Today Pie and I had a ride where I went in with a specific objective in mind. I find when I ride aimlessly or without purpose, I don't enjoy riding as much - it's still great to be on the horse, but I tend to lose my focus, which means the horse also loses focus.
I wanted to work on Pie's canter, and specifically on two aspects of his canter - his tendency to become unbalanced and to rush at canter (which usually means he falls back into trot), and his tendency to anticipate the canter any time I sit the trot. Now, to be fair to Pie, both of these aspects of his canter are my issues, not his. He's a big, long horse, with a big stride, and our indoor arena is quite small - when we first started canter work indoors, he could hardly make it around the corners in canter. He's well past that, but can still become strung out at the canter if I don't ride him correctly into and around the corners, keeping my posture open and up. And the anticipation is a result of the way I've been asking for canter - almost always from sitting trot and almost always in the corners - of course he's anticipating based on my pattern - he's a smart horse.
So today I set out cones inside the track in the corners and around the end of the arena, to keep us honest in the corners. We did a nice warm up focussed on keeping the inside bend, and being sure that forward was there - any time Pie gets behind my leg, I lose the hind end and his shoulder tends to pop out - keeping him forward using the secondary cue of an occasional tap with the dressage whip keeps this from happening.
We did big circles at canter, followed by diagonals or center line canter where I asked him to come to trot and then almost immediately - after two or three strides - go back to canter, followed almost immediately by trot again. This required him to balance himself without much if any interference by me - I think horses learn these things best when they're given the chance to learn them without being "programmed". On the second canter, I didn't care at all what lead he was on as we were coming right back to trot - that can be refined later (it depends precisely on how many trot strides there are after canter before canter initiates again). I just wanted him to balance through the transitions.
And while we were doing this, we also worked on reducing his anticipation of canter - we did sitting trot all over the ring - small circles, serpentines, etc. His more collected trot is really coming along, and so long as I kept him forward at the same time, it was springy, engaged and very nice. I never asked for a canter departure unless he was relaxed and soft at the sitting trot - when he anticipates he rushes and braces a bit. He stayed much more relaxed and some of the canter departures were very nice.
After our ride, we took a short pasture expedition as a reward. More nice weather coming up, so more Pie rides in my future. Red is getting some hand walks after grooming - he's very jealous of my time with Pie and unhappy about not being ridden - and Dawn's next (and I hope last for a while) dental surgery round is next Tuesday.