I learned a lot at the clinic in Boerne this weekend and I think I am on the right track to encourage Brego to stretch out over his topline. Obviously, getting a good stretch is more than just throwing the reins away and sitting balanced, it's about the horse seeking the outside rein connection. That pesky outside rein again... I am sensing a theme.
So we worked on moving off the leg (again! never enough with Brego) and asking for and answering the outside rein connection. There were some pretty challenging circumstances to overcome (see below) in order to focus on relaxation and connection, but I think I was able to get what I needed to work on it at home. The clinician was very thoughtful and acute. She was respectful of my goals with Brego and listened for my input. I thought she had a great eye and wonderful feel and was very positive about Brego in general.
More photos here.
Now on to the challenging circumstances. It was completely my oversight by not checking the conditions of the footing before hauling out of town. I made an incorrect assumption that the farm had a covered arena as the weather has been pretty terrible for the past week. When I arrived, both of their gorgeous (non-covered) arenas were underwater and we were working in a pasture on the side of a rocky hill. Next time, I will call before I haul. Knowing my goals of relaxation and stretching, I would have likely stayed home and worked with my excellent regular instructor than try to fight the distraction of Brego slipping, sliding, tripping, and falling into holes every lap around the pasture. To their credit, the good people at the clinic were very accommodating and helpful, but it was a lot of money and time to spend in pretty horrible footing. I would have rather sacrificed my fee and not risked Brego's confidence, especially since he started refusing to canter the second day and when I pushed him into it, he promptly slid on all four feet. Not fun. I do hope I get a chance to ride at the farm again though, because it was really lovely!
Secondly, I understand that I am working on training a green horse and that I am also pretty green to dressage. I acknowledge that although Brego should be fine in distracting situations, he is actually the worst in warmup rings with lots of activity. He's young and I get nervous. I also knew that I wanted to work on exercises that require a great deal of focus and relaxation and have everyone involved (the rider, the horse, and the clinician) have their complete attention on what we were doing. Knowing all this, I signed up for two private lessons, even though there was a cheaper option to take semi-privates. My first ride went as well as could be considering the footing. My second ride, however, consisted of 20 minutes of instruction while another horse cantered around the arena in the opposite direction. Picture a very tight and wet arena filled with jumps so we are using just the perimeter of one end of an arena with several jumps to negotiate around. So two times a lap, I got the distraction of having a horse heading straight at me and since the footing was poor and the arena was tight, occasionally the horse came quite close. It was pretty distracting, and I could tell Brego was bothered, but I try not to be "that kind of person" who whines about everything. The real problem though was that the clinician stopped my lesson and got on this horse and left me standing for 20 minutes, just as we were starting to get some nice relaxation. In fact, we had just gotten what we wanted to the right and was about to switch directions to the left. By the time she got back to me (an arena change and potty break later), Brego was cooled out and mentally checked out and I was pretty done myself. So the lesson here is: Next time I will speak up, because I can't expect other people to respect my lesson. I know the limits of my horse and myself which is why I make a point of taking private lessons and paying for them.
Despite all this, though, Brego did very well. I think he is really starting to understand the outside rein (well, more like I am starting to understand it) and he is seeking the connection if I can be sensitive enough to answer him. I am going to try to see my regular dressage instructor some time this week to go over these improvements and get her input as well.