I don't feel that confusion anymore, and it's not because First Level is some magical portal to the Dressage Kingdom. I think Speedy and I have just made it over a pretty big hump in our training. I also think his body is stronger and more capable of the work that I am asking for.
Just the other day, Laurel - who feeds in the evenings, asked if I wanted to cut back Speedy's hay a little. She wasn't coming out and directly saying he was fat, but you know ... he was looking a bit rotund. I told her his girth was fitting like always, so we went into his stall and started poking around.
We both agreed he's undoubtedly round, but to feel him, he's pretty dang solid. While his neck might appear cresty, it doesn't wiggle and jiggle like a fat neck does. The same goes for the other parts of his body that are typically spongy on a fat horse. She finally conceeded that he is just a well-muscled horse and not obese ... says the proud momma whose kid might be walking around in size husky.
So what's different now that we're showing First Level and eye-balling Second? Well, for starters, Speedy is getting round. No, not round as in fat. What I mean is that he's getting round over his back, especially at the canter. Although with him, round isn't always a good thing as he likes to get overly round (photo below shows that).
I am now feeling that he is stronger in his hind end. He can now sit deeper, lift his back, and push off with those hind legs. This isn't a great photo, and I've already shared it before, but it does show what I am talking about.
For so long, he simply had three gears: a walk, a trot, and a canter. I pretty much got what I got. The walk was pokey, the trot always felt like he was ass over tea kettle, and the canter was closer to a gallop. I am now developing his medium walk, which neither of us knew was in there. At the trot, we're schooling halt to trot transitions which are hard for a lazy worker like Speedy. He's not a fan of a spur poke though, so he's getting it.
And then there's the canter. I almost feel like I am getting the most growth in this gait. Not only can he lengthen his stride at the canter, but he is developing some nice jump in the 15-meter circle. I also love that I am able to move him on and off the rail at the canter, do counter canter circles, and best of all, the change of lead through trot feels really solid.
There are areas that still need a lot of work ... Leg Yield, I have my eye on you! ... but I am feeling excited about our next show and feel that we might have a chance at being somewhat competitive. Even if we aren't, and we bring home one of those disappointing scores in the 50s (59% being the worst), I know we are on the right path.
I am really enjoying this journey with Speedy G. Hopefully he feels the same way!