Harley has been thinking about our latest challenge. How do I know this? During our last two rides, he picked up the left lead in counter canter on his own down the long side. He did not swing his hindquarters in or make a grumpy face, so this leads me to believe that I was overriding before. I think that he was trying to show me that he can counter canter left, but only if my position allows him. The allowing aids are so important and, like doing nothing, difficult to practice and easy to overlook.
Yesterday, we cantered left down the diagonal and I intended to attempt maintaining the counter canter onto the short side, but he had a nice flying change in mind instead. I brought him back and repeated the same exercise. He repeated the flying change in the same place. Very smooth and very straight. And then I realized my error. I have been using my outside leg to engage his outside hind before the change and now I was using my outside leg to try to keep him on the counter lead. I cannot use the same aid for two different things. When he counter canters right, it is very easy and I feel that I do not have to do anything to keep him there. I thought about "doing nothing" in left counter canter, but, again, this is difficult. I need to do something, even if it is small. Maybe that is just me, or maybe it is being human. So I decided to go with the inside leg to support the balance. I already use my inside leg quite a lot to keep him upright and encourage him to engage his abdominal muscles in canter, so why not continue this balancing aid into the counter canter?
After he offered the counter canter on his own, I tried asking for the left counter canter by swinging my inside (left) leg forward. He picked it up with no hindquarter theatrics and cantered through both corners. I had to remind myself to take the outside leg off, and found him leaning into my left leg, but in a good way. We brought the canter across the diagonal and into true canter left. His true canter felt so straight. Amazingly straight, forward, and lifted in the shoulders. I have been hoping that a little counter canter would benefit his balance and suppleness and now I have been given a taste of the possibilities!
Since I do not have regular access to a trainer and my teacher has not been able to make it to New Jersey since June, I approach riding like a puzzle. I am lucky that my horse also seems to have this strategy, as he tries to lead me to the solutions. I was on the fencing team in high school, and we boasted that fencing was 10% physical and 90% mental. I do not know how accurate those percentages are, but I would like to know the percentages for riding and dressage. Good thing I like puzzles, although my learning curve seems to be slower than my horse. I do not mind.