On Tuesday I took a lesson with Chemaine of Symphony Dressage. I've lessoned with her before a while ago and she is a very nice person and gifted trainer.
The night started off rough. I warmed up on my own in a different ring and it wasn't pretty. Hemie was tense and tried to spook at everything rather than work. He'd had the day before off and I should have longed but didn't have time. I was feeling nervous heading over to the dressage area for our lesson.
Chemaine is very welcoming. Surprisingly, she asked if she could ride Hemie for a few minutes. Yes please! Hemie was tense about rein contact and his hind legs barely moved forward. But then he started to loosen up. Chemaine figured out pretty quick that he likes being talked to. She demonstrated an approach she ultimately had me do.
The wiggling is to be done at all times, subtlety/loudness depending on what is needed at the time. I asked if this is a short term or long term solution for better contact, and she said that each horse is different but that she uses is regularly with lots of her horses.
Lots of the lesson was spent on my weight positioning, and has made me realize that (a) I'm not always aware of where my weight is, and (b) I could be hindering Hemie with having my weight in the wrong place. Specifically, I need to weight the inside stirrup when walking and trotting a circle, and on inside hip when cantering so that he lifts me up and over. I cannot let my weight shift to the outside seat or outside stirrup - that throws of his balance.
The next exercise was to slow the trot down significantly, and wiggle and leg-yield until he steadies his connection to the outside rein, then allow a more forward trot, keeping the outside rein connection and good balance for as long as possible (keep wiggling inside), then slow down again when he connects too much to inside rein or loses balance. Basically we are rewarding him with forward movement when he has steady outside rein connection. I had a hard time keeping my weight to the inside when we had a forward trot, but we kept it longer when I was more mindful of it.
This approach is basically backwards from what I've been doing: asking for forward first, then increasing connection to be more steady.
Chemaine described Hemie as worried, a term Laurie and I haven't used lately (more like naughty and tense). But worried is a good term, and reminds me that I need to reassure him about dressage. She also said that he is even in his mouth - not especially heavy or light on one side versus the other. And that he is quite sensitive to leg and seat pressure. It was good to hear all that - I'm used to him and don't ride a ton of other horses for comparison.
She also said he was better than she was expecting him to be. I'm not sure if I should be happy he exceeded expectations, or concerned that she had such low expectations to begin with... In any case, it was a positive lesson and right now I'm leaning towards my 4th quarter lesson/clinic to be with her as well.
Something of note - there were ZERO incidents of faux spooking the entire ride. And no shoulder popping (maybe some slight drifting, though). He felt very even both directions, with no pronounced issue tracking right.
Overall I came away from the lesson being much more mindful of my positioning, and realizing that if he's stiff it probably means that I'm being stiff.