You know one of the best things about doing weekly lessons? I get to ask stupid questions in the middle of them and talk to Amanda about how Ashke is feeling, and she acts like that is normal. It has also been very good for us to have weekly lessons. I have really enjoyed learning how to move with Ashke and he seems happy that we are communicating well. Amanda is very good at breaking things down and still pushing just enough that we feel challenged.
One of the things I've been really thinking about is Ashke's attitude when I ask him to canter in the arena. He pins his ears and gets very hyped up when he thinks I'm going to ask. He isn't that way on trail, so I have been pondering what it is I am doing that is eliciting that response in the arena.
Our lessons incorporate serpentines, shoulder in, haunches in, canter circles and leg yields, pretty much every ride. Sometimes we add in canter circles to the walk, spiral circles, leg yields at the canter and working off my seat. On Weds night, I could feel how off Ashke was and how non-committal he was about using his right hind. About the third time he cross fired, I pulled him up and told Amanda that I could feel how hesitant he was to us his right hind. We talked a bit and she said that not only does he push off on that leg to propel the canter, but he is forced to balance us in the gait on just that leg. No wonder he has found ways around that. That conversation reinforced what I was already thinking. I suggested that we work in bigger canter circles to see if we could avoid whatever the strain is that is causing him to cross fire. Amanda agreed and instead of working smaller circles, we did some bigger ones, with lots of praise when he didn't change his leads in the back to the left.
Amanda had us do haunches in, which I think he managed to do with the best effort and form to date, and which helped loosen up that hamstring. Then, because she is the best, Amanda had us working on stopping from just my seat and legs.
But not just stopping. By tilting my pelvis and opening my hips, I could encourage Ashke to extend his movement into a bigger stride, then collect it back down to the slower gait. We worked on the walk to trot, walk to bigger walk, trot to bigger trot, trot to halt, and all varieties in between. It was so fun and I can't wait to work on it on our next ride. As I focused on not moving anything but the muscles between my thighs, Ashke got more and more quiet in his response. At the end of that part of our lesson, we achieved an easy and very quiet transition to the canter in both directions at least three times.
We finished up with cantering up to an obstacle and then trotting the drums, because I mistakenly thought I would be trotting the drums. Going forward, I will need to canter the drums.
After we were finished, I was talking to Amanda about Ashke and our ride. I firmly believe, after riding the exercise where I got quieter and quieter, that he feels like I have been shouting at him every time I ask for the canter. And being shouted at makes him unhappy and anxious. I'm looking forward to working on getting him super responsive to my very subtle ask, rather than the bullying behavior I have been engaged in.