We are improving, of that there is no doubt. The judge's comments used to include words like hollow, unsteady, needs more bend, needs more activity, etc. These comments are being replaced with different ones: some loss of balance, needs better stretch, encourage stretch to contact, and so on.
Speedy had Monday off, but by Tuesday it was back to work. I decided to really focus on the judge's comments and see if I could figure out how I was restricting Speedy and how I could get more suppleness of the back.
I started out at the walk and really focused on maintaing contact while still feeling the slightest movement of Speedy's head and neck. I even closed my eyes and allowed my body to feel like it was melting into the saddle. Our trot transition got a lot softer. Hmm ...
We worked on walk to trot transitions all the while focusing on ME being soft. Speedy is already super "light" in the bridle. His go-to evasion is to get behind the vertical and drop the contact as soon as he can. If I am stiff or "hard," he just tenses his back and there goes any suppleness of the back. So I focused on soft and loose. I kept my elbows bent and tried to get some sway in my shoulders. I finally got the softness that I had been missing over the last week.
We moved on to the canter where I tried really hard to follow his motion without bumping him in the mouth. It took a few efforts, but we got what felt like a more rhythmical canter that wasn't rushed or strung out. The canter to trot transition was also quite improved.
Oddly enough, I am much softer and more relaxed when I ride Sydney. When I hop aboard Speedy, I feel an intensity that causes tension in us both. I know the feeling stems from a desire to improve, but I need to find a way to soften the focus so that my intensity is somewhat diffused. On the flip side, I need to be slightly more intense with Sydney. I get too loosey-goosey on him, and I think he might now appreciate the support of some focused energy.
Riding two very different horses forces me to constantly evaluate my aids. Sometimes they're effective, sometimes less so. Either way, I just keep plunking away!