Time is of the essence on this one, so pardon the briefness. Saturday morning, amidst a weekend full of concerts (and an unfortunate hospital visit...) I managed to find time for a quick riding lesson- the last I'll ever have at my current farm :(
On a brighter note though, the lesson was brilliant. Cadence warmed up in the loveliest stretch trot, complete with lateral and longitudinal suppleness, and didn't take advantage of my lengthened reins once! When the actual work started, we focused on keeping her soft and light through transitions: within the gait, into and out of the trot, in & out of lateral work, etc. At the moment, Cadence will cruise around softly and light as a feather until you ask for a change... at which point she tenses up a bit until she can decide how she feels about what you're asking her to do next. This tension tends to be largely longitudinal, and if I can half-halt in time and correct it we can generally stop it from ever becoming lateral tension. That said, I tend to jump the gun and immediately correct for lateral stiffness as well, essentially making a correction for an error she hasn't even made yet.
Isolating this issue in my riding turned out to be a major revelation for me. A combination of watching what exactly I'm correcting her for, and focusing on increasing her responsiveness to my half-halts in the moments she wants to tune me out, has allowed us to finally make some progress on our canter-trot transitions for the first time in nearly a month! By riding my half-halts more effectively (and actually using the strong half-halts...) and not correcting for nonexistent lateral stiffness, we're starting to get much nicer transitions.
The other homework I was given was to do a few sets of canter-trots with draws on to stop her barging through my half-halts. I know some people don't like draw reins, and I tend to be one of those people, but they're a far more effective training aid than say a martingale for a horse that's jutting out their nose to avoid the contact, (like Cadence was when she'd get fed up and run through my aid) because you can come off them completely when you don't need them, and alter the 'intensity' of your correction when you do. I put them on for the canter work and ride it like the curb on a double, and when we did this tonight she was brilliant! I only touched them twice, and had them loose for most of the work but they stopped her getting through my aid without a fight, and if I can get through a tantrum without having to boot her or haul on her mouth I'm all for it :)
The flip side to this new found stretchy work and improved canter-trot transitions is that her canter (and trot-canters) have improved immensely! It feels like I'm riding a trained horse at long last ;) We'll warm up the canter, and the all I have to do is occasionally check her balance, or her tempo, or perhaps her bend/alignment, and she cruises around in a light as air. Her upwards transitions are so sensitive, you just shift your weight and think and she does it. The flip side to this is that I have to be careful. I want to make sure that even if my leg isn't doing much, its still positioned for the aid so that she understands that leg is still part of the cue... which hasn't been an issue so far, but I'd like to make sure it never becomes one. Sensitive is one thing- hypersensitive is another entirely. Regardless though, its mighty fun riding a 'trained horse' even if its just the beginning!
Also, ponies went out without blankets for the first time today!! Spring really is here!