Dawn came out a happier and somewhat more relaxed horse on day two. We started out working on our transitions - the upwards walk/trot ones were going well - all I have to do with her is mentally change the rhythm from 1-2-3-4 to 1-2 and exhale, and she trots, maintaining the softness through the transition. Her consistency of softening in the walk and trot was much improved from the prior day. In the downwards transitions, there was a slight interruption in forward movement - just a slight hesitation - just as she stepped into walk from trot. Mark said my release (which could be very small - just a slight give) was slightly too late - the time of the release should be when the horse thinks about making the transition, not when the horse's body is already transitioning - that's too late and that's where the hesitation was coming from. Dawn was able to do some very nice downwards transitions, using herself properly and stepping in a fluid manner into the walk.
To continue the theme from the day before of "allowing" Dawn's forward motion, and to help me with relaxing tension in my upper arms and shoulders, Mark talked about feeling energy in your hands, arms and shoulders and making a change in thinking about how that energy flowed to change the feel. Mark is a very serious student of the martial art of aikido, and this thinking about energy and how it flows is the sort of thing that he brings into the discussions at the clinics. If you're holding your reins two-handed, as I was, there's a pressure point where you hold the rein between your thumb and forefinger. He said that if the energy from that point travels up your arm from the outside of your thumb - the side farthest away from your other fingers - it then flows up the inside of your wrist and arm, resulting in tightness and bracing in the wrist, elbow and shoulder. He said to feel that and then change the feel mentally (no physical movement required) to have the energy flowing from that point of pressure between thumb and forefinger up the inside of the thumb, and down the top of your forearm, upper arm and then over your shoulder and across your upper back and all the way down to the other thumb and forefinger - in this mental image the energy isn't blocked and tightness and bracing are eliminated or significantly reduced, and your upper body can be more effective and relaxed. I found this really helped me out with the tension I tend to carry in my arms, shoulders and neck, and I've been using it even when I'm not on a horse.
I found that Dawn's softness in the trot improved substantially when I used this mental image - it helped me be more giving with my hands and she could really move forward. Mark says she's such an athletic horse that she really needs this freedom to use her body without being cramped up by my "holding" her with my hands - I need to "allow" her movement and go with it. It's only very recently that I've begun to be more comfortable with how forward Dawn can be - not fast but just powerful - and I still struggle with letting that power flow rather than trying to rein it in.
Then we worked on leg yields at the trot (we did a bit at the walk first), in only one direction on this day. We worked on two things - first, reducing and reducing and then reducing some more, my leg cue until Dawn was stepping over with her hind leg on my merest thought of putting on leg. As we did more, she was starting to speed up and get tense, so we stopped and I walked and Mark talked about how, when teaching a horse a new skill, it is so important to start by only focussing on one thing - in this case, the horse taking a step over, and not worry at the beginning about things like the horse speeding up or slowing down, or moving its head up or down - the horse might need to change those things as it was learning the new movement and those things can be refined later - just work on the one thing - taking a step over and don't fuss or fiddle with the other things at the same time - it's expecting too much of the horse, particularly a very sensitive horse like Dawn. That's why she was starting to worry and tense up - I was asking her to think about too many things at once and she wasn't sure what I wanted - make it clear and keep it simple. If her head bounces around and she needs to go slower or faster, don't worry about it at this stage - she may need to do this and it can be refined later once she's got the new thing - sideways - working well. In fact in our case, just focussing on the one thing allowed her to calm down and concentrate, and most of the postural and speed issues just went away on their own - Mark said this often happens - Dawn already knew how to do hold herself correctly and move at the correct pace, and once she understood sideways the rest just fell into place. We got some very nice leg yields at the end of our session.
That was day two with Dawn . . . to be continued . . .