Dang, I have a nice horse.
Our workout tonight was all in the arena; we did a lot of walk on a long rein for warmup, and talked to a new boarder who rides 3rd level dressage. She seems very nice - just graduated from Baylor and moved to Austin. We traded a few stories, then she went off to work on half-pass (I wish!) while I picked up a nice working trot. Which lasted for about half of the arena, at which point they started bringing several new mares with foals at side into the barn. As chaos ensued, with both of the owner's stallions going nuts in their stalls and the babies running up and down the aisle, Saga proceeded to throw his head and act like a moron. He only sort of tried to bolt once (read: he threw his head and took two huge trot steps and then thought better of it when I have him a really strong half halt) but spent the rest of the time charging around like an OTTB headed for the in gate. (Aside: if you have TB who's raced, you have an OTTB, but what if you have a QH who's raced? Do you have an OTQH? It just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?). So we worked on a steady rhythm and new-fangled concepts like paying attention to the RIDER until the chaos calmed down.
After a walk break, I picked up the reins and got to business. We had some absolutely fantastic trot work both directions, and I worked on getting a good forward rhythm but balanced and not rushed. Because of all the excitement, he was really up in front and felt very light, which was nice. At first we had trouble with counter-flexion in both directions, but I worked on 12-15 meter circles and asked him to stand up and move away from my leg, which he did. We moved on to the canter and I made sure to get a super uphill trot before asking, and wouldn't you know our canter departs were nigh on perfect both directions (that is to say, we didn't rush into them and fall apart. The canter itself wasn't much to write home about, as he tried to charge around a bit, but it's a work in progress). It's really amazing what happens when you ride right!
The problem with our work was really our downward transitions. We'd start out OK, but then I would half-halt and he would dive down into the bridle and everything would just fall apart. So I took a walk break to think it over, and almost called it quits for the night. After all, everything had gone SO WELL, I was a little hesitant about pushing it.
Well, I'm glad I did push it. I gathered up the reins again and started on walk-halt-walk transitions. The upward transitions weren't too bad, but the downward ones were just a mess - bridle-diving galore. And I'm just not strong enough in my position to really sit him down and make it happen (yeah, I know, my position needs work. Desperately.). So I started thinking about how I collect him in free walk with my seat, and used that sort of "settling" into the saddle motion, stopping the flow of the walk with my seat, to try to get the halts. I also tried to remember to keep my leg on him, something I am very, very bad about in the downward transitions. And because of his build, he would be very happy to let his hind end trail out into the next county on the downwards.
So, with the seat-collecting motion, I was able to get about half of the transition, and by adding a very light half-halt with the reins at the end, I was able to get the full halt. It wasn't pretty, but it was much better than what we started with. Obviously I am riding the transitions from the hands too much and need to start with the seat (yeah, I know, DUH). So that's what I worked on - trot-walk transitions from the seat, transitions from a more collected trot to a more forward trot and back, trasitions to walk, all with the seat and minimal rein. Saga was AMAZING. He caught on almost immediately (again, fantastic what you can do when you use your body and ride right) and did 10 meter circles both ways, changes of direction, a few steps of (almost) lengthen trot, down to walk (with minimal bridle diving), back up to trot (with minimal hopping into the trot), etc. etc. I even threw in a canter transition in each direction, and he just stepped right off. We were so together I knew the transitions were going to be amazing before they happened, it was just like I knew where each foot was and knew precisely when to ask. Damn but that is an amazing feeling. Did I mention we even had some shoulder in, at the trot, in both directions? Seriously. And it wasn't a disaster either.
What a good boy. Now that we seem to be moving away from my leg better, standing up in the corners, and being more straight, the next step is the transitions. I have a little more than a month and a half till our first dressage show, and we have a LOT of work to do. But for the first time, I can actually see a training level dressage test in our near future. Maybe even first? Now all I need is a trainer...