Got in a lesson with Jessica this morning. Had plenty of time to warm up before she got there. Started by putting him on the longe line for a quick trot around each direction to see what sort of mood he was in. Despite the fact that the other horses were getting breakfast, he actually was listening very well so I went ahead and got on and we started walking around.
Just did a lot of changes of of direction and a bit of trotting, threw in some cantering each way and thinking about not using rein but trying to use more seat and leg and to keep my shoulders back and my calf on and not pinch with my knee. Did a bit of dropping the reins and letting him walk around while I closed my eyes, too.
So anyway, by the time Jessica got there, we jumped right into the lesson and started with just trotting around with the idea that I should take up the reins and work on pushing him into the bridle and see if he'd do that instead of raising his head and trying to evade.
See, this was our first lesson back off the longe line in the past couple weeks with the idea being that the longe helped me "reset" myself and rely less on the reins and to "reset" him so he'd learn that he could trust the bit. Anyway, she ended up making me drop my stirrups and sit the trot and when I did that, once I relaxed into it (she had to keep telling me, "you did this on the longe line! This is just a bigger circle!!) and sat deep with my seat, he relaxed into it too and put his head down.
So we did that for a bit, working on getting a nice forward trot (a "woodchuck" trot) with me posting and then she'd tell me to sit and drop my stirrups and go with him. I won't say it was perfect, because it wasn't, and it definitely took several repetitions until something clicked in me and went, "oh yeah, you have done this and you can do it. So just do it."
After that, she had us do some cantering wherein we'd really push forward (hand gallop, pretty much) on the long sides and then ask for him to come back down on the short sides. My task was to use my seat and legs to ask for most of this and not to use the reins (or my "exhale heavy" trick he's learned when I want him to stop). Anyway, we started out going to the left and it was pretty darn good. He did break to a trot a couple times when I just wanted him to give me a slower canter but he went right back in the canter when I asked (I didn't have to beat him to get him to go forward, hah) and I never felt like I needed to grab hold of anything to stay with him.
Before we switched directions, Jessica let us take a walk break (that was hard work!) and we talked about half-halting. Now, Kieran and I both have some idea of what a half halt is but for cantering, I'd never heard it explained this way so I'm recording it for posterity. Of course, she talked about how with a full halt, it's like you're holding your body against the motion to get the horse to halt but with a half halt, you're doing it for a moment, then pushing the horse forward so he doesn't actually stop. In the canter, she said, the halt part of the half halt that you do with your body you should do as the horse comes up and its feet are in the air and then as you come back down again is when you push him forward. Because, of course, the transition down has to start in the back end too so if you're asking 'halt' when the horse is in the air, he gets that "okay, we're going to halt" but then you come down and you ask "forward" and you get the half halt whereas I guess if you asked halt when coming down, you'd be more likely to get a real stop or at least a down transition. I don't think I'm explaining it as well as she did, but that's the general idea.
So with that in mind, we went and started cantering to the right and ohmylord. The first one was so lovely, he really opened up on the long side and it was beautiful but then I asked him down the short side to come back to me and collect up a bit and he was right there and then we'd hit the long side and I'd squeeze my legs and push with my seat and we'd push forward again and just. Gah. I love my pony.
Oh yeah, and his downward transitions from the canter were pretty lovely too. Usually he kind of pile-drives through them but this time he really settled into them nicely.
After that, we didn't do any more canter work because that was so freaking beautiful but instead Jessica set up some trot poles at X for us to go over and get Kieran's mind working since so far in this lesson and for the past couple we'd been focusing more on me than him.
First she set the poles (four of them) up for really short trot strides but she had us come in at a working trot and told me not to do anything but follow what he did and keep him straight. The idea being that he'd have to figure out on his own how to adjust.
The first time through he hit and or stepped on every single pole. *facepalm* So we did it again a couple times until he was going through nicely. Then she changed it so the poles were about twice as wide apart as they had been (long trot strides) and we had to go through again. The first time he was like, "wait...weren't these closer together? WTF?" but then he figured it out. :)
So to make it more interesting she put them in an M shape, zig-zagging one right next to the other. The end result was that if we went down the center, he really didn't have to change his stride at all.
So we did that twice and he did it perfectly each time. So then she asked us to go through it but for me to ask him to stay a step or so over to the right side of the poles so he had a short trot stride a looong trot stride, and then a short again.
Another "wtf??" from Kieran the first time through. The second time he shifted just a bit over so he didn't have to go over them at all, and Jessica was like, "hah, he's trying to do the smart thing and avoid the weirdness, but he needs to learn if you're asking him to go straight at a certain point...that's what he does."
So we went back around and did it again a time or two and by the time we finished he was doing the striding just right on the front end but he hadn't quite figured out how to get the back feet to follow along so he knocked a couple of poles. We ended there, though, because he was getting tired and also...getting the point of the exercise, probably when we go do it next time he won't have a problem at all.
Anyway, all in all it was a really good, really productive lesson. He stayed focused and with me the whole time and just generally in "happy pony" mode with only maybe once trying to stick his nose to the outside and evade but I just shortened the inside rein a bit, opened the outside rein and kept my inside leg on and we pushed through it.
Jessica said she could see that the longe lessons had definitely helped as I wasn't falling forward on his neck in downward transitions (except I've got a terrible habit of after a really hard workout when we come down to the walk of letting myself go forward and rest my hands on his neck but that's different since I'm consciously meaning to do it and I need to break the habit) and I was keeping my back straight and my shoulders back where they need to be. My leg she still had to remind me to not pinch with my knee and keep my calf on but I think it was way better than it was previously.
So...happy me and happy pony and next week Jessica said we'd probably (along with some of the other transitions-within-gait thing) add in some low jumps to send him over. See, there's a farm over in Aiken that's doing a schooling show in a few weeks. We decided we probably wouldn't enter in the show because I'm not sure he's ready (it's a combined test with jumping and dressage) but it's possible we can just pay a fee to bring him out there and let him school without being judged so he can go to a new environment and we can see how he reacts there. Plus they have "puddle jumper" sized jumps on their cross country course so the idea would be to take him out there and see how he does with that because, even though he's done some of the show things before, we've never done anything quite like that. I'm excited. :)
Gratuitous picture of Kieran out in the field after he rolled after I turned him out again. Doesn't he look good? (and fuzzy!)
Got to keep my stirrups but still had no reins and we did a lot of trotting where I had to keep my eyes closed. Discovered it was a bit easier to do that posting than trying to sit (even though I got to hold on to the pommel of the saddle if I sat).
We talked a lot about how my "default" position is slightly hunched forward so I can use my hands to catch myself on his neck (which since I tend to keep the reins in one spot is also a part of that) so now that I don't have reins I have to re-learn how to use my core to actually hold myself up and sit back.
Anyway, here's video of our last canter of the day. Note I don't touch him with my hands. :)