Our last few rides have been about me doing all of the carrying and whacking. He's been heavy on the forehand, cue the carrying, and very resistant to moving his haunches, hence the whacking. And for the most part, the straightness we've been pursuing has also eluded us.
Somehow, I must have actually been doing something right over the last few days because it all came together quite nicely on Saturday. I didn't start my ride on Speedy with any particular goal, other than to lighten him up in the canter. I started with riding turns on the forehand and haunches. SInce he was finally moving fairly well off my leg, I ditched the crop.
When I asked him to pick up the trot, it was quite sluggish and his head popped up as he lurched forward. Rats. This again? I brought him back to the walk and shortened my reins by about three feet (until I was practically holding the bit with my hands). I asked for the trot again, but I refused to let him hop into it by flinging his head up. I asked, he stuttered, I asked again, and he finally gave me something that felt right.
It was obvious we needed to sharpen up our walk/trot transitions; I am so glad that I stopped and accurately evaluated what my horse needed right then. We did quite a few walk to trot to almost walk to bigger trot transitions. Within a few minutes I had Speedy working the most "through" he's ever been for me. It was an awesome feeling. I never could get an expressive "lengthening," but I was able to collect and hold him and then release him to a longer working trot. Each time I brought him back down to the most collected trot he could maintain without dropping down to the walk, his working trot got better and better.
When I could feel him completely on my aids, I squeezed him into a very balanced canter. I laughed out loud. He had finally lightened up in front and wasn't pulling me out of the saddle. We circled at A, spiraled in and out, and then went down the long side. We had worked on canter lengthenings a few days ago so he got a bit too forward down the long side which required some pretty strong pulley halts. After a minute or two though, he came back to me as I asked for a half halt as we came to the corner. We were then able to make the circle nicely at C and A.
Christian Schacht had me counter canter as a suppling exercise. It's been tough, but we've been working on that over the last week or so. On Saturday, I was able to keep Speedy in the canter as we made a large tear drop into the counter canter. I can see how this exercise can really supple a horse. I was proud of both of us as we were able to hold the counter canter in both directions, right and left leads.
For those of you who ride at levels far above where we're riding, this is probably pretty boring stuff. I recognize that this is dressage at its most basic, but you have to start somewhere. I know where we started (cruising across the desert for 50 miles at a time); I see how much we've learned in the past three years (introductory and now Training Level); and I can see where we're heading (First Level?). I like the progress we've made. Here's to the next step!