What a difference a week makes!
I was pleased with Aero's lesson last week, but I knew we have a long way to go, even before we can do a Prelim test - the biggest issue with him is tension, and he will get marked down for it exactly the same whether he's doing Elementary or Preliminary. Keeping "variety" in mind, I've been mixing up his work all week.
On Monday evening, the LSH and I hacked out, on Flurry and Aero respectively. This time I tried using equine insoles on Aero's front boots to try to make them fit a bit better. Unfortunately, though, the insoles are designed for use with the Cavallo Sport Boot, which is a fully enclosed unit, unlike the Renegade Boots, which are more like sandals. The net result was that one of the insoles slipped out the back of the boot, so that half an inch of it was sticking out at the back. This meant Aero had a little "shelf" under his foot the whole time, and he seemed a little footsore afterwards. Otherwise, it was an uneventful hack. Flurry was barefoot and seemed to be minding himself, although I can't say that was the case when I hacked him alone on Wednesday!
The following day, I did some schooling with Aero. He felt like he was stepping short, which I put down to the insole incident the previous day, so we did a lot of walk, doing serpentines, circles, free walk to medium walk and back again. Once he loosened out, he seemed really good and was staying in an outline much better, but I wasn't 100% sure - maybe I was just accepting less from him?
To keep variety in his life, I just lunged him on Wednesday. It took 20 mins for him to loosen out and really swing - or maybe it took 20 mins for me to really ask him to work. We finished up after a nice swinging trot on each rein.
On Thursday, I had a second lesson booked with Frank in Skevanish.
I ended up very pleased indeed! Aero softened and worked in an outline much quicker than last week. I've figured out that I have to push him forward and at the same time offer him "space" in front - do teeny gives alternately on each rein, and he softens and rounds the neck. If I just "hold" the reins, he stays tense and resistant. He's also finding it easier to bend to the inside - this is what I was feeling on Tuesday, but without eyes on the ground (or a video, sniff!) I wasn't sure if it was right.
His canter feels so tight after Flurry's unbalanced sprawl! At the start, it was too short, but again I asked him to move forward and offered him the rein and he lengthened his stride and worked over his back much better, despite me tipping forward too much - sigh. We then worked on canter leg yields. Frank calls the movement a Plié (which is a new one on me), or, jokingly, "controlled falling out through the shoulder, " which is a great way of describing it! You turn down the centre line at C or A, ask the horse to move sideways like a leg yield and aim to hit the track somewhere between E/B and the next corner.
Even turning down the centre line in canter is new to me, it's basically half a 10 metre circle in canter, followed immediately by pushing sideways for the leg yield - lots of engaging of the inside hind!
After doing this a few times, Frank asked me to ride a 15 metre circle in canter, which went well, then he said "Next time you cross the centre line, ask for walk." Ok, I thought, I've never done this before, but sit deep, think tall, shoulders back and WALK and leg on to maintain it... and it worked! Easy Peasy! Oh the joys of a horse that knows his job!
We did the same drill on the other rein, and once again finished with the 15 metre circles and canter/walk. He fell out of canter while doing the Plié thing on this rein, but I was pleased with how I coped, I just asked for canter again straight away and carried on doing what we were doing.
We finished the lesson working on shoulder-in in walk and trot. It felt ok to me, shoulder-in is something Flurry and I have figured out together, but apparently Aero needs more angle. Perhaps he is not yet supple enough to give it? Whatever about the shoulder-in, the trot he gave me afterwards was amazing - soft, round and bouncy! It felt so nice I was tempted to try sitting to it, but decided not to push my luck - normally his trot is way too bouncy for me to sit, although I can do sitting trot all day on Flurry.
Frank wrapped up the lesson by saying he can't believe the improvement we've made in a week - it looks more like there's a month's worth of work done between this lesson and the one last week! He's already teasing me about downgrading Aero, he thinks we'd be ready for more than Prelim in no time. If only I had his confidence!