I know I was pushing my luck a bit to try a ride on Lola again this evening. She had done well on the morning trail ride, but I just felt she could do more and we could keep working on her conditioning.
I brought her to the front pasture and warmed her up with walks and trots. Just a quick stumble in the beginning, but none after warm up. I trotted her around the cones and brought the energy up very slowly to get her into the canter. First attempt was 2-3 beats of counter-canter while going to the right, so I brought her back down to the trot and tried again. Success! This time she took the correct lead and she was smooth. What's more, she wasn't running, but was doing the nicest little slow canter. I kept her at it for about 4-5 wide circles, mindful of her stifle and paying attention in case she seemed to be having difficulty. I stopped her, and she gave me a nice stop and then a nice back up.
We went to the next cone and repeated the exercise, but going to the left, her strong side. She went into the correct lead easily and a nice SLOW canter. BUT, she did have trouble sustaining it, and stumbled twice. I took it easy on her, and let her walk it off around the pasture. She seemed OK, so I tried the right circle again. She took it up correctly and stayed with the SLOW canter. No stumbles in this direction, and another 5 or so wide circles.
I kept repeating the exercise, first one way and then the other, and there were no more stumbles and no more incorrect lead departures, and her canter stayed slow and controlled throughout.
Let me explain, I am ALL ABOUT THE CANTER. That's what gives me the greatest joy when riding, and I really like the slow controlled canter. To me, it tells me a lot about the horse's mindset, willingness, and it's the speed I like to use when I need to safely, but quickly, get something done. Who doesn't like the canter, right?
Well, this was the slow canter I've been trying to get for a while from Lola. I didn't enjoy her previous darty, charging canter with no control. This controlled canter is what I like to get from all my horses, and it was getting frustrating that I wasn't getting it from Lola. This day made up for a lot.
I concentrated on being a particularly good rider today. I was using split reins, and Lola seems to work better with them versus the loop rein. Or maybe I was just having a good day with them. I rode with my hands VERY independent from my seat so as to stay "out of the way" of her movements. I also concentrated on "staying out of my stirrups". I wanted to feel like my seat and legs were keeping me very centered and balanced and that there was virtually no pressure from my feet pressing on the stirrups. I wanted it to feel like I was riding bareback. Maybe that helped, because she was very balanced circling in the canter.
After the pasture work, I rode her a ways from the house and worked on going up and down some small hills. All told, I rode her about 30 minutes, but it was a very focused, successful 30 minutes.
I quit on a good note, and she seemed pleased. She even let me rub her head while she was in her stall, something she doesn't let me do too often. I felt we had a real connection out there today. It was a great ride.