Good, good ride last night. Got there in decent time, groomed and tacked up quickly.
I started out with a bit of an experiment - what I was referring to in my head as the Kinder, Gentler Warm Up. Reallyreally focusing on march in the walk - not caring about bend other than that he wasn't inverted, or contact other than that I could just feel his mouth lightly. Lots of tapping and really encouraging step from behind. We just kept on walking around the ring, circles, around jumps, until he started stretching into even the very long rein I started with.
Next, trot with the same goal, focusing on my leg and his forward, only light contact and only asking him not to be counterbent, very soft chewing on the inside. He was sticky initially, so I let him canter with the same goal, and he blew out almost immediately; this is a horse who can hold his breath the length of a ride.
Once I was happy with his march and his forward (not without some frustrating moments for us) I started to pick up the reins verrrrry slowly and really ask him to reach for the bit through the trot, then gradually worked him up to a shorter and shorter rein and asked for lift off the inside leg. Nothing truly spectacular but good, solid work.
The canter was the best work of the evening: after all that time to stretch out, I really asked him to step up. Left clicked into place fairly easily, lowering and stretching through his neck while lifting through his withers from my inside leg. Now that he's starting to let go of his neck in the canter, he's become quite terrifically on the forehand, which - y'know, technically I should be going right from strength to strength, an uphill forward trot to an uphill forward canter. The idea of a heavy, flat, on-the-forehand as a sign of progress probably makes dressage queens cry. I'd like to see those dressage queens try to ride my horse on a regular basis. As long as I keep reminding him that he *ought* to be using his hind end to spring up in the canter, I'll accept that for now the only way he can unlock his neck is to be much heavier than is ideal. Once he can loosen his neck, we will put the jump back in. It worked nicely in the trot, it will work in the canter.
Right lead took longer, but I really worked it, long sequences of half-halt/wait, half-halt/wait, kick up off the inside leg but keep him going with the outside leg and judicious whip use. He got there for a few strides and I decided done, but then the trot work was soooooooo good after that that I said, y'know, he's not quite tired yet.
So we picked up the canter again, left, and came out of the circle down the long side, turned back down a center line, back to trot, then into the right lead canter. Which clicked in even faster this time, and we got a WHOLE CIRCLE and then down a side with him giving his neck to me, cantering up through his withers the tiniest bit, and coming back to me when he threatened to break.
So then we power-trotted on a loose rein, and then we were done, back for a nice trail ride with Hannah and Tucker, and P. and Glory. Even included some trotting and cantering, which I am always reluctant to do on the trails because I don't know the footing as well as I ought to, even after almost a year. Tris enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the parts where we were cantering uphill toward home. "Zoom, mom! There's hay in my stall!"
Alas, no riding this weekend, because grad school sucks a lot. I'm trying to put together a good schedule for next week so we can really prep effectively for the show. I'm really not nervous, but I'd like to do well if only for the pictures. :)