This past year, I have mostly been working on asking Lucky to stretch down and lift her back hone riding and lunging her. In my most recent ride, I took this a step further and began asking for her to truly be "on the bit." This is something i have read about many times before, but it can be difficult to do correctly. However, Lucky is a great horse to learn this on because she would only become truly round if I am balanced and my aids are exactly correct. Once there, she typically stays there.
My learning started on the ground in the round pen. Laura worked Lucky for a while in just a halter and lunge line to demonstrate, and then gave me a try. I worked Lucky on a small circle, keeping a short and consistent feel on the lunge line. I kept me hands steady in front of me with my elbows at my side, just like when riding. The object was for me to keep this feel, neither giving or taking as Lucky went along. If she were to get heavy in my hands, I would cluck her along so that she would she would be pushed onto the "bit"(the lunge line attached to her halter). True roundness comes from the back coming up and the neck rounding and reaching for the contact, but not leaning on it. I also yielded her to help her to reach for the contact.
Once I got a feel for it, I rode in the dressage tack and used stirrups for the first time since November. An entire winter of riding without stirrups has done wonders for my leg. Most of the time, my leg was soft and relaxed, and I didn't grip with my knees or cause my legs to slip all over the place during the trot. Even my canter leg position was improved, all though my inside did creep up a bit during some of the cantering as it always has.
Throughout the ride, I worked on rhythm and relaxation as I always do. However, I finally added the element of connection. I had to remember to keep my leg on as I shortened the reins, but since Laura had schooled Lucky for a few minutes before I rode, I had less trouble than usual keeping Lucky in front of my leg. I also rode with a crop, which provided assistance in stopping Lucky from leaning on her inside shoulder.
As I rode, I applied the same principles as on the ground. I kept a consistent feel as my elbows remained at my side, encouraged Lucky to be more forward if she leaned on the bit, and yielded her onto the outside rein as I asked for her to come on the bit. There were times during the ride when I felt her come on the bit fro several strides at a time. I did, however, have difficulty for a while even when it seemed like I had been doing everything correctly. It turns out that I have been relying on my hands much more than I have realized, so I walked and trotted on a long rein for while so that I would use my legs and seat to turn rather than my hands.
Finally, I ended by cantering. It was necessary for me to assist Lucky in remaining straight and not leaning on her inside shoulder during the canter, which is usually the case with Lucky. This caused my inside leg to creep up, a problem I have had in the past when I previously rode with stirrups. I then decided to use the crop to lightly tap her inside shoulder when necessary. This stopped my inside leg from working too and becoming tight. In the end, I and some nice canters.
I'm really pleased with what riding without stirrups has done for my leg. I'll probably continue to ride without them, but this ride has been a great way to assess my progress. Laura is putting on a mule show in the spring, and is offering an all breeds dressage class. I hope to be ready by then to ride in my first dressage class. Even if my ability to get Lucky on the bit is not completely consistent by then, it will be a great class to enter since it will be a both convenient and fun schooling event. I know that I ride accurate geometry and keep Lucky in a consistent rhythm if I work at it and focus, so I can make up for lack of on the bit consistency with that.That isn't to say that I won't work hard at getting Lucky on the bit, because I will. I just mean that I know I can be ready if I work at it.
Oh, and I started a Swedish study blog(which will alter have Swedish recipes, traditions, and stories about me adjusting to life in Sweden) for those interested.