I had a lesson with John on Friday, which, as usual, has given me so much to think about. He was running a little late, so I warmed up for quite a long time before he arrived, meaning that for a change, we were actually ready to get going immediately. She had warmed up quite well and was going very nicely on the left rein. The right rein is improving, but she is still not taking my contact in the left rein, and so it is a little tense on that side. I manage to combat this to some extent by really using my outside leg. This stops her falling out through that shoulder but also encourages her to stretch that side. It doesn't work completely yet, but she is starting to understand.
The last lesson we had, we had been working on canter transitions. I thought these had been really improving, so was keen to see what he thought. He pointed out that although it was better, I was not using my seat to ask her to canter. He said that I put my legs on, then my seat waits for her to canter before it follows. He said that I need to use my seat to actually ASK for the canter. I had a think about this, then admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that I didn't really know what he meant, and that I wasn't sure how to use my seat to ask for a transition. To be honest, I thought that the seat was meant to follow. He gave me an understanding smile, sighed, and said we'd go back to the beginning. Oops...!
He asked me to walk and told me to really feel the movement of the walk in my seat. He then pointed out that I was not using my seat evenly in walk - that I was doing one full stride, then a half one, and he warned that this is how horses get a 'Newmarket walk'. As soon as I started making sure that my seat was moving evenly, the rhythm of her walk really improved. At that point, I knew it was going to be a valuable lesson. Once I had sorted this, and really felt the movement, he told me to halt, and then walk on using only my seat. I had to start the movement that I had in my seat in walk, in order to create the walk transition. It worked!!! So clever... So then, following this, I had to go into sitting trot and feel the trot movement in my seat. From walk, I then had to ask for the trot by starting to move my seat in the trot movement. It worked too! The hardest one was canter. Because the trot is bouncy, I don't really have the strength in my hips to force my seat into the canter movement. I found that I had to use my legs at the same time.
John's reasoning for me only using my seat is that before, I was putting my leg on and therefore the trot was getting faster before I cantered, meaning that the canter was too fast before I'd even started. This way, my legs can support and straighten, rather than asking for the initial transition. He said that if my legs were in use to create the movement, then how would I straighten her or control the movement? This made a lot of sense, particularly as the canter really improved when I stopped using my legs so much in the transition. He said that I should place them in the correct position, but not use them to create the transition.
He also told me off for looking down all the time. This has always been a huge problem for me, even when I was working in the dressage yard. He did point out, however, that Echo copies my position, so if my head is tilted down, she can't do anything except be on the forehand. He was however, reasonably positive about how she is progressing. She is much more supple than she was in the last lesson and is starting to swing in her back and be relaxed. I am really glad that things are going in the right direction. I practised what we had done in the lesson on Sunday, and it was really starting to improve. I was trying to make sure that every transition I made, up and down, was only created through my seat. It is making her far more responsive to my half-halt as well as making her softer in my hand and sharper off my leg. I find it amazing how subtle the seat aids can be - I had always used my seat, but I had no idea how much of an influence it is.