I have a show on Sunday, so Speedy G got to go to JL's on Wednesday for my weekly lesson. Again, if you've been following with any regularity, you know that Speedy G and I have been working hard to achieve steady contact. He's had so many of the pieces there, ready to go, but we just haven't been able to put it all together. He's ultra bendy - he can touch his nose to his hips with zero effort. He reaches with his hind end in a big way. His neck is long and flexible. He's got it goin' on, but ...
What JL finally helped me see was that I've taught Speedy G how to be too light in the bridle and overly soft with too much arch in his neck. So how do we fix that?
We moved into the trot. I squeezed him forward, but JL had me keep my hands very still. No pulses on the rein. He is so soft already, that if I touch his mouth, he drops his head and arches his neck. Too far. Way too far. Everything I did had to come instead from my seat and legs. Instead of slowing down his front end, we asked his hind end to catch up with the front. More energy, allow him to reach. Those were the judge's comments at the last show. So that's what I did. When he tried to come behind the bit, I just squeezed him forward, but I didn't ask anything of him with my hands. I just kept my elbows bent, and my hands very quiet. Everything was seat and legs.
What I realized was that every time I squeezed him forward, I had been pulsing my reins, effectively teaching Speedy G to get softer and softer in the mouth until he was over bending his neck. With JL's help, I stopped squeezing or pulsing, and simply held my hands softly and quietly still.
When Speedy G realized that he had to stay up at the bit, he tried a few other evasive maneuvers like running through the bridle. AHA! Outside half halting rein. I recognize you - now I really understand your job. Welcome to the party! Then Speedy G tried to fall out of the circle at the gate corner. Nope, Speedy G, meet bending inside leg and half halting outside rein. Eventually, Speedy G started to put it together and we finally had steady contact. Hallelujah. Can you hear the angels singing?
I have to say, riding a too soft horse can be a lot less complicated than riding a heavy horse. Once I realized where my hands needed to stay, I quit even thinking about them. They were literally just there to hold a position and the rest of the riding duties were provided by my seat, legs, and core. It was quite liberating.
After all the trot work, we worked on our canter transition. JL had a great new strategy to avoid the bucking and kicking that frequently come with the canter. Instead of letting him have a loose rein, we kept the same short rein length and I squeezed Speedy G into the canter. And just like at the trot work, we made his hind end catch up to the front. The canter transition was much smoother and he wasn't able to drop his head for the buck. And with a few scoops of my seat, I was able to "push" him forward into a nicely balanced canter. From there, the downward transitions were just as smooth.
Speedy G has now made the acquaintance of Steady Contact. I see a very good friendship about to blossom!