Finally a ride outside! Of the 24 work sessions (three days times 8 sessions), only three were outside - and Pie and I got one of them on Sunday. It had rained quite a bit on Saturday, but the outdoor arena has excellent drainage, and after dragging there was a rim around the outside that was useable and also one smallish circular area near one end.
The clinic hosts had managed to order a 5 1/2" Rockin' S raised snaffle for me - it's not generally available but can be special ordered - in fact sizes up to 6" in any of the Rockin' S snaffles can be ordered - Pie had long ago outgrown his 5" one that we'd gotten at the clinic back in 2012. This is an unusual bit that Mark worked with the designer of the Rockin' S bits to design specifically for horses that have large tongues and low palates - this would be Pie. Although my ported Mylar snaffle was an approximation of the shape of the Rockin' S raised snaffle, the Mylar is a more rigid bit whereas the Rockin' S actually opens a bit wider with rein pressure. As soon as Pie had it on, he was quieter and more relaxed and settled both in terms of his mouth and his head and neck position - he tried to dive much less and didn't want to use my hands as a fifth leg. Here's a picture of the bit:
All the transitions we worked on the day before were pretty much completely fixed - all variations of halt with walk with trot. All I had to do was feel the transitions on the inside of me and offer that to Pie, and bang perfect transitions. The slight popping up of Pie's head on the transition I'd been experiencing was due to what horse naturally does with his head and neck - he pulls them back slightly which creates an opening to go up if you don't follow the motion of the head and neck with your hands. If you keep the feel with your hands, this doesn't happen.
Then we worked on walk/canter and trot/canter transitions. It was great that we ended up outside, since we wouldn't have been able to work on this in the very small indoor. The work was the same as with the other transitions - feel the rhythm and energy of the canter - canter yourself - and exhale for "now" to get the actual transition. We didn't worry about leads too much at first. It was initially easier for us to get good walk/canter transitions than trot/canter transitions - Mark said that this was because we tend to carry forward/get stuck in the feel of trot even when we're trying for canter, which confuses things. A simple trick to get the correct lead - cue with exhale as you come down from rise in posting trot - this is when the engaging hind leg is leaving the ground and therefore can be called into action to initiate the canter.
Pie was really excellent despite it being cold and windy and our being outside for only the third or fourth time this year and in place he hadn't been to for two years. Many people complemented the quality of his gaits and how responsive he was - this from the horse that had almost no forward two years ago - Mark said he was a really nice horse several times and offered to take him off my hands since he was clearly so messed up - I politely declined.
Pie, unlike Dawn and Red, is a literalist - he doesn't fill in or compensate for me - Red and Dawn are overachievers and do their best to guess what I want and compensate when I'm communicating poorly - Pie on the other hand will always try to do exactly what he thinks I'm asking, so if I'm not getting what I want I need to look hard at what I'm doing and how I'm communicating with him. Mark says I'm very lucky to have such a literal horse - he's a great feedback mechanism for me and will tell me when I'm riding correctly and when I need to fix something. This turned out to be important on day three as well . . .