I've been feeling that the sharpness he and I developed over the summer has begun to dull. I am just not getting the same connection that we had a month ago. I need a lesson, but since Chemain lives so far away and the Christian Schacht clinic isn't until December, I'm going to have to dig a bit deeper and start focusing on the quality of what Speedy is offering by myself.
After warming up on Saturday, but still having a horse heavy on the left rein, I halted, took a deep breath and thought really hard about how to fix the problem. For me, the answer almost always lies in the outside rein so that's where I started to focus.
As we tracked left, I continually asked for some inside flexion by squeezing and releasing the inside (left) rein. After each squeeze, I added inside leg to the outside rein and tried to "catch" him with it. We did this for a few minutes, and he finally started to offer some nice stretches.
We changed direction, but I continued to pay very close attention to that left rein, now the outside. Rather than fighting him to soften off it, I realized that I should take what he was offering, but try to improve the quality. As we made the 20-meter circle, I asked him to really step under with his inside hind leg. Speedy resisted by breaking into the canter. I realized that I needed to be even more vigilant with the outside rein.
Cantering is easier than stepping under deeply, so I added a firm half halt as we approached the problem end of the circle. He tried hard to canter, but I insisted that he trot by resisting with my core and holding the reins very steady. Little by little, I felt him soften on the outside rein. He also started stepping under better with more balance. And that become my mantra, balance him with the outside rein.
At one point, I realized that he was "letting" me hold him up and that he was completely on the forehand. I shortened my reins, gave a firm half halt and added leg. He sassed me a bit, but his front end came up, and I felt his balance shift back. I asked for the canter and was rewarded with a pretty decent canter transition.
My focus was on the quality of the canter. I wanted him to be uphill and light in my hand so I rode him that way. We did some canter loops without me having to keep a go leg on. In fact, he was so balanced (for him), that mid-way through the loop I sent him across the diagonal and rode a 20 meter circle in counter canter without losing the gait. We came back across the diagonal and returned to a true canter bend.
I think that by focusing on the quality of each movement, I am not so overwhelmed by how much we need to improve upon. I am not going to worry about which movements we are or aren't doing, but rather how well we can do whatever it is we're working on. I know that sounds like a duh! concept, but actually doing it is harder than you might think.
It almost feels like riding in slow motion. And that's kind of what started to happen during Saturday's ride. I found that I was really feeling each hollow stride, each lifted stride, each stride that had bend, and so on. By riding in that exact moment and focusing on the quality of that stride, I found I was able to better influence Speedy's way of going.
Quality is definitely my new focus!