This is Take Two of this post... Blogger ate the one I wrote last night, so I'm rewriting it while I eat my lunch. (Good excuse to turn the lawyer-brain off for a few minutes).
Tucker and I had a very nice ride last night. We ended up with the company of two horses in the ring, which you know my horse was very, very happy about. No need to stare at the door tonight, he had friends!
We flatted tonight in a french link full cheek snaffle that Alicia loaned us. We used this bit in my lesson last Friday as well, and at first I hated it, but after a while of flatwork, I started to like it. What I like about it is that I can take more than just a light feel of his mouth in this, without him getting behind the vertical (which isn't always the case in the twisted Dr. Bristol), but the bad news is that he has a major tendency to lean on it. So, it takes a lot of strength on my part (both hand and leg) to keep him balanced, which isn't really what I'm looking for. Next up will be a full cheek Dr. Bristol, which I found online for a good price (plus a $10 off coupon code).
We started out last night in a long-and-low, stretching, forward trot. It was cold, so I just wanted his muscles to get warmed up and relaxed. As he started to feel more fluid, I started adding in some smaller circles in different spots around the ring, where he'd get a little more elevated (letting the circle collect him a bit) and then ask for a bigger trot down the longsides, down the center line, the quarter line, or across the diagonal. I was hoping that allowing the circle to collect him might eleviate some of the leaning. It worked somewhat, but his first reaction is to use my hands as a crutch, instead of using his hind end, which means a lot of leg and seat and trying not to give in to his leaning by letting my reins get longer or my position fall forward, so he only gets a release once he starts supporting himself.
Then we added in some lateral movements at the walk and trot: haunches in, then shoulder in, then some leg yields, which he executed very, very well. He got a little stuck doing the haunches in tracking left but when I applied a little more inside leg at the girth (instead of all outside leg) I got him coming forward. His lateral work is getting really strong (and the lead changes are getting better... I'm thinking that could mean he's actually getting stronger behind like I had hoped!).
From there we moved to our counterbending circles, spiraling down from a big circle to a small one, and then changing back to inside bend and spiraling out. The counterbending really got him to balance and he actually was very light in my hands at that point. When I changed back to the inside bend tracking left, though, he swung his haunches way out to the right (common evasion tactic of his). Since I couldn't get control over him using my outside aids (kind of blowing off my outside rein), I went to a shoulder-out until I had control of his hind end. Then we went back to the inside bend and it was much straighter.
After a walk break, I used these counterbending circles as a platform for his canter transitions, which were absolutely fantastic. Tracking right, I asked for a counterbending circle (bent left), and once he got lighter up front and stepping under with his inside hind, I'd turn left out of the circle and ask for a left lead canter. Then I'd come back to the trot, start on a left circle, counterbending right, and once he was light and soft, turn right and ask for a right lead canter, and repeat. His transitions were awesome, he stayed round, and soft, and stepped right up into my hands. Such a good boy!
I had a little trouble with him bulging through his left shoulder in the right lead canter, so I modified the spiraling down circle exercise a little bit, asking him to straighten (not counterbend) and pushing him in with my outside leg (which took a little more spur), but not making the circle as small as I do at the trot. This helped, though it felt like more of a struggle than I would normally like because he really wanted to lean and bend right. Then we finished up with some more long and low trotting and stretching down in both directions, and he felt even more relaxed and loose and balanced than when we started.
All in all, it was a really nice ride. And, the dressage rider that we were sharing the ring with asked us what Level we compete at! Ha! Not too shabby for a hunter princess huh? I'm starting to think this horse really could do anything. I wonder if he'd cut cattle?