Had a really good week last week, riding-wise. Aside from a couple of spooks, Starbuck's really working incredibly well - she's more focused and responsive and seems more motivated than I've ever known her to be. I'm really trying to work on lightening my leg aids - basically what I'm doing is to give her the lightest possible aid I can (at the moment, this means lifting my leg out about a centimeter and let it fall back with its own weight), and if she doesn't react to it, then giving her one firm kick accompanied by a swat with the crop. Then I don't touch her at all with my legs until she's either broken gait or slowed down noticeably. After about three of these, she generally gets to reacting to the light leg aid - until she doesn't any more and I have to give her the kick/swat again. But each time I get more and more responses from the light aid and more and more time between having to nag at her and I only just started this on Friday, so I do think we're on the right track.
That's my thing to improve - her thing to improve right now is accepting contact and flexing at the poll. So in our warmups we spend a good amount of time on an exercise José taught me - at the walk and trot I open my inside hand at the elbow to flex her head inwards and wait until she lowers her head a little, then straighten her back up, then when her head goes back up, flex her inwards again. Then when we start really working, I take up a fairly light contact and keep my elbows flexible but clamp my fingers down on the reins. With the contact this light she can still poke her nose, so I do walk-trot and trot lengthening transitions to try to get her hindquarters activated as well as shoulder-in if she starts looking to the exterior, which generally tends to get her to curve her neck and flex somewhat at the poll, at least for a few strides.
What I need to remember is that Rome wasn't built in a day, and that we'll need to do this wrong for hundreds or thousands of times in order to get it right. I do feel like we're really progressing - she's not fighting the contact like she was a few weeks ago, and I'm not quite so heavy with my legs.
In other news my husband (finally! XP) came out to the stable on Sunday to take some lovely photos - here are some of my favorites, and you can see all of them here.
These two I'm not at all proud of and I feel pretty evil looking at them but I want to make sure to remember this daily - in all of this striving for the right contact and being on the bit, I MUST keep in mind that I have the power to make her supremely uncomfortable, even with (what I consider) a light contact. This is me trying to straighten her far-too-bent shoulder-in and just kind of muscling through her reluctance, next time I'll remember to try shifting my weight to the outside before tightening the outside rein.