First up we had to check out the fit of his double bridle. Trainer Z was totally cool with how everything fit. Yes, his weymouth sits a hole lower than you see in all the pictures but it makes Theo happy and isn't interfering with anything. She thought his baby weymouth was adorable (her words). His noseband if far looser than anyone is used to seeing with a double but that's how we do and no point in messing with things that aren't broken. She ran her hand under it (yes, it's loose enough to run a hand under) and I could see her twitching to tighten it but at this point, she's used to us.
I talked about our canter work while I was warming up. I showed his big free canter that we've developed while jumping which got two thumbs up, but I sat and she saw right off the bat that I was doing it wrong. Theo has developed a new canter but I'm still sitting square and not really moving with it. I could get away with it when his canter was little but if I want a big, active canter? I've got to ride the asymmetrical gait in an asymmetrical way. That darn inside hip still doesn't want to lead, especially tracking left. And I have to get back even further. Why is this back again?! Why am I trying to put my head on my horse's butt again?! I thought I had fixed this!
Yup, feeling like this again
Apparently I wasn't back far enough. She got me back where she wanted me and it was pretty cool. It was one of the first times that I could really feel Theo's hind legs, particularly in the medium canter. I also felt like I was going to fall off but I'm sure that will get better with some more practice.
We decided to go right into flying changes while Theo had plenty of energy. The good news is that I had multiple civilized attempts at changes in both directions that were mostly on the aids. The bad news is that Theo was sometimes a bit late behind in his right to left changes and then threw in a trot step on his left to right changes. Ugh. The late behind corrected once I improved the straightness before the change so he had a fighting chance of getting his hind all the way through. For the left to right? I had to wind him up to the point he felt a little crazy and then do the change heading into the wall. That got him forward enough but gave me an object to work with so he couldn't just push through and ignore the request. Nice clean change!
But that brought out a bit of Theo's crazy. He started to spook at stuff and canter any time I so much as breathed too hard. We moved on to the trotting half pass and he couldn't stop trying to canter. He's now got to learn that there is life and riding after flying changes. Our answer right now is to leg yield hard off the rail every time he starts lunging into the canter during the trot work. Yes, we get it, we have focused on your canter a lot and you've learned to do some fun new things in the canter. That doesn't mean you can't trot. If you decide that cantering is easier, we're going to do steep leg yields which are a lot of work.
While giving my beloved loony tune a moment to regather his brain, we discussed some of this behavior. The fact that he's trying so hard in his changes is directly related to the fact that he's also going through this phase of leaping into canter any time I ask for pretty much anything. A horse that's going to move up the levels has to have some spice, some naughtiness, some desire to offer behaviors. Horses that don't offer these behaviors don't go far because the work is hard and they need that edge. It started to appear at Second and, apparently, it's going to be hanging around for awhile. Theo does have that spice, that edge of naughty in his behavior which is why she keeps pushing us to not stop at Second or Third. Because he's got the personality for the big boy work. He's the right kind of naughty.
Face of a serious business dressage horse
Which brought us back around to his double bridle. Theo couldn't get too creative with his naughty behaviors tonight because I had a pretty good hold on the front end. The curb rein has a nice drape in it 95% of the time but it is still freaking fantastic to have when he tries to slam out that left shoulder. Trainer Z noted he was very accepting, very comfortable, and looked good in his double. No signs of resistance or problems. She also noted that we as a pair look softer this way. I'm not trying to grab his face to preempt bad behavior and he's not trying to lock me out. I'm a better rider when I don't fear for my safety.
It was the perfect time for Trainer Z to visit. The double was inspected and approved. We've got new strategies to clean up our green changes now that we actually have enough of a change to practice them. She also got to nip his new cantering all the time habit in the bud.
I couldn't be more proud of him. Antics aside, he tries so hard for me. The more I razz him up, the more he wants to play the game. His trot half pass is looking fantastic, the changes are coming on much more easily than any of us expected given his age. I really lucked out with this horse. We should have fallen on our face with both of us learning the change at the same time, I should be shipping him off to Trainer Z and tearfully begging her to install the changes. Instead, he's so honest I'm getting to learn alongside him.
Now it's time to embrace the naughty.