Last night and tonight we had two pretty nice rides, and we've made some progress on our "scary" arena problem. The common denominators were that we rode by ourselves and had the radio on pretty loudly. I think the radio made a big difference because in the quiet, every little sound on that end of the arena was noticeable. The other aids that we've been using are an over-exaggerated bend on that end of the arena and keeping busy with lots of circles and constantly working and thinking. We've also been free lunging Louie more lately, and he goes down to check out the "scary end" regularly on his own, which probably helps to build his confidence there too.
Last night we worked on our downward transitions. I have discovered that I tend to completely let go of everything when changing gaits- sometimes even in upward transitions! I tried doing the downward transition with holding the exaggerated inside bend, but Louie soon learned that he should slow down, and walk in a tight circle instead of stopping. Argh. So I basically went back to what I did with the upward transitions- seasawing the bit in his mouth, left-right-left-right as I asked for the transition. This is slightly more challenging in the downward transitions than upward because increased leg pressure seems to be an easier cue to pick up on- well, at least for now. We had a few very nice stops (walk-halt) and I made sure to make a big deal of it with lots of praise, but it hasn't sunk in yet. We'll keep working on it.
Tonight was a fairly intense, but short ride. We worked a lot of Figure-8's. Louie tends to get worked up after we canter- this is a long standing issue and is probably going to be a long road to improving it. After we canter, it becomes quite difficult to walk quietly on the rail or in a large circle using ANY leg pressure- every touch of the leg suddenly means trot or canter. Argh. So we trotted for a while to try to relax and clear his head after our first canter, but Louie didn't really want to relax into our trotting Figure-8's, so after 3 or 4 of them, I decided, okay, let's do some more cantering.
I think Louie feels like he needs to get a certain amount of cantering out of his system before he can feel content with walking in a relaxed manner following the canter.
So I cued him up into a canter and we did a circle. Then I thought, well, the heck with boring circles, let's keep doing Figure-8's! So we did a few cantering Figure-8's with simple lead changes in between. With all of those lead changes off of the rail, I was amazed that Louie nailed almost all of them and got the right leads! Out of probably 8 upward transitions, Louie took the correct lead 7 of the times. He missed the second to last one, going to the right, but I took him down and re-cued at the top of the figure (end of the arena) and he picked up his right lead without issue. Then we stopped. Fun! He was pretty tired and willing to relax and walk after all of that. It was a good exercise for him and it seems as though his leads are definitely starting to look up!
Overall, while both rides had frustrating aspects, I was quite pleased with both of them, feeling as though we did something well each time, even if it was just braving the far end of the arena by ourselves.