Tonight's ride was all about forward. We started off with a big forward walk around the barns, and I really worked to keep that when I picked up the reins. We went into the arena to work (the ground outside is too hard to do much but walk on), and we continued with forward. I didn't worry so much about bending as I usually do, although we did do 10 meter walk serpentines where I counter-flexed him to the left and made him move his shoulders left. Then when we would go back to the right, I would ask for true bend and really focus on keeping him forward and his shoulders underneath his body. And you know what, it worked! We actually had some nice bending to the right at the walk, without the stiffness in the neck and jaw that often accompanies a half-halt on the right rein.
As we moved on to trot, Saga was a bit rushed, so we worked on a steady rhythm and keeping him straight. To the right, he has a tendency to drift off the rail, especially on one side of the arena, so I chose to stay on the quarter line and be straight rather than fight the tendency. Sure, we have to fix that, but one thing at a time. After a bit of trotting, we took a walk break, then I picked up the reins again and asked for some walk lateral. I again made sure that my left hip and thigh were loose so that when I asked him to move left, he had some place to go. And lo, we got some good steps of shoulder fore and some actual leg yield steps. Nothing beautiful, but at least there is movement in that direction!
We then went on to the serious trot work. I have noticed that Saga does not always respond promptly to leg cues, and has offered to canter when he wanted to pop his shoulder to the outside, and I tried to close my outside leg to prevent him from drifting. I also noticed in our video from this weekend that he popped his shoulder more when he was sucking back, so I really focused on moving him forward no matter what. I used my voice a lot tonight to back up my leg, but tried not to go to the whip since sometimes that seems to be not so effective with him. Every time his head went up, he'd lock his poll or jaw to the right, or he'd think about sucking back, I'd send him forward with leg and voice.
And you know what, we had a lovely ride. Now, it wasn't consistent. He came behind the bit a lot, but I lowered my hands and closed my leg. I did not do the circles on the outside end of the arena where he really pops his shoulder to the right. But we did lots of 15 meter circles, plenty of half circles, changes of direction, serpentines... I tried to mix it up but just keep it forward. I also made a very conscious effort to hold my left rein and to point my shoulders where I want to go, both things I have trouble with.
We did a good amount of trot and a bit of canter both ways. His canter transition, especially on the right lead, was icky and rushed - he just sort of fell into it. Left was better. Both were fairly balanced but steering was iffy; however, we were both pretty tired by then and I just wanted to make sure we got it done, since we hadn't cantered in our last two rides. We walked out since he was really tired and blowing.
A couple of other details - Saga got kicked on his right flank, toward the end of his rib cage. It's a pretty bad one, and it was swollen, but went down with hydrotherapy and riding. It was also quite ouchy to the touch, but we put some dermazone cream on it and we'll keep an eye on it. Also, the saddle pad I used tonight is not big enough for the panels on the saddle. I've only got two pads that fit, and I need to make sure I use those. On a good note, Carol e-mailed to say that the saddle's previous owner had THREE of the special Reactor Panel pads, as well as a saddle cover, so that's awesome! And, also on a good note, Saga's getting much better at carrot stretches to the right, and when I did stretches at the end of the ride, he lifted his back almost TWO INCHES! My best friend, Fuzzypony, saw it and was really surprised too. What a great end to a great evening!
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