We started off at the trot with a big loop in the reins, as per usual, and Tucker took the opportunity to stretch his nose way down to the ground and happily bounce around in a nice big trot. He got his feet done on Monday and I was pleased to see that he was no longer overreaching from behind with the new shoeing job, even when I let him get as stretched out as he liked. His feet are kind of a wreck right now with the incredibly wet conditions we had over the winter, but hopefully [cringing] Spring won't be too wet this year and they'll have a chance to toughen up again.
At the trot, I concentrated on keeping my hands incredibly still and using my legs and seat to ask for a little more flexion and roundness from him (you know, as in, I asked correctly instead of being lazy and playing with the bit -- I swear my left hand is possessed some days), and low and behold we got a beautiful, round, forward trot that had him making those lovely rhythmic happy snorty noises as we trotted around. His ears were flopping and bouncing on either side of his head and he had the most content look in his eye as we went past the mirror. Sometimes it amazes me how much this horse loves his job. (Don't you wish you loved yours that much?)
Then at the canter, I set up the same exercise that Sprinkler Bandit did earlier this week (I think Amy at A Work In Progress has done this one as well). During my jump school on Saturday, I realized that I need a refresher course on making a decision when I get there on the half-stride (an actual beneficial decision, other than circling, that is). So I put two rails down to the inside of the track in the corners at one end of the indoor, like so:
We started off the left, cantering the white pole and continuing to the red pole. The first time through we bowed way out because Tucker hadn't turned on the GPS, and did five strides. The next time through we got four and that seemed to be the natural fit, so then I just worked on figuring out what to do depending on how we rode the white pole, whether I had to balance, leave him alone, close my leg, etc. I worked on trying to keep the canter the same all the way around on a big circle, not letting him slow down or get on his forehand as we got to the rail, then using the whole ring and sending him forward without letting him get flat or strung out down the long side, and going through the exercise from there. My only rule was to keep going no matter what -- so I could feel the difference in my canter when it wasn't right, and tell myself whether I should have sent him forward or waited and added one more.
When we changed direction, as I cantered up the long side tracking right, Tucker's ears were already pointed straight at the red rail. He either reads minds or he's incredibly smart. Of course, by this point, he was getting a little tired (it was hot last night!) so I had to work even harder at keeping the canter going forward. Tucker has such a naturally big step that he often suckers me into thinking he's going somewhere even when he's slowed himself down and is exerting very little energy. This was a great exercise for highlighting that, since he'd pretty much fall over the red rail if I didn't keep my leg on and keep his hind end doing something.
At the end, because I was concentrating so much on the quality of my canter and not on the "jumps," I went by the mirror and noticed that he looked really incredible. He was so engaged that his his hind feet were coming several inches above the ground with each step, but he looked completely relaxed and soft. I was impressed, if I do say so myself. Tucker wasn't too impressed, until I broke out the treats for a job well done.
Don't forget to watch the USEF Network at 1pm today!