This doesn't mean that I think we're ready for First Level. I've just been looking at the requirements with my trainer so that we both know where we're headed. We think we know which movements will be the most difficult (a good leg yield) and which will be easier (canter lengthenings, which we've already started).
The trouble with working with a non-dressage trainer is that she doesn't already know all of the tests. Periodically, I make photocopies of the tests and show her what's coming up next. Now that she knows what First Level entails, it gives her a better idea of what we need to have confirmed at Training Level. Which brings me to Monday's lesson.
Knowing that Speedy needs to really accept the bit at Training Level in preparation for maintaining a more consistent contact with the bit as well as develop the thrust to achieve improved balance and thoroughness, JL had me ride with zero baubles allowed. That meant he couldn't drop the contact at all which meant leg on, leg on, leg on and lean back, lean back, lean back.
During the exercise, JL explained that yes, I was doing all of the work right now by holding Speedy's head up and adding leg, but he would begin to lighten in my hand as he got stronger in his hind end, and especially once he realized that I was not going to give in, which is what I usually do. He was so very heavy though, that I expressed concern about what the correct response would feel like.
Speedy's go-to, and it's likely an answer that I told him was right, is to "lighten" by dropping behind the vertical. At some point in our not-so-distant past, that felt like lightness to me so I rewarded him. Now that I know that he can never achieve any thrust from behind by doing that, he and I have to to learn what true lightness feels like.
So as we were thrusting around the circle, I held his head up by leaning back. I made him carry my weight instead of trying to pick up his. Every single time his nose started to drop down, I added leg and gave a quick up on the rein. At one point, I looked over at JL and asked how long I had to do this. When, and more importantly, what would I be able to reward?
JL explained it like this: he can hold his own head. I would know that he was doing that when the pounds in my hand got lighter. AHA! I have heard over and over that expression, how many pounds are you holding, but I always thought it was my choice how much to hold. What a novel idea to realize that he could lighten the hold by shortening his frame. If I give him this amount of space, he can compress himself (much like a slinky) so that he feels a lighter hold.
I wish I could say that all of a sudden Speedy was light in my hand and rocked back on his hocks, but he wasn't. He did get a little lighter though as we continued to work. JL said if I ride him consistently in this way, it should only take a few weeks to start seeing some good improvement. As his back and hind end get stronger, he will be able to carry more and more weight. I am not expecting anything huge. Even I know it takes years and years to develop that kind of strength, but come on Speedy, give me at least a couple of ounces!