I'm realizing that one of the reasons Red does his brace-up-and-to-the right thing is because he's not soft yet, at the point in our work sessions where I ask him to trot. He may seem soft - the body posture and movement at the walk appear soft, but he's not mentally soft yet, which is why walk/trot transitions later in our work sessions are no problem at all. The tell is the backing. If we halt early in our work session, and I ask him to soften and back softly, big brace. Later in our work session, after trot work, no problem, beautiful, soft steps backwards - in fact, I often use no rein pressure at all and only have to think back to get it. He's soft and connected to me. Not so at the end of the walk work I've been using for our warm up.
What we're doing already isn't working consistently, so I need to change things. So I think the solution may be more in what we do before I ask for the first walk/trot transition, rather than the transition itself, although there may also be some things I can do to help him stay soft through the transition. But to stay soft, he has to be soft, before the transition, and that's been lacking.
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I wrote that before my work session with Red today, and before I read more of Mark Rashid's new book A Journey to Softness. The timing of the book arriving was uncanny - it gave me some pieces that I needed to help Red and I solve our problem.
The things - some of these I was on the track of already, and have heard from Mark before, but the book really brought them into focus - that made a difference to me and Red from the book are the following:
These are all about softness in its various aspects, and how I needed to offer Red softness even when he was thinking about bracing. I can't say enough how good this book is, for me at this point in my horsemanship journey. More about these concepts later . . . but suffice it to say that Red and I made a huge amount of progress today.
- Softening at the point of resistance.
- Changing how I made first contact.
- Nothing sudden or abrupt.
And an update - after Pie's and my hard work on the canter Saturday, and getting Pie breathing properly, we tried some canter today and things were orders of magnitude better - Pie's canter was relaxed and soft from the start - and/because he was now immediately breathing and relaxed. All that canter work yesterday unlocked things.
This journey with my horses never ceases to amaze and delight me.