Video of Starbuck and Lola, the teenager who rides her once a week or so
I've been having the feeling for the past couple of months that we're seesawing, especially as concerns the "whoa / go" quandary. It seems like some days I have a gas pedal, and other days I have brakes. But I nearly never have the two in real working order at the same time. She'd always been heavy off the leg but really light in the hand until the beginning of this year when she discovered she could run through the hackamore and aside from turning her in a tight circle (not always a good idea, especially with late winter rains creating slippery spots all over the arena) I didn't have much success convincing her to stop when she'd run off after a spook. In addition, on certain days she'd be so fired up that I had to hold so tight to the reins that I would have to take my rings off. So on Marina's suggestion, I got a butterfly bit (more lever action, unjointed, slightly harsher) which at first worked like a charm. Until it didn't anymore and she started to run through the butterfly bit as well.
So I decided to mix things up and use a mix - butterfly, snaffle and hackamore - and also ride a bunch of transitions to get her used to stopping when I told her to, every time I told her to. And in my opinion this went really well, and when José came to give us our "dressage lesson" I was proud of the on-the-marker transitions I showed him at the start. But then he had me take up more of a contact than I'd been used to (although when I see photos and videos, it's really not much) and I had to really use my legs just to get her to keep going, and it was nearly impossible to transition upwards to a trot and canter. Since then, I've been working on trying to maintain the contact but lighten my leg aids - as a matter of fact when I started my lessons at Sa Fita my instructor tried his hardest to get me to wear spurs. And with Marina's help I've been working on getting my leg farther back so it's centered under my body (that ankles - hips - shoulders lineup) and also in a more sensitive area where my aids can be lighter.
Starbuck and Lola again
Mostly I think I use my legs wrong and so have been trying hard to not keep nagging her with them the whole time, but old habits die hard and I know I fall back into them, especially when we're in a group lesson and have to keep up with the rest of the horses. But lately we seem to have made some progress, and I find I can be a little lighter sometimes and go longer and longer between squeezes. For example, after my last two classes in Sa Fita, my instructor didn't say anything else about spurs but did ask me if I didn't want to consider using a harsher bit. And last week, she "ran away" with Lola again after a jump and got halfway across the arena before Lola could stop her. So yay! Gas pedal! But once again - no brakes.
I see a parallel here with the "good girl / bad girl" thing she does, where she'll be marvelous for a week or so and then suddenly be really really naughty for a few days. I certainly hope that this is just another instance of the "learning rollercoaster" - that as we get better at the leg aids and concentrate more on "forward" than on anything else, we get a little worse at the rein aids and vice versa until both are finally more or less consolidated. The only thing which makes me doubt is that I haven't read about this phenomenon in horse training books, blogs or other online resources, which makes me think it might just be me not knowing how to find a happy medium (yet). Regardless, we'll keep working on it - I think transitions are key and am going to try to follow Carl Hester's advice to try to work more than 100 transitions into each riding session.
And after all, the French riding master François Baucher used to say "Hands without legs, legs without hands" so maybe Starbuck and I are just taking him a little too literally.