Catch up time: the past 2 lessons have been pretty bad. We were working on a "square" exercise with turns on the forehand at each corner of the square, but the way we did it was really confusing Louie. So, I'm not even going to explain it because every time I've worked on it, things have not gone well for me and Louie. So, with a show coming up in a week and a half, I need to just get it out of my mind and focus on show stuff- like contact, stretching, and transitions.
Today we worked on several exercises all in the same "vein." Louie wasn't stretching down and into the contact when we first started (that's thanks to the square exercise), so we went to our go-to cure for above the bit- sideways. We worked on a fair amount of shoulder in. We trotted a 10 meter circle, then took shoulder in down the straight away. Well, Louie likes to lift up above the contact when I ask for the shoulder in on the straight away, so we would immediately bring him back into a 10 meter circle, thinking "stretch" then return to the shoulder in on the straight away once we got the contact back and the head down.
We then worked on stretching on our center line, thinking just a little bit of bend, but not actually doing a bend. Just open one rein and apply one calf ever so slightly. Part of my homework is to figure out which side I can get a better stretch from, so that I can enter from that side at the show, and can shoulder in right up to it if I need to to get a better stretch down that center line.
The other thing that we had to really focus on was keeping the hands wide. Louie tends to stretch down much better if I widen my hands a bit. So, when we hit the straight away and wanted to do shoulder in, I had to take my outside rein off the neck a little bit like a leading rein. This made a big difference in keeping him on the rail. Also, I need to think about using my calf for the shoulder in, as if I get too pinchy in my knees or thighs, he lifts up above the bit as well.
We then worked on a nice little exercise of sitting trot on a 10 meter circle. Julie would count out 6 strides, then we were to walk on the 6th count. So, this is to sharpen our downward transition, keep us riding forward into the downward transitions, and improve our being "on the aids." To get the downward transition, I need to remember not to beg and use a huge cue or pull on the reins. I just need to think a little half halt with my epigastrium and inside calf to get the transition. If I ask for a downward transition, but don't get one, I need to go sideways off the inside leg (this replicates the square exercise that we dislike so much). In the show, I can just lean forward and "whisper in his ears" (ie exhale audibly) and he'll downward transitions super easily, but we really need to work on this as we haven't had good downward transitions lately.
Then we worked on the same 10 meter circle exercise, and instead of walking on the 6th stride, I did a half halt thinking "almost walk" on the 4th stride then ask ONCE for canter right after that. If he doesn't canter, I can't ask again or beg, I just need to play around to discover where the right buttons are for up- as well as for down-ward transitions. The same is true of the downward transitions. After 6 strides of canter, downward transition with wide hands, inside rein and inside leg. Doing this exercise we finally got some decent canter-trot transitions (which have been non-existent the past 2 weeks).
My homework for this week is to work on stretching through bend, even if it's invisible bend (ie center line), with wider hands, straight center lines with stretch, and transitions by counting my strides and being ready and able to transition up or down at any point. (One note on that- I need to mix it up and not always canter on the 6th or 4th, but sometimes, stop after 2, or if the canter is good, keep going for a few more strides- Louie is way too smart and he'll figure out this 6 strides thing in a right hurry!). I am hoping I can get enough good cantering in to be able to ride the entire figure from the training level tests, which involve a fair amount of canter. I need to also keep the canter I want to ride (rather than the crappy one Louie likes to offer) by sitting in with my seat, laying my whip, and riding the canter from my center.