To my delight, Kim quickly determined that Ringo's back was fine (yay!!). The tightness I was feeling was, instead, some 'growing pains' that Ringo is experiencing in the process of building the strength required to take him from being a 3rd level horse to a 4th level horse and beyond. It did mean that we had to take a step back and really work on reestablishing obedience and looseness over Ringo's topline today instead of working on 'fancy things,' but with the knowledge that he's really, really close to getting really confirmed at a new level of pushing power and throughness.
After warming up, we started with some turn on the haunches in walk. Gahh not my favorite movement! But Kim had some good tips (think of shoulder fore, not haunches in, going into the movement, and keep my hands low and following) than helped me to get Ringo thinking about sitting behind but still staying long(ish) in his neck. Here was our last turn on the haunches, then a normal turn, then our first strike off into canter:
After picking up the canter, we did a lot of overflexing and counter-flexing to try to get him looser at the base of his neck (a prime source of tension for the Prowler). Even though he's a little stiff and mechanical, it's cool to see how nice even his working canter looks now compared to a few months ago:
Kim agreed that he's getting a lot better at taking longer, more carrying steps behind. Good boy, Ray! When we got the basics under control, Kim had us go to the counter canter and work on getting some counter bend in the counter canter. Sometimes this is easy peasy for us... and sometimes, it isn't. Today was a most definitely NOT easy day, as evidenced by this early fail:
Whoops. But Kim urged me to sit chilly and just keep asking and riding it out, and eventually it got easier:
After that, we moved on again to another suppling exercise--this time, haunches in at the canter. Just a few weeks ago, we did this same exercise and found it quite easy. Today, not so much!! It was a good reminder that I need to keep checking in and making sure that I have the basic building blocks of suppleness and relaxation ALL THE TIME, and especially when I'm trying to build up the next levels of collection and engagement. This was our first fail-filled attempt at haunches in:
Kim had me go back to the walk, really make it clear to Ringo what I wanted from him in a low-pressure situation, then try it again at canter. Much improved! The difference in the feeling Ringo's canter was huge when I could actually get him more relaxed over his topline--it was awesome!
After a break, we did the same series of exercises on the left lead. The left is his stronger direction and I had a better idea of the feeling I wanted after doing everything to the right, so it went a little smoother in general, but I definitely still had to stay on my toes! Here's the end of the counter flex/counter canter exercise going back into a super round true canter... and then a somewhat lame medium canter:
The medium canter is usually one of our better movements, but I think his current flailing in that is symptomatic of the strength cusp that we're currently running up against. Hopefully when we get the collected canter sorted, the medium canter will be better than ever!
We finally finished up with some good haunches in at canter to the left:
I was really happy with the lesson in general. And pretty impressed with Ringo's fitness--we cantered for pretty much the entire hour! (Minus some walk breaks, of course). We've got some good homework for the next few weeks until we see Kim again, but I'm super pleased with how he feels in general. And I'm very happy that his back is ok!