Eric had the show farrier, glowing forge and all, hard at work in the barn, and had just finished body-clipping some poor unsuspecting critter when I got there. (Buddy'd already had his turn under the sheers, and looks quite elegant with the last of his winter coat buzzed off.)
I had the arena all to my self warming Sunny up while I waited for Eric to get a horse ready. I moved his hips back and forth, asked him to shoulder in, and did circles and figure-eights of various sizes. Just walking - I had a feeling Eric was going to make us both work, so I thought we'd both appreciate the energy conservation by the time the lesson was over.
Sunny looked cute in his black polo wraps (I figured what the heck, why not - I need the practice, and it couldn't hurt, right?) and mostly-slick summer coat. As Eric headed our way with a big palomino half-Arab gelding in tow, I closed my legs around Sunny and asked him to collect.
We marched around the perimeter 1-2-3-4. Sunny was perfectly light in my hands and round underneath me, carrying himself. It was fantastic. We got high marks on walk, including the "Wow! Look at his topline!" comment, and more compliments at the trot - he's picking his knees up, too. Wheee! I honestly don't think Eric expected us to have made that much progress. (Of course, the pictures from the other day were a surprise to me, too, so I can't blame him.)
The first fly in the works was the downward transition from working trot to collected walk - ack! I'm leaning forward again. And unfortunately, it wasn't a one-time fluke. Homework: Lots of downward transitions - I need to think "lean back and exhale" so that I don't fold up. I fold up and Sunny gets hollow.
Then we worked on canter departures. Three wrong lead take-offs, and I managed to organize my hands, shoulders, legs and seat, and Sunny, and bam! Correct lead. A bit bracey and uncoordinated - both of us - but at least he didn't break until I asked him to trot.
We worked on canter 4-5 laps at a time, with Eric asking me to get him to collect more and more each time, and to concentrate on my downward transitions in between. We're getting better incrementally - most of Sunny's problems derive directly from me. When I get myself coordinated, he has an easier time staying balanced. By the last pass I'd slowed him down and collected him up into something approximating a real canter rather than a flat-sided hand gallop, which is definitely progress.
Sunny was tired by the end of the lesson. Not terribly sweaty - he's mostly lost his winter coat - but he was definitely working hard. And he was SO good - even when the horse Eric was on spooked big at something right behind us, he didn't do more than speed up slightly. At the walk and trot he's really soft and light - and canter will come.
Eric offered the use of the arena if I want to go practice, and I think I'll take him up on that - the footing is far and away better than the pasture, and we won't even mention the concrete the gravel roads have turned into - we really need rain.
The Handi-Riders' show is April 28th, and I'd like to have canter down a bit better by then.