Unlike most sports, where experience and training make you better and more confident, dressage simply reveals how much you don't know. And once you get a new "feel," or once you have an "aha" moment, you do one of those palm to forehead smacks and ask how you've been doing this for a decade and are just now getting "it" - whatever "it" is in this particular moment in time. If this keeps up, I am going to have an IQ of about 8.
Chemaine arrived as I was finishing our warm up. As usual, she had to hear the whole sob story about our half passes - they're still sticky, Speedy is ignoring my outside leg, I can't get enough bend, please fix it all today. As she began putting us to work, I had to stop and explain one more "issue." The day before, Speedy had been well in front of my leg, but he was plowing through my aids, and I simply couldn't convince him to carry himself. The more leg I applied, the heavier in my hand he became. Of course Chemaine had a remedy.
She asked me to get him round and soft, and then she had me give him a quick kick, kick without letting him go forward. Of course nothing happened which is why she was there with the whip. As soon as he didn't respond, she gave him two quick thwacks with the whip. Of course he gave a big kick, so we did it again. He instantly got the idea; round and soft is going to be followed by a kick, kick which means activate your hind legs.
Chemaine had me separate the two aids - sponging the rein for softness and adding more leg, so that Speedy had a chance to answer. My task now is to get him round with my rein aid followed by two quick sharp kicks to say "now sit and push." Eventually, if I apply my aids correctly, he will start to give himself the "kick" aid because he will know that it's coming. If he can sit and push with his hind end just by listening to my seat and hands, no kick, kick will happen. This is our new half halt.
Once Chemaine and I were both certain I could "chew gum and walk a straight line," we did some trot half passes, which were hugely improved, and moved on to the canter work. The aids were the same - ask for round followed by a kick, kick to activate Speedy's hind end without allowing him to shoot forward.
Chemaine described it as folding him up. I knew what she meant. Do you remember those fans you used to make as a kid by folding paper forward and back, forward and back? That's what this feels like. I am basically asking him to "accordion" fold his body, essentially compressing his body so that his back pops up in the middle. You can really see the difference of where his back is when you compare the picture above with the one below. He's uphill in the first photo, but his back is really round in the second one.
For years Chemaine has been telling me to put the letter (where we're heading) between Speedy's ears. For our half pass from centerline yes, we do head toward S or M, but then we proceed straight to C. Guess which letter I've been putting between Speedy's ears? Right, C. As Chemaine kept yelling LOOK AT THE DIAGONAL LETTER, a giant light bulb went off and I realized what an idiot I've been. If you actually bend your horse to look at S or H, you will get a much better bend than by looking at C which is straight in front of you. Sorry, non-dressage folks, that's a bit more technical than you probably want read about.
After all, Speedy can't be expected to do all the work.