I can also tell when he does something just to get out of doing what I am asking for. Sort of like that backing up business he started on our last trail ride. He's just smart enough to look for answers that he likes better. Now that I get how he thinks, I just have to tell him that such and such is not allowed, and here is a more appropriate choice.
One thing he tries to do is jam his neck out in the air so that I can't bend him. When he gets his nose up there, he tries to either trot or gallop off, depending on how much energy he has. When Chemaine rode him, she gave him a quick, hard jerk and said, NO! That was a pretty effective way to tell him wrong answer.
So that's what I am doing now. When he tries that trick with me, I haul back on those reins with as hard of a jerk as I can manage (Chemaine is more effective, but still). It has taken a few days for me to get good at it, but he's starting to figure it out.
After our trail ride on Monday, the farrier came out on Tuesday which meant no ride. When I rode on Wednesday, he was very relaxed and happy. On Thursday, it took the better part of 30 minutes before he would unlock his back and move forward. I tried everything, even cantering. Nothing worked. He was fussy and just super tight.
Eventually, the switched flipped, and all of the tension just fell out of his body. He dropped his head and stretched over his top line and started to offer a very swingy trot. From there, I decided to give the canter a go. We can get it to the right, although it's not pretty. To the left, he continues to pick up the right lead. I finally wrapped up the ride and went home to think about it.
The lack of relaxation is simply because he's a green bean and needs lots of practice. When I rode him on Friday, he started out relaxed and stayed that way. The cantering issue is more about how I am riding him. It occurred to me that I am probably losing his haunches to the outside.
Since he was being so willing on Friday, I played around with the right lead canter first, just to build some confidence at the gait. Then we went to the left where I tried getting it several ways. I over exaggerated my inside hip forward while keeping my outside leg as far back as I could to keep his haunches from falling out. Nope. That didn't get it.
I finally realized that I was probably using too much inside rein, which would block the inside hind. So instead, I took up more outside rein to keep him from over bending. I again over exaggerated my inside hip forward, and still kept my outside leg back. Viola! Left lead canter!
We got it once. It felt great. Now to learn to get it every time!