After a weekend of trail riding, it was back to the arena to work on dressage in a lesson with Amanda. I got there early enough to get him warmed up nicely before she arrived, and realized before the lesson started that he had no intention of cantering a full circle of the arena to the left. The first time I asked, he did about 3/4 (always in the same place in the arena even) of the circle and broke back down to the trot. The only way to get him to go all the way around is to not ask for any contact and to allow him to bend however he wants. It did not bode well.
See, one of the things I need to resolve is feeling like he is still broken. He's not. There is no reason why he can't do a 15 m circle without breaking out of the canter, with contact and a little bend. This horse can do 11 miles in the heat, canter without a break almost a mile and a half, and not even be real sweaty. He is very well conditioned, and as we would see by the end of the ride, he's just decided he doesn't have to. I need to stop making excuses for him "oh, his widdle leg hurts" or "it must be hard for him to really try to do this" or my fav "we will never be good at this, he doesn't like it, I should just trail ride and stop trying to do WE".
The theme of the lesson seemed to be that he got two steps better going to the right and we even got a loop to the quarterline and back to the rail on the correct lead and bend. But that we had taken a step if not two backwards in regards to going to the left. Amanda had us work on stuff that would help stretch him out and bend in both directions. We worked on trot serpentines, trotting turns, haunches in, shoulder in, leg yielding out to a canter on the circle.
It was all going okay until Ashke got petulant, like a two year old toddler. He started throwing his head up and fighting against every thing. He did the stiff legged halt, with his head up, that always makes me back down. Amanda called him out on it and told me to get him forward, which he did not want to do at all. I ended up getting my dressage whip because he just wasn't going to do what I asked. Amanda suggested that it might be time to get a pair of small, rubber nubbed spurs since he really was not interested in listening. I finally was so frustrated that we just stopped and held still for a moment.
At that point, Ashke had to walk off from the halt without tossing his head up. Then he had to canter and maintain the lead, regardless of what else we were doing (spirals, coming in or moving out). It was quite the fight, with me holding my hands low but firm and moving him forward with my legs and seat (and whip) and letting him figure it out. I was to ignore everything but the correct answer. Amanda had me slow him to the trot until he was relaxed and not fighting or rushing, and then move into the canter again. We did circles and spirals and all sorts of things in between each canter session, but always went back to the canter.
It was exhausting, but we finally reached the point where he nailed a decent circle and then came back to the canter without being petulant about it. His canter at the last was better. His contact with the bit was sporadic at best, but we finally had a little bend. Amanda wants me to keep my hands still and ride him from my seat so that if anything happens it's his own darn fault, not mine.
And I learned something. Going forward, I just need to keep moving him forward until he gives to both the bit and the exercise. I need to recognize that he is doing this as an evasion, not that he can't do it, because he did it at the end of the lesson any way. I think I know how to keep him going until we can work through his saying no, and maybe if I can do that without getting angry and without him stopping (his goal) then maybe he will stop doing this. No letting him walk or stand, but to keep him going forward and working on what we are working on without getting angry.
I threatened to let Amanda ride him next time if he resorts to this behavior. He gave her the most entreating look ever. It made us both laugh. There was not a dry hair on him, but he also was breathing normally and looked like we could have done another hour if we had wanted. Me on the otherhand, had jelly legs and a very sore body.