Tonight I had a lesson with Cassandra and by 6:30 the indoor was completely empty, which meant Ashke was completely focused on me. I talked to Cassandra about the tripping incident yesterday and asked her what she thought. She said the footing in the indoor is deep, he is less confident to the right and doing a transition on a curve might be more difficult for him. She does not think this is a back strength issue, since he is maintaining the contact and his frame on his own, not something I'm forcing him into. She thinks it's more likely a balance and confidence thing, which I am contributing to, since I am less confident and more scared when we move to the right. Tonight, and for awhile, going forward, I am going to straighten him out before asking him to transition downward, so he's not trying to figure out how to transition at the same time as he is trying to balance on the circle.
I remembered something since yesterday morning that Ashke told the psychic . . . he told her that he wanted me to tell him using words what I wanted him to do, so tonight we did that. I explained to him verbally what I wanted him to do, what we were going to try, and then he also got lots of verbal praise after each attempt. He was pretty much preening by the end of the lesson.
We started off on the trot to the right and I asked Ashke for more bend through his body, while Cassandra coached me on using my calf to encourage the bend. As we were trotting the circle, I verbally told him what I wanted his body to feel like, how it should feel to him to bend around my leg and I'll be damned if he didn't do it. Two circles and he had it. I could feel the difference and spent a lot of time watching where we were going instead of staring at his head. We tried that in both directions and he did really well.
Then Cassandra explained the chewy trot, (the technical explanation for us non-dressage people) and what it demonstrated. Ashke must have been listening, because when she talked us through how to do it (at the trot, I length my reins and ask him to reach down for contact, keeping himself relaxed through his topline) he did it. Not for very long, but he reached down for contact when I relaxed it slowly. Cassandra said I didn't just want to drop contact, but to lengthen as he kept reaching for it. He did awesome. Then we did the long, low walk with him reaching for contact. I told Cassandra it felt like he was looking for a spot to roll. She said to take him to the buckle if I could, and he did, reaching all the way down and rubbing his nose on the ground as he walked. Silly boy.
Then we cantered. As soon as I started thinking about it, I couldn't get him to trot in a rhythm. He was flipping his head and trying to anticipate when I was going to ask him to canter. I stopped him and said to Cassandra, "I must be doing something different when I start thinking about cantering because it makes him really upset." Cassandra said that I get really tense through the shoulders, so I worked on relaxing my shoulders and breathing, thinking about nothing but trotting. We tried twice to pick up the canter and I think Ashke was a little confused about what I was asking. I held the dressage whip and just flicked the tip the third time I asked for the canter, and he picked it right up. It was an amazing canter. He was relaxed and confident and forward and his head was down and he was using his back. When we went to transition down, I straightened him out, verbally asked for the trot and then used my seat to bring him down. His transition was perfect.
Then we tried the right. I dropped the dressage whip, because once he knew what I wanted it just made him nervous. It was much harder to relax and trust him going to the right. I find it harder to ride to the right and I'm positive now that it is messing with his confidence. Once I acknowledged that I have a harder time trusting him to the right and that this is my issue, he settled down a lot. We finally got a decent trot and I asked him to canter. It was breathtaking. I made sure we were moving in a straight line for the transition to a trot and asked for it verbally and he shifted down smoothly. I was so proud of him.
At the canter in both directions he was collected and smooth, and so light in my hands I could have wept. And I rode it without holding on, without my back bothering me, without the fear.
Then we rode Intro Test 1 as my introduction to a dressage test for the schooling show in March. Ashke must have listened to Cassandra explain it to me, because he was amazing. Me managed to make it through all of the parts, even if the chewy trot wasn't as chewy as we could have hoped, but I was so proud of my boy. And we have stuff we can practice, like trotting half a 20 meter circle, then picking up the canter (he did it on the correct lead in one stride) for half the arena. I can practice the elements of the test in a variety of combinations, so he doesn't memorize the movements, because trust me, he would. He really was incredible.
And the canter issue, was all me. Maybe not the trip and stumble yesterday, which I have an effective plan for, but the lack of confidence, especially to the right, has been all me. My hesitation and lack of confidence to the right has compounded Ashke's issues, since I am holding onto stuff he isn't. We are getting closer and closer to a balanced and collected canter in both directions with each ride and I am hoping that I can overcome my hesitation so I'm not communicating it to him the next time we canter. He gets the rest of the week off, because it's suppose to be "freeze your tits off cold" (or whatever body part you wish to freeze off). We ride again on Saturday.
Walking on air. So very proud.