We had another great lesson on Monday. I say great, but half of it was pure rodeo. I am sure JL's other students were all in the barn laughing their butts off. Speedy was that naughty!
We've spent the last few weeks really focusing on our canter work. I am not going to say that our trot work is perfect, but it's strong enough now that JL doesn't have a whole lot to say. I know that once we get this right lead canter thing under control, JL will find some new thing to work on at the trot; the stretchy trot and trot lengthenings come to mind.
The newest canter exercise was a real doozy. Here's the rationale - Speedy's ribcage and shoulder are popping out while most of his weight is resting on his inside hind leg. This is creating a very crooked pony. The counter bend work at the trot and canter is helping, but he's still not straight.
In order to help me feel how crooked he is, JL created an exercise down the long side. At the canter, she instructed me to keep his nose on the fence and his body away from the fence all while on a right lead canter. Think haunches in, but not bent in the direction of movement.
The most important thing was to keep his nose on the fence at all times. At the same time, she had me use my outside leg to push his hind end to the inside.
The first attempt at cantering the fence line, especially the long side, was a disaster; I had zero control. Speedy was basically a runaway freight train. I slammed him to a halt over and over, but he just kept telling me NO!
Eventually, I brought him back to a trot and accidentally got the exercise right. JL quickly jumped in and told me to keep him at the trot. Any time I drifted away from the fence, she was there to tell me to keep his nose on the fence. After quite a number of circuits around the areana with his nose always on the fence, I started to feel his ribcage shift over. I was left with a hollow area beneath my leg.
Once I could feel the absence of his ribs, the point of the exercise clicked. I understood how to move his ribcage away from my leg. We picked up the canter, and I immediately felt the difference. I had control of his shoulder and he was much more supple.
Until you feel it done right, it's hard to tell what's not right. When JL tells me to get him off my outside leg, I now know what she means. All this time, I haven't felt that he's been on my outside leg. How do you know what black is unless you've first seen white? Now I know.
Once I felt Speedy get off my outside leg, I had total control of his outside shoulder. The right lead canter finally got soft and balanced. I was able to straighten his nose back out so that he was basically straight. We made several laps around the arena. On the long sides, he felt even between my legs. As we approached the rounded corners (it's an oval arena), I could feel where he wanted to lean out against my leg. Nope. Sorry, Dude. As we approached the corner, I simply rocked the outside rein and put his nose back on the fence. It worked like a charm.
The last few minutes of the lesson were dedicated to tracking left. JL wanted to see his left lead canter after all of that straightening to the right. I am going to boast a little here. When we started to the left, he was heavy in my hand and leaning on my inside leg (it's always his left side that wants to be against my leg). JL just waited quietly and watched as I went through the various exercises that she's taught me. When he wouldn't lighten up, I did a sitting a trot and pushed him sideways, sideways, sideways until he relaxed his ribcage and moved off my leg. I think JL was impressed.
When we picked up the canter, he tried to rush the corner closest to home, a favorite trick of his. Each time we came to that spot, JL would warn me that he was "running." It took several passes, but I finally got control of the outside shoulder (again?) and was rewarded with some hugely elevated canter strides. Woohoo! It felt as though there were three feet of air beneath us. Even JL laughed at how uphill Speedy was.
My homework for the next few weeks is to canter the long sides with Speedy's nose on the rail and his haunches inside. Winter weather is finally approaching so we'll see how much we are able to get done. In the meantime, the feel has got me. Once it's felt, there is no unfeeling it!