I decided to lunge instead of ride on Wednesday. I wanted to return to the jump from the left and offer him more support. I lunge Harley with a flat cotton lunge line snapped to the inside of the halter. I carry a lunge whip and I wear gloves.
I let him warm up walking for several circles to the left, before picking up the trot. I encouraged him forward and kept a connection to him through the line. I was looking for a stretch, but he was not ready to offer more than a little reach with his neck. My horse needs to canter to stretch his topline and start the energy flowing from behind, so I kissed to him. He picked up the outside lead. I brought him back and gave him a circle to regroup. Then I asked him to leg yield slightly away from me as I asked for the canter. I moved him away by pointing my whip at his rib cage. This also encouraged him to step under with his inside hind and assume left bend in preparation for the correct lead. I opened my elbow so that he had enough line to move away and I lifted the line up a little to lead him to lift the inside shoulder. A kiss and BINGO. Left lead canter.
I use the "kiss" to canter and the "cluck" to trot or speed up. Alternatively, I say "can-ter" and "t-rot". My verbal half halt is the word "and". I raise the tone of the "and" to signal an upwards transition and I drop the tone to signal a downwards transition. I have found that with careful repetition and consistency, horses pick up on vocal tone very quickly. The verbal half halt is invaluable under saddle.
I have also learned to keep a rhythm in my body that matches the gait in which my horse is traveling. When he is walking, I march in a small circle, stepping across with my "inside" leg just like I want him to step across with his inside leg when traveling in balance. Walking a little circle prevents me from getting dizzy and allows me to keep my hips roughly parallel to his hips. When he trots, I move in the same size circle, but with a spring in my step. If we are working on a small circle and he is really engaging and round, my springs can become quite lively to match his energy. It really feels like he will continue on as long as I do. Often, all I have to do to cue the walk is to lose my spring and he walks. For canter, I have tried hopping into the canter myself. This works like magic! I know that I look a little silly, but my horse departs so calmly when I ask this way that I cannot deny the benefits of mimicking his gait. For the halt, I say "aannnddd hoooo". If I am not too engrossed, I remember to turn my hips to face his shoulders as I ask for halt. When he is forward and we have been working for a bit, he will halt on a dime. He listens for the "gooooodddd booyy" as a cue to rest as well.
With the canter work, Harley's trot develops more impulsion. The lunge line feels like a rein and I stand with flexed joints and a soft lower back as if I am riding. He starts to reach forward with his neck as his strides lengthen and he begins to track up in trot. It feels like the contact on the lunge line is connected to my feet and the ground. I do not mean that we are pulling on each other, but it does feel like I am offering him support as he ventures to stretch. I keep the joints in my elbow and shoulder mobile so that I can follow his head and neck while keeping the contact. I maintain a trot vibration to my energy and this travels down the rein. He stretches more, reaching almost to his knees for a few steps. If the canter had not motivated him to stretch, I would have asked him to spiral in and spiral/leg yield out in trot. I gently reel the line in hand-over-hand to spiral in and let the line slide through my gloves to spiral out. I add a "cluck" or gently toss the whip line towards his hindquarters if he loses impulsion. Often one or two spirals is all that is required to initiate a nice stretch. He can stretch at a fast, moderate, or slow tempo. When he stretches at a slow tempo, it is really interesting to observe the articulation of his hind leg joints. When he stretches at a fast tempo, I am taken by how easily he can move with speed and grace.
After confirming impulsion and suppleness in both directions, we headed for the poles for an exercise which I have not used in ages.
To be continued...