I got to the barn a little late tonight, and Liam and I had the arena to ourselves. It was a nice treat to have all that space with no distractions. As we began our warm up at the walk, I practiced some figure 8’s and circles on a long rein, and became aware of how tuned into each other we were at that moment. As soon as I thought “Let’s circle here”, I only had to turn my eyes and press gently into my inside stirrup, and he turned. I reversed across the diagonal with the same soft weight moving him off the rail, then easily guiding him back on the rail in the other direction. As we moved into trot work, the same quiet focus remained.
Next we worked on some trot-walk-halt-walk-trot transitions, emphasizing prompt responses to my seat and leg aids, and a little more challenging, maintaining a soft, light feel on the reins throughout. A bad habit we are working our way past is his desire to throw his head up in every walk-trot transition. It still takes reminders, and a few times we had to go back to the walk and try again, but those transitions have come a long way.
We cantered only about 2 circles each direction. His right lead is getting very balanced and collected (for an ex-racehorse), but his left lead gets a little quick and when I try to put it together sometimes he still is swapping leads behind. Tonight I did get a good circle to the left without any fussing or swapping, but I can feel that it is much harder work for both of us to coordinate that than the right lead, the balanced feeling just isn’t the same. Something to keep working on…
After that, we practiced our haunches-in exercises at the walk on the long side, and some leg yielding in and out on a spiral circle. These new exercises are still hard for us, but I discovered something that seems to help him, at least down the long side. When he gets stuck, if I keep asking him to move his haunches in he just gets fussier and fussier, like he’s saying “I don’t know what you want, quit yelling at me!!”, but if instead I ask him to stop, do a little bit of turn on the forehand to move his haunches in a little off the rail, then ask him to walk forward a few steps like that before a big “Good boy!!”, he is more than happy to do it for me. We will keep working on that and see if doing it step by step for a few days helps him to put together what I am asking.