I left work early Tuesday to go drive out to the barn and pick Mikey up to take him for a lesson at 6:30pm with the German Riding Master. My mom went along for the drive to keep me company... a good thing too, I left my house at 3:30pm and got home at 11:00pm... 7.5 hour day after a 6.5 hour day at work.
I got on Mikey and we walked around a little bit while I waited for him to come to the arena. My lesson time was the last one of the day and a little flexible with regard to the time because I figured I'd be pushing it to be there at 6:30 with rush hour traffic to contend with.
Mikey was a bit spooky about the arena, but settled nicely. When the German Riding Master (GRM for the rest of this post) came in, we had a chat about where Mikey was at and he said to warm up like normal and he'd see what we had. As I walked I mentioned I had moved a month ago and he's been really super and the flying changes are working. Once Mikey was loose and relaxed, and then off to trot we went. Within a couple strides I had my nice loose relaxed through horse and GRM was like, "He's much better now!" and "Good trot, much more through and active behind than last time!"
We worked a little half pass in trot, GRM told me to pay more attention to keeping the haunches bent and active in the half pass, keeping it a touch slower if I had to... I instantly got much more reach and a better tempo and bend.
On to the canter. Mikey was not as through as he could have been. We went for a little canter half pass, same thing, pay attention to the haunches and bend. I have a tough time influencing the canter half pass so they were average, but we started working the flying changes into the ends of them. He did a couple flying up front and a skipping trot step behind, so GRM pulled out the poles and said go over these a couple times so he can get his confidence back in this different indoor. Well Mikey saw the pole and 5 or 6 strides out was like, "Change now?" and he did. So GRM said ask for it early, if he gives it, pull off the line and skip the pole. We repeated that pattern many times, always getting a good clean change many strides before the pole. GRM was very happy with it and said now I needed to work on keeping Mikey through in the change. He inverts for the change and the stride or two after, then softens again. He said work the same pattern focusing on keeping to softness.
He liked that my hands were much softer than before and how Mikey does understand the changes and is trying and not getting upset. After many good changes, he asked if there was anything else I wanted to do so I asked about how to start canter pirouettes. I had worked on them on my own, but I wasn't getting the hind legs to stay in place.
He had me start in walk and trot, because "If you can't do it in walk and trot, how can you do it in canter?" He said to find the best aids for getting the point across to Mikey in trot, and get him to understand while staying through and not inverting. We did several in trot, and to the right was much easier than to the left. He doesn't need a lot of quick steps, GRM said to make sure I keep the steps quiet and slow so he doesn't get his legs hooked or over stress them. He said before you work it in canter, know that if he breaks in canter, don't push for canter again or get out of it, make the trot slower and continue the pirouette, and eventually making it a walk pirouette. He said right now Mikey needs to understand what you want, no matter the gait, so finish the movement no matter the gait and he will get used to finishing it no matter what.
We moved on to canter because the trot work went so well. The left was unspectacular, but I did get several good steps. I ended up carrying my whip in my right hand so if he was "dragging" his front end, I could tap his shoulder to make it keep up.
The right was much better. I was soft with my outside rein in trot, but in canter I absolutely smothered him with it. GRM was like, "Walk! Walk! Relax the outside hand, you won't get it by holding the outside rein, you'll get it by keeping it soft and using the inside rein to guide him on the circle." Once I relaxed my outside hand and used my seat and thigh like I'm supposed to, Mikey started to really sit and keep his haunches in one place. He surprised me the first time he did it because I never kept up with him and forced him to continue so he walked. GRM was like, "Ha! He surprised you. Make sure you ride it next time!" And ride it I did, Mikey would get two strides in, and then start to peter out, so I'd engage my seat to push "forward" while my thigh and leg still said to pirouette and then Mikey really started keeping his hind end planted and giving me several good steps. I'd let him out of it after 180 degrees or so.
Mikey was so super, and GRM was very pleased with how he's progressing. He asked if I worked it all on my own, I said, "Yes! I school him on my own. It helps my new arena has a short wall entirely covered with mirrors so I do all of my work towards them so I'm constantly checking myself." He said, "Good job!" It was incredible validation for my ability to train and school my own horse, without the constant supervision of a trainer. GRM was very impressed with how far we've come, especially with me working on my own for a month.
The best comment at the end of my lesson as GRM was talking to a couple other riders: "This horse has the activity behind that your horse is lacking. It's what your horse is missing for the collected trot, it doesn't have to be slow, just more active. This horse's collected trot isn't slow, but he's not hurrying, he's just active behind." Hind end engagement and back swing is something we have struggled with for years.
My mom had watched from the lounge, and she was positively BEAMING when she came out. She was like, "Mikey looked incredible! I saw him in August, and this is a million times better! He's a completely different horse. You have to stay at the barn with the indoor, he's doing so well there!" It was nice to hear that because she had been pushing for me to make sure Mikey does go back to the cheaper barn at the end of winter.
So my homework is to make the changes softer, and gently work the canter pirouettes. That's more than enough work for the next couple months!