The latest thing we've been working on has been to keep his nose in front of the vertical. To do this, I have to keep my hands higher than what feels comfortable. The purpose is not to establish a head set. I so finally get that. Instead, we are asking (insisting) that he accept the contact and not hide from it.
Speedy has a lovely neck that arches beautifully. This is a problem because he can "fake" the connection quiet well. The arch has not been coming from a lifted back and withers. Instead he is breaking at that vertebra below the poll.
Saturday's ride was a bit of a struggle. He wouldn't lighten up, and I just couldn't get my aids together to coordinate a true correction. No problem, by Sunday, we had it worked out. I now know the feeling that we're trying to achieve by shortening the reins and holding my hands higher. It is truly a feeling of being pulled along.
We had it in spades on Sunday. As I was riding and thinking, it occurred to me that the difference between being heavy and being taken by the hand could be described like this: imagine holding a bucket filled with rocks. That's heavy. To imagine a solid connection that isn't heavy, imagine holding a helium filled balloon that's tugging ever so gently on your hand. That's very light. Speedy's not there yet.
Instead of imaging the balloon, which is just too light for us, I imagine that I am on roller skates and holding the hand of a friend who is pulling me along. If I lean forward and allow slack in our connection, I am likely to fall flat on my face. If she speeds up, I need to lean back. When she slows, I assume a more neutral position. But when she stops, I've lost the connection unless my butt is underneath me and the "line" maintains tautness. When she begins to move, she won't pull me off my feet because my legs are underneath me. All I need to do is keep my weight back and allow her to pull me forward.
Speedy and I had a wonderful connection on Sunday. I added leg and he "pulled" me around. When I felt the reins get light, I leaned back and added leg. The more forward he got, the more I leaned back. It created a wonderful sense of riding a teeter totter: he and I pulled on each other evenly. Imagine it like this: do you remember the game where you grabbed a friend's hands and you both leaned back? When you were sure you had a good connection, you could twirl around faster and faster without falling. It took a lot of trust because if one of you let go, the other other would fall.
When I asked Speedy to canter, I got a pretty good departure and an even better downward transition. A few more months of this kind of work, and I know we'll be much more competitive at training level in the spring!