I was riding today while Julie was riding some of her training horses. I say some because it was a very long ride today and Julie got through different 2 horses during my ride.
After some struggling with Louie falling on his front end, racing in the canter, and ignoring my half halts, Julie said something to me that really sunk in. She said, "when I was a younger rider, I used to practically kill myself trying to ride properly with my legs and my core and hardly ever use my hands. Then I got [fill in the name of a very lazy horse]. I went to a show and the judge's comments were that I needed to make my aids more effective."
Well I thought that through a bit while riding and continuing to work on my half halts. Julie pointed out to me that Louie was running right through my half halts, being lazy and deciding not to do the work. She gave me a little schooling and told me to bring him from a trot to a halt, then back a step, then trot, then halt, back a step, trot, halt, etc. The goal here was for Louie to be prompt in his transitions when I asked for them.
So it dawned on me. All along I've been working so hard on getting Louie to relax and lower his neck, and every time I ask for a gait change or lateral movement or even changing directions, he throws his neck up and drops his back momentarily. Well, I realized, I'm not going to get anywhere very fast in dressage if I have to just keep trotting laps at a time around the ring to look like anything decent. Julie pointed out that he is not going to relax if I can't get him to use his hind end and lift his back. And if he falls apart every time I ask him to do something, all the relaxation I can get without it is for not.
So I decided, I need Louie to do what I want, when I want, all the time. Not 10 strides after I ask, and there's no begging or carrying him around the ring or being a passenger. I need to be the driver, all the time, making all the choices, and if he's not doing what I want him to, I need to make him, right then and there, even if it's ugly. See, I work so hard to try to make my horse and my riding look pretty all the time that everything I do is pretty subtle, sometimes so subtle it doesn't happen. Sometimes, what is needed is just to make it look ugly for a few minutes to be effective and responsive, as that's what it takes to make the next several tries look pretty.
I put this into practice for the last few minutes of my hour + long ride. After working on several very prompt trot-halt-trot transitions, I stayed in the trot and asked for half halts several times, not accepting anything less than a significant lightening and reduction in speed. If I didn't get enough downward transition or half halt with my legs and core and a light rein, I made the rein harder, with a pulley rein turning him into the wall if I needed to. If I needed more go, add the whip. I got a beautiful right lead canter depart from a walk, that was controlled, not rushing, and my horse yielded to me when I put my legs on him, slid my outside seat bone forward, and stilled my seat to transition down. That was a good feeling.
So now I know. No more making it look pretty all the time. Louie needs to do what I want, when I want, all the time. Transitions and half-halts need to be prompt, and I need to do what I need to do to get him light to my aids, whether it looks beautiful or not. It does work!