need to lean back through my shoulders and add LEG to get his butt moving again. This is his preferred evasive maneuver as he knows it is harder for me to correct.
So that's what we did for most of the lesson, trot around in a tiny trot trying to convince Speedy that maintaining a rhythm while engaging your butt is fun. Once he was mostly participating, we began the figure eight exercise. It's not any different from what you'd think, except that JL has me really focus on slowing down the outside shoulder and moving sideways as we approach the spot where the two circles meet. This asks him to reach under with the inside leg.
It is interesting that if we are tracking right, he finds it relatively easy to change his balance at X to begin tracking left. When we are tracking left, he puts up all kinds of a fuss when asked to shift his weight to begin tracking right. He gets very hollow or tries to canter. The solution has been to go even more slowly as we approach X so that he can rebalance himself.
JL also likes where we are in the canter and thinks that doing more of that will also build his butt back up, especially to the right. My goal at the canter is to really focus on establishing a rhythm that he can hold easily. Through all of the canter work that I've done with Sydney, my feel for maintaining contact in the canter departure has improved, which is also helping Speedy.
Our next outing is the Christian Schacht clinic in mid-December. I have plenty of time to rebuild Speedy's level of fitness so that we are better prepared to move on at the clinic. Once again my rides will have purpose, something I like!
Enjoy today's extra hour.