We had our second lesson with Cassandra last night and I talked J into coming out to photo and video our lesson. Unfortunately, we are in that time of year when everything is going to be inside at night under lights. I apologize for the grainy quality of the photos, but I am pretty impressed we got any that turned out at all. (Sweet little Pentax camera!)
Before I saddled him I looked at his back. I can see muscle (MUSCLE!) filling in at the left wither and along his spine. His belly is tightening, and I had to take his girth up two notches last night. I also decided (in the evaluation of the new pad) that I am going to use the BOT dressage pad under the saddle, then afix the new pad on the top of that. There are straps and buckles to keep them both in place and I think it will work better than what I have going on right now. At least, I want to try it that way on our next ride. (Saturday trail ride with N!!! Yeah!!)
He was relaxed and loose and Cassandra said that he looked really awesome when we were doing the things I had been practicing.
I thought it was pretty cool that Cassandra walked the circle with us when she was instructing me, instead of just standing in the middle and shouting directions. I can already feel the difference in how I am sitting him when we are riding. I also discovered that our backing issue, where he swings his hip to the left when we back up is due to my hips, (HA!) and that I straighten out my hips he backs up straight. Made me laugh.
There was no short striding. Cassandra coached me into visualizing the energy of myself and Ashke moving in an infinity shape through our bodies. She wanted me to imagine it coming from my tailbone, across his croup, around his rump, back up through his body into mine, cresting along the top of his neck, down his face and back up the reins into my hand. J said she could see a difference in how he was moving before and after that visualization. I worked on the visualization last night when I was falling asleep. I need to get the pattern and feel down in my mind so I don't need to concentrate on it so hard when I ride.
We worked on me stopping him from my seat. I have some habits I really need to work on. I grab on with my thighs and legs when we go faster, which I can't do if I am going to use my seat to slow and stop him. Cassandra said that other riders learn to slow their posting to slow their horse, but I can't do that, since I never post. I have to relax my butt, basically, to ask him to walk forward, and then clench and close down to ask him to slow. I think that since I clench to hold on (habit left over from riding bareback, I think) he was a little confused about what I was asking. It is something to work on for the next three or so weeks.
Cassandra is really good at demonstrating what she is talking about when she is going over a topic. Here she is showing me what she means when she is telling me to open my hips and then to close them, as cueing for his forward movement and stop.
I have been asking Ashke to carry his head too low, probably partly because I don't really know where it should be, and partly because Cali carries herself behind vertical. It's much harder to get Ashke to carry himself in the correct position than to just push his head lower. Cassandra also said that I can tell he is going correctly when he asks to stretch himself out at the walk and to alternate the collection with letting him really stretch. It will help him develop.
His walk to trot transitions are getting better and better. Cassandra said she could tell we had been working on them. He only tried to pop up a couple of times last night and both times were after we tried the canter. The lift up into the trot feels so powerful. And his transition down into the walk was picture perfect, Cassandra said, at least one of the times we did it last night. He is so smart and willing.
At the canter, Cassandra tried him first to show both of us what and how we should be going. She tried it to the right and he picked up the canter for maybe ten steps and then broke. She said she could tell he wasn't strong enough for that direction yet and we wouldn't push it. She turned him the other direction and tried, then stopped and asked how I was cueing him. I told her and she had better luck the second time. However, you could see he wasn't as willing to go for her as he was for me. I tried to the left and we had an amazing canter. He was willing to pick it up right when asked with a verbal cue and minimal leg pressure and listened when I asked him not to rush. It is definitely something I'm excited to work on going forward.
We stopped then, and let him cool off. I showed Cassandra how the rump rug kept his muscles warm and loose but not sweaty. He wasn't sweating anywhere when we were done. And I was floating on happiness.
One of the things I realized when lunging him is that he is moving both hind legs at the same time when cantering to the right. He is on the correct lead, in so much as the hind leg is moving forward at the same time as his front leg, however, he almost bunny hops both back legs at the same time. It's a wonder that he isn't rougher than it feels already. That means that when working in a circle, he selects cross cantering when moving to the left and moving both legs at the same time when traveling to the right.
We are going to continue to work the trot in both directions, doing up and down transitions, with the walk, and add transitions to the left lead canter for the next few weeks. I will also add in cantering to our warm up in the side reins to see if we can start strengthening his muscles and getting him to carry himself correctly when I'm not on him. (He did the left lead canter correctly for two circuits when I was lunging him before our ride. Slowly, with patience, we will get there.) This weekend we will ride the Mesa at least one day and do a trail ride somewhere else the other. Long slow miles with walk, trot and canter should help him continue to get stronger.
I'm also getting a supplement for his joints and the inflammation as support and long term help. Diane recommended Vet Flex, but I had already ordered Smartpak, since they were having a sale that ended yesterday and I was afraid to wait. I will probably use the Smartpak for two months and then go to the Vet Flex on Diane's recommendation.