I've been riding Lucy on my own between lessons so I can practice what I've learned and to strengthen my bond with Lucy. All my lessons with Sandy start off with the same questions. How was your ride on Lucy? --and-- Did you canter? Up until today, the answer has been "good ride; no canter." I wanted to have all the right tools in my toolbox before cantering on my own. I wanted it to be positive for both Lucy and me.
Tonight I got to the barn at 5:00 and it was deserted. I must be the only boarder who has a day job. There was just one person there, and she was on her way out. By the time I had Lucy tacked up and ready to go, the other person was gone.
The air was cool and a breeze was blowing bits of fluff from the Cottonwood trees across the arena. As we warmed up, I kept a soft contact on the reins and encouraged Lucy to relax. When I took up the contact, I did it gradually and she didn't fuss (too much). At the trot, I encouraged her to stretch long and low. I used my voice in conjunction with bending to get her limber and soft. The minute she relaxed, I let her reach and stretch.
And then we cantered. I started going right on a 20m circle. My plan was to ride a few strides of canter, thinking soft and relaxed, and then transition back to trot. I asked and she shifted effortlessly into a beautiful balanced canter. After three or four strides we came down to trot. And did it again. She didn't rush at all. None. Zippo. I did some more stretching trot and changed direction. Lucy's left lead is her tougher side. But, it's my better side so we balance each other out. No floppy elbow for me going left. We had another beautiful transition and I thought, well, I guess we'll keep going and see how far around the circle we get.
We got all the way around and then smoothly went back to trot. 20m of canter. Blew my mind. I thought it would take us months to get 20m of relaxed canter.
I think the key to Lucy is quiet and soft. I didn't push any agenda and I made sure she had a soft comfortable place to work. There were moments, of course, where I had to remind her with a strong half halt that she needed to come back to me and focus. It wasn't perfect; but it was close enough for me.