My lesson with John was as useful as I expected! Having not had a lesson since January, we had a lot to work on. I expressed my concerns about her back end not feeling like it was connected to the front and he agreed that she wasn't really using her hind legs at all - particularly not her right hind. She doesn't seem to be sore, so it is possible that she has just got into bad habits. I also had an interesting email from the lady that bred her, who said that Echo's mother also gets tight pelvic muscles on the right hand side when she is in season. This is definitely something to consider, as I may try her on some kind of supplement - her old owner said that 'Magic' is working well with Echo's mother.
I was a little alarmed that John said he thought she has got worse since last time he saw her, but I guess with all the time off, that is really to be expected. I also knew that really, as I could feel that things were not quite right. However, he said that he would watch me have a canter on each rein and then we would come up with a strategy for engaging the hind legs. After a canter on both reins he pointed out that my best strides of canter on each rein were along the fence, clearly indicating that there is a lack of support on the outside. He said that I need to ride the outside of her more strongly, stopping her shoulder from falling out. In addition to this, he recommended that I really work on my walk to canter transitions. We had a couple of (pretty disastrous) attempts at these, where she kept getting the wrong canter lead. He said that I was dropping my inside shoulder too much and letting go of her outside rein at the crucial moment. He got me to bend her slightly to the outside ad ask for the canter on a straight line rather than in the corner. This sounds strange, even when writing it here, but it was to stop the outside shoulder from falling out and encourage her to strike off on the correct leg. He said that I must put my outside leg as far back as I can a few strides before the transition, so as to prepare her, but also then be prepared to really hold her back if she tries to trot off at that point. What I found difficult with that, was keeping my weight on my inside seat bone and still asking for the canter with my inside leg. It all felt very clumsy, but we shall certainly work on it. In fact, when we finally got the correct canter lead, the canter was miles better than it had been to begin with.
As well as the walk to canter transitions, he said I must teacher her to do shoulder-in. He says that I need to motivate her back end and this will come through being asked to use it in a way that will interest her. She is quite a clever horse and learns very quickly. Making her interested in the work will encourage her to bend her hind legs properly. We then got talking about in-hand work. When I worked at Sheepcote we used to do lots of in-hand work with all of the horses, starting off with the four year olds, who would just do a few half steps, right up to David's grand prix horse, Wurlitzer, who used to practise his piaffe from the ground. Although Echo will never be a rand prix dressage horse, I really think this might help her and John was very keen for me to try it. Knowing Echo, she will have a huge strop and a tantrum, then she will suddenly get it and think it's fun. I will try to get someone to take some pictures at some point, as it might be an interesting training diary. For now, there's quite a good example of what I will be trying to do here. I will probably have side-reins on Echo, in order to have rather more control, but this is the general idea.
Thanks to Wiola, I have now learned how to put a video on here! I prefer the video I have linked to above, but this is an example of passage in-hand. I'm not a huge fan of Andalucians' movement, but you'll get the general idea. It's surprisingly hard to find good examples of piaffe in-hand. There are some pretty shocking examples of it - one horse was even cross-tied and being hit with the whip - I was so shocked. The horse has to be able to move forward - you can't tie it to the spot.
So...a successful lesson. I have, as usual, got lots to think about and lots to practise - I really should have lessons more often!