Every day I fall a little more in love with my big gray goof ball. He is such a love bug and a clown and now that we have gotten over the "forward" hump he is picking up things at an amazing pace!
Last night was a beautiful ride. He volunteered a nice, strong, rhythmic forward walk and was halting square and immediately with just a tightening of my abs and a closing of my thighs. I'm not having to go to the reins at all for the halt and I've completely eliminated the vocal "whoa" for our halts.
Steering has become much smoother and easier and he's actually bending his body. He's apt to pop his right shoulder more than his left, but a tap with the dressage whip on his shoulder straightens him up. We have a reverse now, too. Only 4 to 6 steps, but he's willing and relaxed about it. We also now have a bit of a leg yield and turns on the forehand in both directions, so he's definitely become more sensitive to my legs. I don't like to linger on turns on the forehand for too long as it does put them on their forehand instead of the rear. I use it just to teach moving away from leg pressure (for circles, leg yield and side passes) and move on to turns on the haunches to keep him off his forehand as much as possible. Granted, it's only him moving a step or two away from the leg pressure, but it's a start. I need to put him back on the long reins and really concentrate on teaching him to move away from the pressure as quickly and confidently as he responds to the halt cues.
When I first started riding him he had a habit that worried me quite a bit. He was a MAJOR head tosser. Big time. Bad enough that he nearly clocked me in the face a few times when he got that head going. He did it when I asked him to do something and I was worried he'd be a chronic tosser, something that's very, very hard to "fix." Fortunately, as soon as he started figuring out what I was actually asking and our communication got better, the head tossing has stopped. He also ground his teeth like mad *grind grind grind grind* in the beginning. That too, has ceased. Completely. He still plays with the bit and is very mouthy (he is apt to suck a rein up into his mouth or grab the noseband in his teeth while I'm bridling him!) but no more grinding. I'm going to guess the head tossing and tooth grinding was his way of dealing with the stress of not understanding what I was asking of him. Now that he gets it, he's not so stressed. While both habits are irritating (and the head tossing dangerous!) I'll take those any day of the week over a horse who gets tense through the entire body, jigs, runs around like a giraffe or spooks in response to stress and a lack of understanding.
I am also very pleased that he is stretching and really reaching for contact with the bit. I can feel his back lift when he stretches down. I do, however, need longer reins! Holy cow that beast has a long neck! When he's really stretching and marching forward I'm left holding the buckle with my arms practically stretched straight. Short legs, short arms. *sigh* I am definitely NOT built like a lanky-legged, long-armed classical dressage rider. We are at a phase where I don't want to discourage the stretching and seeking contact, but this is ridiculous! I need about six more inches of rein to be comfortable.
Is this going as quickly as I expected? Naw. Am I disappointed? Nope. I am loving every step of the way...every bobble, every misunderstanding, every flash of brilliance or light bulb of understanding. It has been absolutely wonderful and I love seeing him learn and actually ENJOY his job!
Next weekend I'll be jump judging a local horse trial (two day event: dressage, cross country and jumping). I love jump judging and it is definitely an inspiration to keep on marching towards my goal of eventually being able to take Gabe to one of those events!