Met up with N at 5:30 and we got ready. Cali was kind of snorty. Ashke was his lippy self.
Note to self: I need side reins, because using N's only works if N isn't using them. Ashke needs less of a warm up on the lunge line than Cali does and by the time N is done with the side reins, Ashke and I have been riding for fifteen minutes.
The best part of the warm up was Ashke's not just willingness but also his ability to pick up and maintain the correct lead at the canter on the lunge line. It was rhythmic and smooth, with his head in a decent position (no giraffing last night) and he didn't try to cross canter at all.
He was spooky when I got on. We were riding in the outdoor arena under the lights and there were things going bump out beyond where we could see. Fawkes and his owner were lunging in the arena and he, Cali and Ashke all spooked at the same time at something they could either smell or hear, that we humans completely missed. Our best guess is a coyote wandering back to the creek and back up the Mesa, but at best, only a guess. My other pet peeve with the outdoor arena is that whoever puts the jump poles outside the arena leaves one end hooked on the fence, which is prime spook material. I always have to spend some time de-posting the arena fence. It's a pain. It would be nice if the jumping material was actually laid down on the ground. Ashke can't be the only horse that prefers to go sideways at a canter when he goes by one of those scary pole ends.
We worked on walk and trot, with a bunch of transitions thrown in. Then, when he was nice and warm and as spook free as he was going to get, I asked for a left lead. By that time Cassandra was working another horse in the arena with us and she complemented me on our upward transition. Ashke was amazing. I relaxed enough that I wasn't trying to hold on with my legs (guess that's a bad habit left over from riding bareback in my youth) and Ashke felt really great. He was smooth and kept his head down. Our only issue is that he wants to stop when I ask for the downward transition and I have to verbally tell him to trot, while asking him with my legs.
Then we turned to the right. I haven't deliberately asked for a right lead canter for probably six weeks, but I did last night. Our first circle was rough. I have to be very careful with my seat, because the slightest shift and he suddenly doesn't know what to do. We tried a second time and that time he transitioned up flawlessly and although he was a little rough, he didn't rush to try and find his balance. I finally relaxed and moved with him and he settled a little. By the third try he was so much better, smoother, quieter, and more rhythmic. I had a huge grin on my face by the time we were done.
I was flying.
Just like the moment when I watched Ashke give to the bit and drop his head when Cassandra rode him for the first time, last night I felt the progress we were making toward him being able to canter in both directions, balanced and quiet. I was able to let go of my fear and tension moving to the right and I think that really impacted his ability to carry us safely. If tension feels like distrust, then my relaxing and not having to hold on will impact both of us.
I get to try again tonight.