Theo was pretty chill about this change in routine. He hates changes in routine as a rule, but I bring enough cookies, he can cope. He didn't really want to load into the strange trailer with no other horses even in the vicinity, but I convinced him to hop on while I got the butt bar. Many cookies for the poor, confused pony.
I can't believe this rig is mine
It took me about an hour to drive to Mary's place and it was almost entirely on highways or interstates. It was an awesome way to rack up miles with a loaded trailer. No lights, no lane changes, just lots of time in one lane with a big shoulder available if I needed to move over. I got my trailer turned around at all of the parking spots and didn't get stuck. I even loaded and unloaded my gear completely by myself. I was completely autonomous!
As for my lesson? Well, Mary is exactly as her reputation describes: friendly, helpful, very honest. Very, very honest. After watching me warm up for a couple minutes, she asked if that was the way I showed him. I said no, I usually wait to pick up a contact and establish forward first. She said okay, show me the neck you have when you show. So I picked Theo up and asked him to come onto the contact. She watched for another minute, asked me to canter, and then flagged me over.
As she put it, I have a horse that doesn't bend right. At all. Even when tracking right, his neck bends left. He never releases his right jaw, doesn't chew the bit on that side, and is not supple. We don't have a good contact. I asked if we were at First and she said no, it wasn't good enough for First. We're not ready.
It stung. I won't pretend it didn't. It was blunt and honest, exactly what I wanted. We're not going at First right now. We don't have the required connection. So I asked what I should do. Then we got our asses kicked from one end of the ring to the other. Theo would not flex right. At all. So she set us up to turn down the center line and then leg yield off of my right leg to the wall. But not a text book leg yield. She wanted his shoulders to lead significantly while keeping his bend to the right. This was to push him to stretch muscles he wouldn't release. And once he had the idea, we started asking him to supple and carry his neck in a round way while leading with his shoulders.
Theo was so resistant to this new plan that after twenty minutes, Mary slapped a draw rein on my right side. As she put it, she didn't want to watch me struggle and was going to give me some leverage. I'm a h/j rider, I'm very familiar with draw reins. I was surprised to have one put on during a dressage lesson, but it sure made the point to mi papi. It took another fifteen minutes, but I knew the exact moment he released his jaw and flexed through his poll. I felt it through the entire front half of his body and Mary yelled 'yes, there, finally!'. He started to work his mouth on the right side rather than keeping it clamped shut because he was being asked to submit to the bit.
New shipping boots!
While tightening my noseband, Mary told Theo 'the picnic is over'. No more trotting around looking like a giraffe. He is to come into the ring, pick up a contact, and get to work. She saw absolutely no sign of curling from him, even under pressure. Assuming the curling was a problem before, we've fixed it. Draw rein, lots of pressure, and he didn't offer to curl. I'm under instructions to work on getting him into a First level appropriate outline because curling is not a concern. Now he's locking me out and that isn't allowed anymore. I am to work that leg yield off of my right leg to force his neck to flex right properly and not do that weird snake thing while he avoids the true bend.
It was really cool the moment when he gave through the right and lifted his neck for me, coming onto the contact like I'd been hoping for all this time.
I feel some pride that no matter what adjustment she asked for, I could do it. Supple him, poll down, leg yield, move his shoulders. I've learned to manipulate my pony if nothing else. And no complaints about our forward until the end of the lesson when he was melting in the heat. We certainly haven't been wasting our time, just lost track of where we're going.
So here I am, accomplished and slightly broken hearted. I'm dropping down to T3 and F1 until further notice. Apparently the judges aren't blind. I am. I have a lot of thinking to do on all of this. Mary was exactly what I hoped for, an emotionally detached and very honest voice of experience. She seemed to like Theo, thought he was a good match for an adult ammy with a history of concussions. He was a very, very good boy under pressure. He never offered to quit or actively fight, just some stubborn evasion. But if I want to progress with him, we have to fix this fundamental flaw. He needs to submit to the bit.
It may take me awhile to reconcile the different feedback I'm getting. But I know Mary's trained up several Grand Prix level horses. I have to believe she knows what this level takes.