I found out by the way that his registered name is Private Reserve. She doesn't know where that comes from, but I thought it was funny to call him Private as I snapped my heels and asked him to salute!
Austin's owner decided to come down and watch the lesson. Talk about a bit of pressure! Good thing she and I are so friendly or I would have been nervous. She really wanted to see where he is in his training, and what she'll need to work on when she gets back aboard.
Last time I rode him with JL, we worked only on my position and let Austin just tootle around the ring. For this lesson, she thought my position was satisfactory enough that we could turn our attention to Austin. He's very heavy in front and quite good at looking round. He has learned that if he rounds his neck, the rider will be satisfied. This is exactly how Speedy used to travel - it's like riding a giant beach ball.
JL had me ask for a trot, but only a small one. Since Austin is tight up front, she wanted me to start softening and stretching his neck and body so that he can actually stretch over his back and use his hind end more effectively. The first thing she had me do was a ask for a quick halt to see how heavy he actually was. Pretty heavy.
So I did a few more pulley halts, backing him up a few strides until he was a little lighter on his front end and ready to take those steps backwards. The next thing she had me do to soften and stretch his body was to over bend his neck in each direction at the trot. It took all of my strength to get even the littlest bend. To get counter bend took a ton of outside leg as he simply couldn't track left with his neck bent right.
I worked his neck for a while - bend left for two strides, bend right for two strides all without giving away the other rein. Once he seemed a bit more supple, I rode him "straight," but then I asked for a little roundness over his neck by gently squeezing my ring fingers. He certainly wasn't in a dressage frame, but JL pointed out that this is how to either ride a horse returning to work or a young horse (like Izzy!).
We did this exercise, bend left and right, at the trot in both directions and later at the canter. I had to be aware of keeping the trot slow so that he didn't outrun his hind end. For now, this amount of frame is all he can do. As he works more and more correctly and gets more and more supple, he will be able to lengthen his stride.
It was good to have a lesson on him because I've been really cautious about asking for too much of anything. He's in his teens and just coming back into regular work so I haven't felt comfortable asking too much of him. For the past two months, I've just been working on conditioning him (trot for a few minutes, canter a few laps) rather than asking him to collect himself.
Now that I have a good assessment of where he should be headed, I'll feel free to ask for more bend, suppleness, or lightness. And since his owner was along for the lesson, she'll know what I should be asking for as well. I feel lucky to be able to ride other horses as all of this just adds to my toolbox. And with Izzy waiting in the wings, having a lot of tools is a good thing!