So Wednesday was not only an awesome day because of the house, but also because Tucker and I went to Amy Howard's for a lesson in the evening. SUCH a great lesson, I learned a lot and Tucker was just fantastic.
I let Tucker warm up my new way - which is to let him walk, trot, and canter around without touching his mouth at all, other than to steer. He does whatever he wants with his head (which is sometimes really unattractive, and definitely not impressive, but whatever). I literally let him trot and canter around in whatever clumsy or inverted or strung out way he wants to, and don't mess with him. Some days he wants to stretch down, some days he wants to put up the periscope and look around. Whether this helps him more mentally or physically, I can't say, but it's working for now.
Then we came back to the walk and I demonstrated some of the things we've been working on: Leg yields, haunches-in, walk pirouettes, halts, and rein backs. For the leg yields, Amy had me work on doing them with no bend whatsoever (as a schooling exercise) so that Tucker would not know which way I was going to send him except when I asked him to move off my leg. He's over-bending and getting his shoulder a little too far ahead, so this will help with that. We also worked on getting as much cross-over right-to-left as we do left-to-right. Honestly I love watching him do these in the mirror.
The haunches-in has been going really well lately (after several weeks of tantrums) so I didn't do much of that other than use it to lead into our walk pirouettes. Amy was very pleased with these overall (which is great, considering we just learned how to do them in our last lesson). The one thing I need to fix is to put my outside leg on, but put my weight on my inside leg. Two things at once! For some reason it is hard for me to put my leg on but keep my weight on the opposite side. Anyone else have this problem? Anyway, Amy had me drop my stirrups to do this and you'd be amazed how much easier it was for Tucker to turn when my weight was in the right place.
As for the rein backs, I only did two. The first one I only asked for two steps because he got a little stiff. The second one was great, he did four nice straight steps, stayed on the aids, didn't brace. Amy was happy with it. So we'll just keep doing what we've been doing as far as that goes.
For the halts, they are much, much improved, but we talked about exercises to do to get him square behind. First, I need to get him comfortable with me "touching" him more in the halt. Amy explained that the halt is actually not an "inactive" movement. If it becomes inactive and he disengages in the halt, then I won't be able to touch him, because it will be re-engaging him and he'll likely come above the bridle or step out of the halt. So he needs to stay "engaged," the way you would if you were trying to stand still on a balance beam. (I love this analogy.)
Then, she gave me a couple of exercises to do to work on getting his hind legs square. Walk four steps, halt. Walk three steps, halt. Walk two steps, halt. Walk one step, halt. One more step, halt. Then walk four steps, halt. Amy explained this gets you feeling where their hind legs are and gets them to learn which leg you're asking them to move. Also, because Tucker has such a big walk, I need to practice getting his hind legs closer together as I prepare for the halt. So we practiced leg yielding into the halt, and he stopped square every time.
We focused mainly on the canter work for the rest of the lesson, and I am VERY happy to report that Amy said his canter is now totally different than the last time she saw him (in a good way). He is staying rounder, more engaged, and even his working canter is more collected than it was before (awesome). Amy helped me with his little leaping/rooting thing, which I was glad he did so she could see it. She had me just turn and do a 15 meter circle every time I felt him about to do it and that seemed to be enough to redirect him. We also worked on keeping the roundness, like a bouncing ball, when I ask him to lengthen. So although we want him to make a big move and open up when I ask him to lengthen, he's not allowed to root the reins or otherwise lose his shape.
As for the collected canter, Amy was very happy with the progress we've made, but I still need to work on making a more clear transition between the lengthened canter and collected/working canter. There are two distinct canters now, but it's still taking me too many strides to make the transition happen. We still need a "moment" where you see the transition. That's part of my homework.
We also worked on getting even more collection than I have been, and we actually did so well with this that Amy walked beside him while he cantered, and we were able to keep up with her (I was so proud of him). Tucker did make a few "mistakes" here and there where he broke to trot but I think he's learning. After each little mistake he picked his canter right back up and gave me really good efforts at collection, so I'm okay with little mistakes if he's learning from them. I felt like I was really slouching during this work though, so at home I want to work on this without letting my position completely fall apart.
We talked about plans for the immediate future and next year a little. I mentioned that I was thinking about doing another year at First and Amy looked at me like I was nuts, so I guess maybe we don't have to do that. She also wants me to do 1-2 and 1-3 next show instead of 1-1 and 1-2. (Sometimes I need to be nudged forward out of my comfort zone). We worked on the shallow single loop canter serpentines and she thinks we're ready to show them. So, I'm going to learn 1-3 for the show we plan to do at the beginning of August. I might try to do a schooling show this month if I can find one, but that depends on closing dates. We shall see!