It was a good day - three nice rides. My session with Red was particularly interesting. After grooming - he was the muddiest of my three and it took a long time to get him cleaned up - we tried out my Kieffer dressage saddle. Although it was flocked to fit him about a year and a half ago, I haven't been riding him in it but have been using my About the Horse Western trail saddle, which also fit him back then. I thought the Kieffer was tight through the shoulders, even when correctly placed on his back. It did interfere less with his shoulders than the About the Horse saddle, though, so we gave it a try out. His walk was freer in the Kieffer, but as soon as we tried trot, it was immediately clear the saddle was a no go - he was reluctant to move forward at the trot and the saddle was rocking a bit since it was probably placed a bit too far back in order to get some shoulder clearance. Red said no way.
I took him back into the barn aisle and took the saddle off, and we went back in the ring and had a really fine bareback ride. His transitions were excellent, and his forward was lovely - with no dressage whip - he seemed to be enjoying himself. It looks like we'll be riding bareback until we figure out a saddle solution. I think with all the work we've been doing, his back and particularly his shoulders have changed shape due to muscle development. So the saddles that used to fit no longer do. But bareback in the winter is lots of fun, and Red's perfectly shaped for it.
We then worked on our canter - or rather, I worked on my canter with Red's assistance - he said that his canter was just fine, thank you very much. I haven't ridden much at the canter bareback since I was a kid and have been really looking forward to doing it again. We had a number of ugly transitions into canter to start with - generally just my urging him on in trot until he fell into canter - or non-transitions involving fast trot. I know he can do a nice trot/canter transition and also very nice walk/canter transitions, and was perplexed about what I was doing wrong.
Red gave me a hint: "less is more . . ."
The minute I stopped riding like a yahoo, pushing and leaning and urging, and simply thought the new rhythm and exhaled - bingo! - perfect walk/canter transitions on both leads. We did a series of canter departures on both leads only using a thought and a breath, and they couldn't have been more perfect. I was laughing in delight, and I think Red was smiling too. His canter is a blast to ride bareback. Red says I'm a slow learner (Dawn says she could have told him that), but I get there eventually . . .