Red and I had an outstanding ride yesterday. I changed some things, to see what would happen. I rode him bareback, and did not carry the dressage whip. He gave me good walk/trot transitions from the get-go, his forward was excellent - I used a bit of heel to keep him from dropping out of trot, but once he was going, he maintained excellent forward and softness. And there wasn't the slightest sign of stiffness. My vet, who is a lameness expert and who I think has a very good eye, was in the arena watching another horse go and said he looked very sound and was using himself very well.
We were both happier about things. There are a lot of things that could be going on, and I think they have to do with my position in the saddle. It could even be the fit or placement of the saddle, although that's been looked at by both my vet and chiropractor and found to be OK. The fact that forward is an issue does make me think saddle fit in the shoulder, perhaps due to placement, could be a problem. The saddle places my center of gravity and leg higher, and it's also possible that I do more leaning forward or to one side or sitting off center - it's harder to do those things when riding bareback. It also may be a matter of where on his back the saddle positions me - it may be that he wants me just where I am when riding bareback. Or perhaps he's decided bareback is just better . . .
Today we rode bareback again for a short ride. His walk/trot transitions were excellent again. He refused to do trot/canter transitions and just trotted faster (which is really what I was asking for as far as he was concerned) if I was leaning forward, which I tended to do - I tend to try to urge him along and this is where some of our issues come from. When I sat back - and even slid a bit farther back - and used my thinking the rhythm/exhaling for the canter transition, things went better. It's clear I need to do less with my body and do more with my posture, breathing and thinking the rhythm.
Anyway, I'll be trying more bareback rides to see if things continue to go this well, and to get some things sorted out that I'm doing that are interfering with his movement. Once we've done that, I may also try him in my dressage saddle - it was reflocked to fit him, and it would be interesting to see if he goes differently in that.