Last night for the first time in ages, I took Saga out for some actual dressage work in an actual dressage saddle. It wasn't bad, it wasn't great, and we've got a lot of work ahead of us to get back into the swing of things.
I focused on keeping him slow at the trot by engaging my core, and for the most part it worked well. I just now have to learn how to breathe (and not pass out) while my core muscles are tight - but that's a minor detail. He worked really well off my leg in both directions, although there was some falling out on the left shoulder when we first started off. I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone, but the more I stayed out of his face and steered with my legs, seat, and shoulders, the softer he was and the easier he was to move around under me. When he got behind the vertical, I'd give him a little nudge with both legs, but I need to learn to relax the core a smidge (not flopping) at the same time. More to work on for sure.
I noticed he was tipping his head quite dramatically to the right when we were going to the left. I think this is a relic from hunting the past two weekends, as my hubby tends to ride with one hand higher than the other. I didn't move my own hands when this happened, but kept a soft contact and asked for inside bend with the left leg. He worked through it and the episodes disappeared by the end of our ride. I also noticed that he's got a dry cough that seems to have appeared since hunting Saturday, and he was doing it again this morning while eating breakfast. I'm not sure what's causing it, but I'm keeping an eye on it and will take him in to the vet if needed.
Right-lead canter was sort of a train wreck. The first two times I asked, he ran at a trot for half a circle before I brought him back. We finally got a few semi-ok transitions, but he felt unbalanced under saddle. I have a hard time keeping my core tight and sitting up in canter transitions, so I don't think I helped him any at all. Of course, he then started anticipating the transitions, throwing his head up and tipping his nose right and "hopping" in the trot, so I changed directions and asked for left lead canter. That one definitely felt more together and balanced, and the transitions were better too. We went back to right lead and got two reasonably clean transitions in, and I called it a day on that. I'm wondering if I should get more canter in earlier in the session as part of warm-up and see if that helps him any.
I'm hoping to get Carol Patty back out for a few lessons over the next few weeks - I really got a lot out of our last ride with her, and now that it's cooled off I'm excited to get back into it. I'd like to have the goal of a schooling dressage show by the end of the year, but frankly foxhunting's more fun, so I may just concentrate on keeping the horses fit for that. Choices, choices!