We struggle with the canter. Cassel has the tendency to get a bit strung out and not really work from behind. He holds on his left side and likes to canter around with his head tilted, just a bit to the right when we are on the left lead.
I can fix this at the trot. I can wrap him around my inside leg and softly wiggle my inside rein, sit up, shoulders back and get him to release that inside rein and push my left hand forward at the right time and his nose stays in the same place. I feel his inside hind leg step under his body and voila! Lift off.
When dressage goes right, it feels like the instant your airplane takes off. Your horse's hind end engages and the front end lightens and all the weight shifts back like the first second an airplane's wheels leave the tarmac. From that position, anything is possible, because you are truly riding the horse back to front. Unfortunately for an amateur like me, with a horse that doesn't get a lot of "pro-rides" it's a hard feeling to maintain for an extended period of time. But I've got a map to that place in the trot and the walk. I know where it is what what it feels like and I have a toolkit to get me there.
When I was in my 20's I burned out on dressage. I could never get a horse in anything resembling a frame without an instructor guiding me through it inch by inch. I never had the "liftoff" feeling. Then I got horribly overhorsed and I stopped riding for 12 years. (During said 12 years I produced 2 fabulous children and got married to a nifty guy, so I was kinda busy).
When I started again two things happened. One of the weird things about women in my family is that we get thinner in our 40's. So, I was about 20 or 30 pounds lighter than I was in my 20's. I don't know if it was some freaky effect of childbirth or what, but my set point weight is around 155, which is a great weight for a solid 5'6" woman.
The other thing was, I discovered yoga. So my balance, core strength and body awareness was just at another level than it was back then.
When I started riding again, I could put a horse in a frame. Nobody had to tell me how to do it. I just could. It wasn't a deep, advanced frame, but I could get most horses to flex in their poll and engage a bit from behind. It was more of a hunter frame than a dressage frame, but it was a start.
My horse was a baby, so it would be a few years before I really tried it on him, but now he's six and ready for some more serious work. Now we have more and more strides of "Liftoff".
Today I trucked him to an indoor about 45 minutes away for a lesson with the always sanguine and creative Leslie Kornfeld. The trot work was easy and fun to do with the mirrors. By the end, I could see his inside hind coming under his body like it's supposed to, so it really carries the weight to get ready for more advanced movements.
To work on the canter we did a couple of things. First of all, I need to get my upper body WAY back during the canter. (Note to self, MORE YOGA --Need more core strength). It feels weird, but that's how you get Liftoff at the canter. Then after the downward transition, I immediately did a left to right leg yield to get him to let go on the left rein. Then we picked up the canter again. Voila, a stride here, stride there of "Liftoff" AT THE CANTER. He still isn't quite straight but we're getting there.
I don't think I'll ever focus on dressage exclusively. We love to jump. People keep asking me if we're going to event. Maybe. The thing is, I just want to train and ride and maybe do little shows here and there. Every summer we go up to GMHA and do the Region 1 American Connemara Pony Society breed show where we can jump, do dressage, equitation, trail class and whatever we want. But that's enough showing for me for the most part. I love hunter paces and the elementary derby cross I did in October was exhilarating. So, I don't think I'll ever pick a single discipline again. And with this horse, I don't think I'll have to.