We tend to fall into habits and routines when we ride our horses. This is a good thing to the extent we are learning and reinforcing behaviors in ourselves and with our horses that are helpful to us and the horse. But sometimes it takes riding a new horse to shake things up in a productive way - it can help you see where you can improve or do things a bit differently to be more effective.
Missy and I have been working a lot on two things - forward at trot without my nagging her, and prompt walk/trot/walk transitions, with walk/halt/walk thrown in, while carrying the appropriate energy through the transitions so there's none of that trot/fall on forehand almost stop/walk, and no sluggish changes of gait. This all has to come from me - Missy's perfectly capable of doing all this beautifully on her own in the pasture - it's all about how I ask and what I ask for and whether what I'm doing makes sense to her.
Missy's already taught me something, partly because I'm listening so hard to what she's telling me since she's new to me - sometimes with my other horses, we're so familiar that I don't always listen as deeply as I should, or I accept doing something that isn't optimal because we're used to it. I'm pretty excited about what she's taught me/revealed to me, because now I can use the changes I'm making with my other three horses, and I think they'll appreciate it too.
What I've been doing to get transitions with my other three is to feel the rhythm of the new gait in my mind to "pre-cue" and give them time to get their feet organized and then exhale for the exact transition itself. This is big progress for me, and much less mechanical and more feel-based than how I was riding before, but Missy has shown me that there's a better way. (I'm certainly not saying here that a soft physical cue - like a leg aid - isn't just fine - I'm just trying to do things a little differently.)
I noticed at first that Missy was not quite getting what I wanted - I was having to use more secondary cues (tap with whip for upwards transitions, rein aids for downwards transitions) that interfered with the smoothness of the transition and carry forward of the energy. To Missy, what I was doing was "muddy". I initially attributed that to our being less connected than I am with my others - the others instantly know a transition is coming when I make the mental change of rhythm.
While it's true that Missy and I are still building our connection - it's already quite strong - the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she was showing me a better way - a way that's a little less mechanical and a little more feel-based. She and I have been experimenting, and she says I've almost got it now - we had an excellent ride yesterday. I call what she's teaching me "feel down to the feet".
This stuff is pretty hard to describe, but stick with us and see if any of it makes sense to you. It's primarily a mental change in how I present the transition - up or down - to Missy. Instead of changing the rhythm in my head and then exhaling - the exhale could be thought of as a physical cue - instead I'm doing what I can only describe as sending the thought of the rhythm to "our" feet - sending it deeper - getting it out of my head and into our two bodies together. I thought of this at first as presenting a stronger feel to Missy, but in fact it's not more forceful, it's just more connected and effective. And it really doesn't require timing the transmitted feel at the exact correct time in the horse's footfalls - the horse can sort that out - although if the timing is accurate, the transition will be instantaneous.
What I'm essentially doing is moving the feet from one gait to another as if the feet were my own - and in fact they are since we're connected and in communication. Missy and I did some wonderful work yesterday and she really helped me improve what I was doing - she says I'm getting it. I think this change will help eliminate the gap in time between thinking the rhythm and exhale and will make the change of rhythm more internal to my horses rather than something they have to connect with in my head. It will also help, I think, with Pie and Red's tendency to start to anticipate the transition as soon as I think the rhythm, before the exhale - there's that gap again - it should be one seamless thing now.
I can't wait to try it out with my other three horses and see what they think.
Missy also says that chiro is a good thing - she's no longer touchy about having her mane and the left side of neck groomed and was more relaxed and soft under saddle with a better way of going.