The weather has been cooperating for a change. Not too hot, not too cold and last weeks rain cleared up leaving the ring and trails dry but dust free.
I had a lesson on Tuesday with Leslie Kornfeld who is a soft-spoken ball of dressage awesome-sauce. Her husband teaches the Alexander Technique so she knows a lot about body alignment. Her signature move (or one of them) is to have the rider canter on the ground sans horse so you can feel your "outside leg" pushing off and your inside hip tilted forward. This is a feeling you must try to recreate in the saddle. Inside hip forward and mobile. The transition strikes off on the outside hind. It's a feeling you get when you canter around yourself.
OF COURSE my farrier came running out with his cell phone and threatened to put me on Youtube. Good times.
The lesson was amazing. I have had some trouble connecting to my regular H/J instructor Melissa Gove (who is an H/J perky ball of awesome in her own way -- will devote other posts to her at another time). So I hadn't had any "eyes on the ground" for a couple weeks. Sometimes when you're an amature and your horse starts to become round, ie flexed in his poll and lifting his back up but you're not sure if he's really round or just messing with you and being heavy on his forehand and totally faking it. So, yeah, I was worried we were faking it. I didn't *think* so, but I wanted some feedback.
Also, the canter is "NQR" (Not Quite Right) and I wanted some help with that. He can do a beautiful "up" transition from either the walk or the trot, but coming down from the canter was feeling rough. There are always a bunch of steps of very fast trot that feels like a bicycle with no brakes going down a rocky hill.
Leslie changed up a couple things. She had me sit WAAAY back in the saddle. My upper body had been too far forward. She told me to pick up my inside hand about eight inches off his neck at the canter. Once I did that, my upper body settled back into place. This freed up his shoulders and let him balance back on his hind end. She had me pick both hands way off his neck at the trot. She said "Think snooty dressage riders!"
Then she got on him and I got to watch him go. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was really concentrating on what she was saying. She was teaching the whole time she was riding. The camera would have just been a distraction. She moved him from counter bend and true bend. Then she worked on an exercise we had been doing. Trot on a 20 meter circle. Halt across the center or quarter line. Turn on the forehand from inside to outside so you change direction. Walk forward a few steps and canter. This gets the hind end underneath the horse.
The canter was still NQR when I rode it, but it felt more balanced. Poor pony was sweaty and exhausted by the end, but he was good natured and sweet. She suggested I take him on a trail ride the following day, which we did. It was great. We got lost! We jumped big logs in the woods!
So today I decided to repeat Leslie's exercises. I changed it up a bit, by doing a little ground work first. Cassel knows how to do a very nice and easy turn on the forehand on the ground. (the ones we had done on Tuesday were pretty bad). On the ground, I pretty much just have to point to his hip with the dressage whip and he'll step right under himself and cross his inside hind under his belly and swing around. So we practiced that in both directions for a few minutes before I got on.
Today, the canter still feels weird, but a little less so. But suddenly the downward transition into the trot is soft! No more bicycle with no brakes on the rocky hill trot steps coming out of canter! Just soft, round balanced trot. So something has changed.