DO NOT. PULL BACK. ON THE REINS.
No really. Don't do it. Don't even THINK about doing it. Because apparently I do this constantly - try to "take" the contact instead of following what he gives me. I needed a recording of someone saying "Don't pull back!" approximately every 10 seconds, that's how bad it is. But... BUT... when I follow and am soft, don't half-halt, don't move my hands, don't pull, stay steady and even in BOTH reins, and allow him to come to me, he will. Eventually. After 35 minutes or so. And then he's abso-fucking-lutely amazing - which makes it totally worth it.
And how did we accomplish this miracle? Quarter and half-turns on the haunches. Constantly moving his shoulders around, at the walk. At first, he mostly ignored my leg. Then he moved better off my leg, but threw his shoulders around (this is where not being even in both reins became glaringly evident). Then he ignored me some more. And then... THEN... miracle of miracles, he started moving his shoulders STRAIGHT, and evenly, and I held on to both reins (but didn't pull), and he moved off my leg, and came up over his back, and I felt like a fucking centaur because it was all about my leg and body and had nothing to do with the reins, except to keep him straight.
And then we picked up a trot and worked on making sure he was listening to my seat half-halts so I DID NOT PULL ON THE REINS. That took some doing, and she had me move my hands up instead of back - I didn't worry about his head or his back or anything else, just that he responded promptly. And then I had a horse that I could trot on a light rein, in 10 meter circles, both directions, and at the slightest change of pace or loss of balance I could sit up and tighten my core and NOT PULL BACK, and he would respond. And our leg yields? Fucking amazing. He felt like a Grand Prix horse.
And that inside leg to outside hand? Nope. Both reins equal, at all times. Don't drop the inside rein, DON'T YOU DARE.
So yeah. COMPLETELY different way of riding. I SO want to take, to half-halt with the inside rein (or drop it completely, 'cause I'm really good at that! As a reward, you know.) But instead I am to give, to soften, constantly, and to wait for him. I need a Costco-sized dose of patience that I am struggling to find, so thank goodness trainer reminds me constantly to just wait and soften. I need to take some of this magic trainer dust home so I can replicate the amazeballs work on my own.
This weekend, we were able to take a second lesson with her. This time we worked on moving his haunches, because he was a leeetle too eager to throw his shoulders around. He moves his haunches off my left leg really well, right leg, not so much. Again, we made sure he was off my seat and leg at the walk before moving on to the trot. Interestingly, the walk was not as good this time, but the trot was so much better earlier on in the ride. Yay progress! We really worked hard on not falling in, on having a supporting leg and hand in every change of direction, and on owning one rein (he kept looking around so I found it hard not to pull on the reins but keep his nose straight). We also worked a lot on transitions, especially on me following the transitions with my hands and not blocking him, either up or down (i.e. DON'T PULL ON THE REINS), but instead using the concept of "hip to hand" to get the transitions (i.e. roll my hips up by tightening my core to get the downward tx.) In the trot work, every time he would get heavy, I'd half-halt with my seat and put on inside leg. If he went behind the bridle, or above the bridle, more leg. Basically, every problem was solved with more leg and less hand.
This is a strange concept for a horse that tends to run around like a lunatic. It's like reverse rider psychology.
Toward the very end, he felt so light and balanced that I asked for a right lead canter and... whoa. Magic. Balanced, uphill, light, totally maneuverable. What's interesting about the new and improved canter is that we did not achieve this by doing tons of canter. Instead, we made sure that he was straight, balanced, and on the aids in the walk, then the trot, before moving to the canter. It's like we needed the building blocks before he could actually hold a good canter. Super interesting. Hubby manage to get the left lead canter on video, which wasn't as nice, but still... soooo much better than it's ever been before.
Look! Haffie is making progress! Now I just need to bottle the magic trainer dust and sprinkle it on before every ride.