We started out lesson by talking talking about what we had been doing the previous week and I had mentioned that Boomer was still acting somewhat resistant and while some rides were better than others, I still felt like he was fighting before softening his jaw. After we warmed up a little, Karin had us do something new. While staying on the circle, she had me get him on the bit, then bend his neck to the inside, straighten, bend outside, straighten, etc. This REALLY helped him get contact and he actually started seeking and carrying the bit! We worked at this mostly at the walk for a long time and he really understood that concept. The bending makes it much more difficult for him to toss his head, as he can't really be inverted and bending laterally at the same time. So instead of him fighting against my hand, I ask him to bend and he gives with his jaw of his own accord. It almost feels like I'm tricking him into wanting to do the right thing! So, then anytime he would start to toss his head up, I would flex him right and left and he would soften right away and held the contact after I straightened him up.
This was also a great exercise for me to start watching his shoulders and keeping them straight. It is really easy for Boomer to push out one shoulder or the other and in order to keep him on the circle I have to really use my leg to keep him from over bending. We also worked on a few smaller (8 meter) circles and I focused on his shoulders there as well. That was cool to actually be able to look down and see that his shoulders are not necessarily centered with his neck, so I worked on keeping his shoulders straight with his neck.
Next thing we worked on was transitions. Walk to trot and also halt to walk. The goal in W/T was to get him to give, bump him with my leg to make sure he was awake, remind him that he has to give, then bump him into the trot. For the most part, he wanted to throw his head up, but we worked really hard on timing everything and got a few really good transitions from him. It almost felt like he was having trouble organizing himself at first, like keeping things together in the front and adding speed in the back was too complicated, but he did get it! Downward transitions were better and Karin said that she saw he was using his hind end to stop for the first time instead of falling down onto his forehand! Halt/Walk transitions were difficult at first as well and he wanted to evade by backing up. Karin had me reprimand him by giving him a kick, then trying again and he seemed to start to figure things out a little.
The transition work really made me think about how connected all of the gaits are. I have been trying to speed up Boomer's response to my canter aids without asking for contact/collection and I saw the same process with the W/T transition. It doesn't just go trot straight into canter, there is a transition period where I must prepare him for the gait without allowing him to come up out of the bridle. I can really see how asking for sustained contact from halt to walk and walk to trot can really pave the way for a smooth canter transition.
Overall, we had a lot of progress. I am really happy to have this new 'bending/flexing' tool to help me get Boomer to soften and seek contact. It is really easy for him to fight and brace against my steady 'ask' but it really avoids a power struggle if I can get him to 'bend' into the contact. Also, we got foam on both sides of his mouth! More on the left than right, but he seemed to be starting a little foam on the right, too!
For leg yields, Karin had us come off of the wall and yield down the centerline. Anytime he braced or tossed his head, she had me do a small circle to get him soft and back on contact. I can either circle and continue or I can circle and go back the other way.
Homework for next week:
Bending on large circle to get him to soften and seek contact
Small circles to help straighten shoulders
Transitions and timing- halt, walk, trot
Add circles to leg yielding to get contact without resistance
Bonus for next week:
I get to do the first half of the lesson on Karin's Grand Prix schoolmaster! The hope is that I will feel the response to asking for contact and will be able to transfer that feeling to Boomer. I am super excited to ride Flanny. He is a 20 year old Hannoverian/Thoroughbred cross and is totally cool!