All those hours on the longeline are starting to pay off.. Read on and see why..
I warmed Harley up, took about 20 minutes, which is standard these days. He isn't tumbling over trot poles, sailing through them at a steady clip. His neck stretcher work was good as well. As soon as I clip the hooks to the girth, he settles in, and gets down to business. We worked through a bunch of transitions, and other than one left-lead canter blip, he was correct and obedient.
I put on the reins and my helmet, and we wandered to the back 2/3 of the arena. The sort of grassy part. Right now it looks more like dried weeds, but there's something there and it keeps the dust down. Straight to business, I flexed him a dozen times each way plus in the middle. Asked for a few backups with moderate success.
Up to the trot, things were improving slowly. He isn't holding that collected trot long, but he'll accept bit pressure without a lot of fuss, bending his nose in every so often for a stride or two. I sat the trot a bit, heading left, and figured, "Well, let's get this done early, so he doesn't learn it means end of the ride, and if there's a problem, I'm not out here for two hours fixing it."
Sit back, squeeze, kiss. Canter! Directly into his left lead, right out of a circle, heading down a long side. I was quickly able to center myself in the saddle, butt glued in, inside leg on. Lifting my sternum up, I felt him move upwards a bit in his canter stride. We got quite a ways around, probably a circle and a half in the back 2/3 before I let out a heavy sigh and he settled to trot. No rein pressure needed. You gotta be kidding me... I guess he is listening on the longe line to my transition cue. I reached forward with both arms as Harley trotted around, rubbing his neck praising him. He plodded along, reins flapping around, totally calm.
Worked on some more trot left, with the same occasional light-bulbish moments of collection. Back to a walk, followed by halts and more flexing. He is getting back to feather-lite on his flexes, which is good. Changed direction through a few steps of turn on forehand and haunches, with decent success. Nothing earth shattering perfect, but he's improving a little.
Up to trot right, good work. Sit, squeeze, kiss. Canter right, about two strides, and broke to trot. We were on the long side, and I repeated the request. Glanced down, wrong lead. ER.. uh oh.. settled a "SHhh" verbal, which he ignored. The corner was fast approaching, and I worried he'd stumble if he counter cantered the corners with me aboard. I had to tug on the reins a little more than I wanted to, but he did break to trot, anxious and tense. I posted the trot until he settled, talked to him a little, then asked again when he relaxed. Success. This time, however, I sat with determination, and kept my inside leg on steady, an occasional kiss here & there. Again, a good set of circle plus some at canter-right, and he eased into a trot with a gentle sigh.
I rubbed his neck in the trot. "Hey baby doll. This is going to start being a habit, ya know? Good canter work today!" We trotted, walked, and halted. He was breathing rather hard, and as soon as I flexed him left, right, and both, he eased his face all the way to the dirt. Suddenly, he started shaking his head and neck, yawning big, shaking some more. Obviously the shorter rein work was with effort, because that full stretch released something in his head or neck. That's the kind of shake I've seen when a chiropractor does a good job adjusting something. Never ridden that much a "shake" release before. It was funny.
We walked around, totally on a loose rein, anywhere he wanted to take his hooves as long as he kept going. After about five minutes, he had his steady breathing back, and was relaxed.
Up to the washrack, with plenty of cookies and praise. It's going to be a habit, this cantering thing!