This lesson was about two things: changes of direction which we absolutely nailed within about five minutes, and the trot to canter to trot transition. Not perfect, but much, much better than even a month ago. We've still got some work to do there. But first, the changes of direction.
We've been struggling with this for quite some time. Let me just say this: a change of direction is much more successful when you have steady contact! Since JL's arena is filled with jumps, I only ride the empty ovals at either end. For doing a change of direction, JL has me ride straight for the fence, changing my rein partway to the fence. Instead of running into the fence, I use it to help me make the turn. I ride along the fence, and circle back towards it where I change rein again and track the other direction. It's a figure eight with a fence on one side and open arena on the other side. It's almost like doing the change at E or B instead of X. Again, classical dressage in non-traditional ways!
While the changes were quite good, JL had me fine tune them just a bit. She had me think about almost trotting in place as I approached the fence. As I asked for the turn, I added a fair amount of outside rein to slow down the outside shoulder while moving Speedy sideways through the turn. We did about a dozen changes and moved on. We finally did something that didn't require an hour's worth of work. This exercise will definitely improve our score as we track right or left at C.
The canter work was fun, and gave me several serious AHA! moments. First we worked on soft and forward. Check, done! Then, like we've been doing from walk to trot, I shortened my reins, and squeezed him forward to the canter without throwing the reins away. This time, JL added another element. As Speedy moved into the canter, right away she called for an extension, forward, forward! What she wanted was for Speedy to really reach forward for the contact while at the same time thinking about lifting up. Think of an airplane during take-off. The engines are revving and lifting up the front end of the plane while at the same time taxiing forward. I've been letting Speedy drop his nose and head which lets him fall into the canter while at the same time freeing his revved-up hind end for bucks and kicks. It took Speedy a few attempts, but once he realized that I wanted him to leap up and forward into the canter, he got much quicker and straighter. He also seemed to enjoy the work far more than before.
It will be two weeks before Speedy sees JL again for a lesson. I am hoping that we can really nail the upward transition so that we can quickly improve our downward transition as well.