So, despite riding out yesterday (that trailride will be my next post), Ashke has decided he is not going to canter in the arena.
We started at the walk and he relaxed and warmed up before I asked him for contact and we moved into the trot. We did a few random 10 m circles, alternating directions at random spots in the arena. My goal was to only ride for 30 - 40 minutes total, since the temps were already rising and it was expected to hit 100 F today. I asked for and got a very relaxed trot and then cued the canter. We were working to the right and instead of picking up the right lead, he picked up the left, then threw the first of his hissy fits when I asked for a 15 m circle to the right. He broke gait and I asked for the canter again, which he gave me properly and then four steps later, threw his head up, braced his front feet and slammed to a stop.
Have I mentioned how frustrated that move makes me? How I really just want to give up?
I tried again. This time we made it a quarter of the way around the circle and he did the same thing. I stopped and regathered the two of us and then got him moving at the trot. Once he was relaxed again, I asked for the canter and this time it was four or five steps before he balked.
At that point I was almost in tears. I thought of Amanda saying "hold your hands still and make them like side reins, so if he hits the bit, he's doing it to himself". And then I thought "oh hell, why not just lunge him in the side reins". I got off and went out to the trailer to get my side reins and my lunging rope.
Back in the arena, I set the side reins up to be very loose. Like the second to the last hole on the reins. Ashke moved out without there even being tension in the reins, but with his body working well and he maintained contact with the bit all on his own. Then I asked for a canter to the right. He would go about half the circle and then throw his head up, hit the side reins and balk in the signature move that will be forever known as the Ashke-shithead. I made him go forward as quickly as I could, refusing him the option of stopping. It took fifteen minutes and him hitting the bit at least fifteen times, before he finally cantered a full 15 m circle.
There was much rejoicing. And least you think I am heartless, I did verbally praise him when he got the answer right. Even if it was only for four or five steps. There were moments, though, where he got touched with the carrot stick along his side, because he didn't think he should have to try. Everytime he hit the bit with his head straight up in the air, I asked him to go forward while telling him he was doing it to himself. I was far away from him and the reins were not tight. There was a loop in them until he decided that he was going to protest.
I turned him to the left and going in that direction was harder at first for him to hold his back lead (always has been) but he didn't throw his little hissy fit nearly as much in that direction. Twice maybe. Then he gave me what I wanted.
Then we turned back to the right. This time there was no protesting to the right. The one time he broke from the canter, he went right back into it and continued until I said he was done. I spent some of that time watching how he was moving and decided that I should give him just a little bit of rein (maybe an inch) when asking for the canter until he stops feeling so claustrophobic.
Then I got back on him and we cantered in each direction, with a 15m circle and a leg yield to the wall. He was very good in both directions and there was no hissy fit. I did give him a touch more rein and tried to ride quietly when we were cantering. I made a huge deal out of him when he did it right. Then we were done.
Thinking back to when we first started trying to do the dressage thing, this has been a problem. This has become an evasion that he knows will work, since I really struggle to get him past it. I passed it off in the past as him not being able to physically do what I was asking for, but I know now that isn't the case. He just plain doesn't want to.
The plan for tomorrow night is to warm him up in the side reins (set very loosely) and get him cantering properly before getting on. I keep telling myself that we only have two 15m circles and the two serpentine loop counter canters to do for the show and I'm sure we can pull it together long enough for that to happen. At least we better be able to . . .